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Temple Beth El

Offering Conservative Jewish worship since 1935

83 Chestnut Street/POBox 383
Oneonta, NY 13820
Phone: (607) 432-5522

President’s Column — November 2017

President’s Yom Kippur Appeal

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah. I’d like to welcome everyone, especially our guests who have joined us for Kol Nidrei. We are glad you are here and hope to see you again in the coming year. Special thanks are in order for our rabbinic team, Rabbi Karp, Jonathan Jackson, and Daniel Hotary, for leading our services. Thank you. I want to take a moment to recognize the Board members individually for their commitment to Temple Beth El. Our trustees are: Hollie Jaffe, Sue Carbone, Anne Green, Irene Weinberg, Bob Garfield, Steve Feuer, Howie Gelbsman, Rick Weinberg, Stephanie Bauer, and Deb Marcus. I am grateful for all they do to keep Temple Beth El running. But more importantly, they honor the sacred obligation of a Jewish community to maintain its synagogue. Thank you.

Temple Beth El was founded in 1935. We moved into this building in 1955. And the building was expanded and rededicated in 2001, as a gift to all of us and to all who come after us. Across continents and generations, the synagogue remains a powerful symbol that Judaism endures. Lately, American Jews have had a more difficult time than most of us can remember. Rabbi Steven Wernick, leader of the Conservative Jewish movement refers to the current state of American Judaism as “the great disruption.” He is referring to changes in the American Jewish experience, including: the national decline in synagogue membership, the increase in the number of American Jews who identify as secular, continuing high rates of intermarriage, and the sudden, shocking, and worrisome rise in anti-Semitism in the United States. Lastly, the bonds between Israel and the Diaspora are threatened due to the controversy in Israel over access to the Western Wall and disagreements over who will be recognized as Jewish.

These are all reasons to remain committed to Temple Beth El, a synagogue that endures because of its members. We are indebted not only to the Board, temple leaders, and the many volunteers who take care of all the little things, but all of the temple members who came before us. Their names are on our lips, their faces are in our minds, and at Yom Kippur more than any other time, their presence is felt. It is through our memory of those we have lost that we remember what the synagogue means in our past, present, and future. On Yom Kippur, we come together in this sanctuary as a Jewish community, we gather for prayer and atonement, as a community. Many of us celebrated our children’s bat and bar mitzvahs in this building, mourned a loved one and recited kaddish here, celebrated holidays, observed Shabbat together, waited for our children on Sunday mornings in the lobby, eaten potlucks, and gone into the sukkah together. In good times and bad times, the synagogue sustains and nurtures our community.

I know that many of us are members because we share the simple desire to maintain a Jewish presence in the Oneonta area. That is a very good reason to support this synagogue. Without Temple Beth El, the nearest synagogues are in Utica, Binghamton, Schenectady, and Albany. That is too far away, and regardless of the distance, we are needed in Oneonta. As an underrepresented religious community, we need to watch out for one another and make every effort to lift each other up. I want to add that in Oneonta we are also wanted. Our non-Jewish neighbors respect us and local houses of worship embrace us. In fact, we are woven into the fabric of this town.

But in order to maintain our presence in Oneonta, we need to cover our very basic, skeletal expenses. Since costs only rise, and we are a small congregation, we have been forced to increase dues and implement the $18 a month Chai to Life fundraising campaign. We are grateful to those of you who have contributed. The Board understands that increases in dues are unpopular. And we understand that dues and extra contributions can be a hardship for some members. We don’t raise dues lightly, and we work with members who are struggling. But we also understand that many of us can be more generous and exceed the minimum that dues requires, even if we are not asked to.

Historically in the United States, the temple president’s Yom Kippur Appeal is an outright campaign for money, often with pledge cards in the prayer books and a hard sell. But we don’t do that. Yes, we need a steady and stable source of income. We need to keep the building, Hebrew School, and services running, and we are grateful for what you give. But our members are our only source of income. I want you to know that the Board manages the finances very carefully and lovingly, as if we are making decisions for our own family. Because we are.  We simply need to maintain our temple, and our temple family, and we need you. Another way to support Temple Beth El is to donate your time by getting involved. Organize an event or just come to one. Without active members, we are not a community.

As we move into 5778, please remember this synagogue is a space where we feel a sense of Jewish community and positive Jewish identity – even when it seems the world outside these walls conspires against us. In our stressful lives and during anxious times, Temple Beth El is our refuge. And it is our strength. If you spend any time here, you know there is laughter, kindness, and friendship. People care about one another. And we come back for the people. That says­ a lot about us. Please help us honor our obligation as a Jewish community to maintain a healthy, spirited, and welco­­­­ming synagogue. Our doors are open to all Jewish individuals and all Jewish families, without exception. Recently, the Conservative Jewish movement adopted a new motto: Finding Meaning Together. This is what we need. And Temple Beth El offers many opportunities to find meaning together, in the company of other good people. I hope you will make Temple Beth El a greater part of your new year.

Thank you and Shanah tovah.