Friday, June 29, 2012

Last Blog as Rabbi of Kehilat Shalom

As I retire from Kehilat Shalom tomorrow adapted from my last Shofar bulletin article. Except for my childhood home (1954-1973) in Westbury, Long Island, Kehilat Shalom and Montgomery Village is my second longest “home.” As I move to another stage in my professional career, several thoughts.

First, the future of Kehilat Shalom is dependent upon some solution to our financial challenge. We cannot remain in survival mode, expending incredible energy every year on making ends meet and be a healthy community. I hope with new leadership, professional and lay, new ideas will create solutions to the fundamental challenge of paying for our community. I therefore ask everyone (member and non-member) who reads this to consider how you can help maintain our caring, but stressed community. I ask everyone to give my successor a chance to succeed with his/her new ideas about the directions and activities of our synagogue in the 21st Century.

Second, after months of networking in various careers, I want to teach full-time, preferably in one of the Day Schools. My second choice, which I’ve begun to explore, is to do chaplaincy part-time and teach part-time. Diane and I do plan to stay in the area, but my intention is to stay away from Kehilat Shalom, for a while, to empower the new rabbi to be THE Rabbi. I would be honored though to help out my successor at his or her request.

How am I feeling? There have been so many bittersweet moments even this past month. I’ve started experiencing the last of so many regular and special activities (ex. the of the ECC, the final Bat Mitzvah) that have been part of my life within our community. It’s hard to say goodbye, but I am looking forward to working a little less, being home most nights of the week, not having to prepare a weekly sermon and just davening for myself every Shabbat.

Next to the last: What am I going to miss the most? Obviously it’s the people, even more than the Sanctuary. If there were two things I wish I could change among all the small and big mistakes of 16 years, it would be to have found the time for an additional phone call to someone in need or pain and to have written many more thank you notes to everyone who made a difference for our community and to me personally. After June 30, please don’t use my office email. My semiprofessional email is, if you want to email me. My home phone will remain in the Membership Directory. And if you Facebook, please feel free to friend me –I’d be delighted.

Finally, thank you for the honor and joys of serving as the Rabbi of Kehilat Shalom for the past 16 years.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Final Dvar Torah for Board Meeting 6/18/12 (part 2)

We just completed the congregation meeting which authorized next fiscal year's budget. I began with "Ethics of the Fathers" and continue in Chapter 2. "If there is no Torah, there is no flour, if there is no flour, there is no Torah." Flour here does not literally mean grain; it means the resources to eat and to live. If you don't have the basics of life, it's hard to live a life of Torah... you're just trying to survive. For the past three or so years, in some ways, that's where Kehilat Shalom has been. As our membership and school populations have decreased, we, the Board, have spend almost all of our time on finances, almost nothing on program and more importantly, on relationship. So I have a request: please don't burn out my successor by involving him every week in the fiscal issues of our community. Let the rabbi inspire, lead, and engage people in Torah and let that Torah lead to the resources in people and dollars to sustain Kehilat Shalom. Second request, to the members of the Board themselves: don't spend all your valuable free time on the fiduciary needs of the community.  Board members too need to do Torah: to study, to meditate, to make the world a better place, and to be with friends... otherwise the challenges of balancing the budget will drain the spirit. We need both flour and Torah.
Finally, in Chapter 18 within this week's parsha, God speaks to Aaron the priests and tells then: "I make your sacred work a gift of dedication." The work of the leadership of our community is a sacred gift of service to God. Through our service to this community we bring meaning, relevance, holiness, and sacred connection to each other and to God.

Final Dvar Torah for Board Meeting 6/18/12 (part 1)

This week's portion of Korach contains the great rebellion against Moses & Aaron. In the "Ethics of the Fathers" the early rabbis articulate two kinds of disagreement/debate. The arguments of Shammai and Hillel were debates for the "sake of heaven"... their quest for the truth will always endure. On the other hand the argument of Korach against Moses will not endure, because it's cause was ego and the quest for power, not for the betterment of the community.
A year ago at Kehilat Shalom we engaged in a debate for the "sake of heaven." We were grappling with the future of Kehilat Shalom as sacred community. Over the summer of 2011 we reflected on who we are, where we are, and where we wanted to go in the future. In September the congregation voted to remain in Montgomery Village as long as possible. It was a true discussion for the sake of our "connection" as community to God. Much of our discussion was about the reality, the facts of our community. We also debated what our options were and whether good choices had been made in the past and the present. Making sure we're clear on the facts and grappling with making the proper judgement calls are always "kosher" arguments. Making the right call is often a result of the creative tensions of difficult discussion.
Looking back on the debate though we know some of the discussion was not for the sake of heaven. Every point made which questioned anyone's intention, which doubted someone's integrity, which recommended that if you disagree ... you should leave the community - was a Korach argument. We understood the painful nature of the demographic and financial facts within the debate at the time, but such points in the debate were truly destructive of the bonds of our community. And I would add (my own sin too) that those of us who made similar points against our opposites in private, rather than in public, are equally guilty of diminishing the holiness of every person in our congregation and our quest to serve God together.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Coming to the End of the Kehilat Shalom ECC

Sunday we had a wonderful celebration of our Early Childhood Center. Past directors, faculty (past and present) and families joined in a wonderful morning of being together, reconnecting, and reflecting on the joys of our "nursery school." In many ways it has been the jewel in the program of Kehilat Shalom. The leadership of the directors, the skill and love of the teachers, the deep commitment of parents (and the friends they made) and the amazing growth of the kids in our ECC for more than 30 years have made it a special, wonderful place for everyone.
It's sad that the demographics of Montgomery Village and this side of Gaithersburg no longer can support a Jewish pre-school here. So we're in the process of selling our "School Building", ending our summer camp and ECC, and moving our Religious School (as small as it now is) into our Main Building. It's a difficult and painful transition for those who have been here through the years and remember a Religious School of over 300 children and a Nursery School of over 100 youngsters.
Last night was the final ECC graduation... 11 wonderful kids and their families celebrated. It was a wonderful program from the remarks, to the "grand" procession, to the kids singing, the receipt of their medals of graduation, and then eating! The sense of loss was palpable for almost everyone, but the joy of kids at their graduation! enabled everyone to have a wonderful evening.