In a small synagogue run by volunteers, a president learns that something can always go wrong and just about every member will eventually be frustrated. It could be a Shabbat service, the food, a forgotten email, a Shofar not sent, the choice of Israeli film, a decision by the Board, or an issue with a rabbi. Regardless of the frustration, a synagogue (or any organization) cannot please every member all the time. In Temple Beth El, our members seem to understand that. For us, this is our synagogue and we support it. Period. My relationship with Temple Beth El goes back to 1984, and I recall a few tumultuous moments. This seems long, but in Temple Beth El time, it isn’t. In fact, we have members who have been devoted to our synagogue for over 50 years. They have seen it all – highs and lows – and they are still members.
Our long-term members demonstrate either a tolerance for frustration or a deep love of Oneonta’s Jewish community – or both. Regardless of any disagreements, dilemmas, and debates, they have remained. As president, I speak with Jewish people throughout the Oneonta area, and I often hear reasons for people not being temple members, such as: “I went to services and I was disappointed by X” or “The temple is too X for me” or “As long as Rabbi X is the rabbi, I will not belong.” I hear these comments quite often, sometimes from people who have never joined, other times from people who have left us. This makes me wonder: What is the difference between the Jewish people who view Temple Beth El as their religious, spiritual, cultural, and social home regardless of a frustration or a rabbi, and those who don’t? Why do some have little tolerance for frustration while others understand that no synagogue or rabbi can please every member?
If we hold our synagogues responsible for pleasing us at every turn or through every utterance of a rabbi, there will be no more synagogues. If Jews, especially those in communities with only one synagogue, withhold membership or donations until they feel their synagogue is perfect, we could not sustain synagogues. In a small town like Oneonta where we have an even smaller Jewish population, jeopardizing the future of our one and only synagogue is unwise and unfair. Many Temple Beth El members have continued to support Oneonta’s synagogue simply because they love being Jewish, value the Jewish community, and want a synagogue in this town. Moreover, all our long-term members have stayed members regardless of any passing frustration or any particular rabbi. If we want a synagogue in Oneonta, we must support Temple Beth El. It is not right to abandon the only shul we have.
As Rabbi Roberts often taught, “The only thing that makes Temple Beth El holy is the Torah. Without it, it is just a building.” If we want a place to gather as Jewish people who value the Torah and Jewish culture, Temple Beth El needs support. From my perspective as a lay leader, I would add one element to Rabbi Roberts’ point: people add holiness to Temple Beth El. Without the Torah, we have no synagogue. But in Oneonta, without Jewish support we will have no Torah. At our synagogue, we gather for one another, to be in the company of fellow Jews. It’s about being together and being Jewish together. Even if you are not completely satisfied with Temple Beth El, stand in Jewish solidarity and support our local synagogue. Come to services or programs, volunteer at The Lord’s Table or in Sunday School, join us for movie night or adult education. If for some reason you cannot, at least be a donor who helps help us heat the building and keep the lights on. The only way to have a Torah at 83 Chestnut Street is to pay our bills and strengthen our financial future. While finances are an unfortunate reality, nothing makes congregants, Board members, and Rabbi Karp happier than being among a large group of Jewish friends and neighbors at Temple Beth El. This is what endures over the decades and maintains our spirit and strength.
We welcome all Jewish people (and their non-Jewish loved ones) to be part of Oneonta’s small, but thriving Jewish community. I hope those of you who have remained members know you are appreciated; thank you. We are grateful to the members who pay full dues, those who donate what they can, and members who rarely attend but make donations. I hope those of you reading this from a distance will close the gap between us and support Temple Beth El. Join us in our effort to maintain a spirited Jewish community in the Northern Catskills, and do come to temple!