Sunday, September 19, 2010

My 5771 Kol Nidre Appeal

Yom Kippur is when we look back at our sins and deal with guilt.  Actually, it's quite cool.  But as a blogger, I've been feeling guilty.  When I'm doing interesting things, I don't have time to blog.  When I have time, I don't have much to say that I think you'll think is interesting.  This year, I gave the appeal at the Keddem Congregation Kol Nidre services.  Picture me in my long white, embroidered dress on stage with about 400 people seated in front of me.

Thank you Elaine. Shana Tovah.  As Elaine said, I am the Immediate Past President of Keddem Congregation.

In my other role, as High Holy Days chair, I’ve been reading the reservation forms as they’ve come in and know many of you are new to Keddem Congregation, to you I say welcome.  I know many of you have been with us, some many times before, at HHD: welcome back.  And to the active regulars,  I’ve probably hugged you on the way in, or will do so on the way out.  I’m big on hugs.* 

Since it’s Kol Nidre and this is a Jewish congregation, I know I can be honest.  My goal is always diplomatic not blunt honesty, but let’s face it, I know that most of you know why I’m standing here.   I know that appeals make some of you uncomfortable and that some of you understand why it is necessary.

When I was a child, our family’s synagogue handled this very differently.  My father as “head of household” (I'm sure my mother had something to say about that!) was handed a card with his name and tabs with numbers on them.  He was to indicate his commitment to the synagogue by folding down the appropriate tab.  Far less disruptive to the service, but I remember how embarrassed he was about how little he could pledge.  So, hold that thought while I give you some context for why I am talking to you now.

Seven years ago, at Kol Nidre, I talked about how I had, now ten years ago, decided to finally  join a congregation and how I was drawn to Keddem by the values listed on the website.  It is, for those who have not seen it.  Thanks to the work of our Long Range Planning committee and the participants at our May congregational meeting, we have revised our Vision, Mission and Values, in what I consider to be a very Reconstructionist manner - study, discussion, considering what is right for us as Jews here and now and deciding via a democratic process.

The Vision, Mission and Values define what we want to be as a community.  Many of us have Hebrew names.  Ours is Kehillat Keddem, Keddem Community.  Community is only as strong as its members.  It is built up by members trusting, and respecting one another as individuals and recognizing each other’s contributions.  As a member of  this community, I’ve seen us celebrate with each other and mourn with each other and very much care for each other.  Because Keddem is Inclusive and Egalitarian, any one of you in this room is more than welcome to become a member.  We are also Inquiring at Keddem and one of the benefits of membership is being able to ask questions about Jews, Judaism and the Jewish experience and find answers in discussions with other members.  It’s what our Torah Study and Learners’ Minyan are all about.

Communities thrive when the work is shared cooperatively through teamwork.  They need a diverse range of skills and yes, even opinions.  We are Participatory at Keddem - we do it all for ourselves.  Do you realize that our services at these High Holy Days are led by three technology professionals, a professional artist and a professional rabbi?  Our song-leaders are an accountant, a program manager, and a high school student.  And in case you’re curious, our chair is an engineer turned diversity consultant now studying to be a Parliamentarian (I'm a little crazy.)  Our colorful wordle logo, which you can see on the screen in the lobby, was designed by one member,  colorized by a second member and had the Hebrew added by a third. You get the picture.  We function best when many people  volunteer to help by bringing food to events, setting up or taking down, writing publicity, even editing our newsletter. 

Just as importantly, we would love to see you more often than once a year!  If you find yourself drawn to the liturgy or the music or the ideas, you should come to Shabbat services or festival celebrations.  We’ll welcome you equally warmly and more personally.   And if you have a new idea and are willing to take the lead, we’ll support you.  Because we are Innovative.

Now, think back to my father awkwardly having to make a financial commitment  before being able to leave services.  You’ll notice that you’ve all been given generic envelopes to take home and decide later.  None have names, some have numbers, we're recycling to save trees and the budget.

At Keddem Congregation, we believe strongly that money should not be a factor in being part of our community, either when joining or when attending these or other services or activities.   But, the reality is we have expenses, for tonight and for the rest of the year.  I love this community and I want us to be able to keep offering these services.  Last year, in the spirit of Innovation, several of us challenged others to pledge one thousand dollars each, with the understanding that if we reached ten yeses, we would all make the donation.  I’m pleased to say that in the end, Keddem received seventeen such donations. (smattering of applause occurred.)  Hopefully, most of us can recommit at that level and that others will join us.  Meanwhile, we are asking those attending for a contribution of 500 dollars per household.  Since we are Compassionate, we know that many of you, like my father all those years ago, cannot stretch to that level.   If your budget does not allow that much, we will gratefully and graciously accept what you are able to give.

Thank you all for what you have done in the past for Keddem and for what you will do in the future for Keddem.  You are most welcome to continue to worship and build community with us here at Keddem Congregation. 

I wish you a gentle fast.  L’shanah tovah tichatemu.  May you and yours be sealed for a good year.

*  a lot of people actually did stop by for hugs on the way out, including some strangers!
The words in bold are the Keddem defining values.

© 2010 Esther A. Heller