If the past few months is a predictor of the year ahead of us, I am bracing for a tumultuous 2017. As Temple Beth El’s president, I have two overriding new year’s concerns. The first is the financial well-being of our synagogue, the second concerns the sudden rise of American anti-Semitism.
First, as I have written many times, our small shul is very fortunate to have so many caring and dedicated members. There is never a lack of concern for one another and we always enjoy the time we spend together. I also recognize that many synagogues, even larger ones, do not have the warm spirit we possess. This has always been our strength. Where we struggle, particularly in the second half of the fiscal year, is finances. Our dues have been at the same level for many years, yet we permit dues reductions at rates most synagogues would never allow. I understand that people have financial challenges, and our board has always respected that (which is why we do not require tax forms.) I would like to share Temple Beth El’s policy clarification on dues reduction: RESOLVED, that if a person wants to request a reduction in dues, the reason must be explained to the President or Treasurer of the congregation for each year the reduction is requested. Unfortunately, we have for years suffered serious financial strain in the second half of the year. Our gap is usually between $5000-10,000, and that amount is needed for necessities like the electric bill, heat, cleaning, and the rabbi’s modest salary. This past year we instituted the Chai for Life campaign which received support from many of you (and very generous support from some). At this time, I believe it helped narrow the gap but not close it. In the coming months you will likely hear about a need for financial support and a proposal to increase dues. We must do something. I have looked into grant programs through United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and other Jewish organizations, but they do not fund general operating budgets. Therefore, we will need to raise the money from our small synagogue population. Since there is no one else to ask, I hope members will do what they can to help.
Second, over the past few years a small number of Temple Beth El members expressed concerns about synagogue safety and security because of a perceived threat from local Muslim communities. Knowing the Muslim communities in Franklin and Hancock (and a number of Muslim families in Oneonta), I never shared this fear and didn’t understand it (nor did the NYS Police). Today, I am sorry to say, I do have a concern. President-elect Trump’s success was realized with support from anti-Semites and anti-Semitic propaganda. It is increasingly clear that there is a rise in cases of anti-Semitism in New York and across the United States. I am now concerned about our synagogue. I worry about anti-Semitic Americans who might choose to vandalize our synagogue. For this reason, and due to warnings from national Jewish organizations, I make more visits to check on our synagogue. Historically, Oneonta has always been a safe, friendly community for its Jewish population, so I am confident our positive relationships with our friends and neighbors will prevail.
On a related topic, I join the many national Jewish agencies and civil rights organizations denouncing President-elect Trump’s stated desire to implement a Muslim Registry. The Washington Post reported the Trump camp’s stated rationale for this outrageous plan is based on the American precedent of Japanese internment camps, but as B’nai B’rith’s Anti-Defamation League notes, it also echoes the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. As citizens of a great democracy, this is an affront. As Jews, it is chilling. I am an ally with America’s major Jewish institutions in my repudiation of President-elect Trump’s rhetoric, propaganda, and hateful actions. I do not consider my comments here as personal politics, but sane, just, and righteous Jewish protest. It is the responsibility of Jewish people to speak out against hate. As the leader of a Conservative synagogue, albeit a tiny one, I plan to continue to speak out in The Shofar and, when appropriate, in public. I hope you, too, will make your voice heard.