Yom Kippur Appeal 2018/5779 by David Greenberg, SAJ Chair
Let me also take this moment to say how grateful we are for all the work of the SAJ staff, board and volunteers whose seen and unseen work makes this holy space of the days of awe. But most of all, I’m so moved to be at these services, because they reflect all that Rabbi Lauren and Cantor Lisa have brought to SAJ, as they show us what it can be as an institution, and what we as individuals can be in the new year. Thank you for all you do for our community.
Yom Kippur is a time when we bring things to account – when we seek the courage to see what is before us and to act on it.
So while atonement is also in the air today, it’s in this spirit of clarity and not guilt that I want to talk about SAJ and what your support of it means right now.
I also want to share my own thinking about why, with all the pain and need in the world right now and the worthy places we could devote our resources, that it’s even more important to give to this synagogue at this moment.
For many here, giving generously to SAJ is a matter of practice and it’s self-evident why you have and continue to do so. To those people, I want to express our thanks and make clear how important your contributions are. As many of you know, dues cover only about 1/3 of our expenditures. An equal amount is covered by your additional donations. Let me repeat: giving is just as important to our budget as dues.
SAJ is a place that has always been more welcoming and more generous in its programming and in the services it provides than any synagogue of a similar size that I know.
Your past support let us provide tuition waivers for religious school families. It’s let us care for an aging building and bring to it concerts, lectures, good schnapps and food at Kiddush, while remaining true to our relatively modest dues structure. Judaism That Stands for All isn’t just a tagline, it marks SAJ’s long history of inclusivity which your giving has enabled.
So to those who already give, thank you, please continue to give and consider expanding upon your commitment at this period when we are working on all cylinders to bring in new members to our wonderful community.
For those who give only a little or who do not give, I want to speak about why a synagogue, and this synagogue, deserves your finite resources.
I’m not talking about the relationship between our weekly Starbucks bill and our charitable giving. Most all of us can make choices to dig deeper and give more tzedakah.
I’m talking instead about the decision to give to SAJ when there are other worthy causes that we care about, from our children’s schools to homelessness and hunger and fights against discrimination. For those people who ask why give to a synagogue, and I speak somewhat to my generation but I also think more universally, I want to share my own thinking about why SAJ is at least as worthy as any other place.
In my own experience I’ve felt two answers to this question of why SAJ. The first has to do with wholeness. The second is what this vision of wholeness can do to multiply and amplify the work of individuals and of organizations that the world needs right now.
SAJ is the only institution I know where people can engage the world with their whole selves. Judaism that stands for all also means that we’re all in, with all that we have. This is a place where it is possible, in an era of Twitter, despair and alienation, to feel emboldened to connect to people in ways which may not have felt possible. Young, older, gay, straight, trans, cis, black, brown, Asian and white, we are a community where people know each other and where we value people’s distinct identities as part of their whole stories.
We sing together, and with Cantor Lisa and Naomi Less’s amazing Hiddur band. We drink together and hear classical music on Shabbat evenings. We read books and share our learning with each other. We care for the sick of body and heart during times of need. SAJ is a place where young Max Levenson and Ron Kushner, a longer-time SAJ member can both play jazz piano at the retreat. And when we’re not in the building, we feel more joy in our loved ones and our beloved interests because of the courage and presence we found in this building.
More importantly, we don’t keep this wholeness to ourselves. It’s not for our own enlightenment and fulfillment – we take this joy into the world and into a struggle for justice. We sing and we march, for immigrants, refugees, and for women. For those of us in helping professions, we take inspiration about how to do our jobs better, as Diane Schreibman referenced movingly during Rosh Hashana in her work with clients. For those of us in the private, corporate or public sector, it’s in some ways more important to feel grounded and courageous in the ethical practice we find here.
The second reason has to do with what this kind of wholeness – what standing for all – means for the world right now. Our world needs a new light, just as much as it was needed in the 20s when Kaplan founded the SAJ, and as he continued his optimistic view about religion into the darkest hatred of the 30s and 40s. It’s needed not just because these are also dark times. If this were the case, we should give only to the service or advocacy organization of our choice that is doing the work we care most about. It’s because the voice that these groups bring needs to be amplified by a broader culture that promotes intelligence, humanity, commitment, and decency over isolation and selfishness. Otherwise other groups may cry out but are not heard enough. Synagogues, but synagogues like SAJ in particular, plays a critical part in this moment where religion has been too often used a force of division and social control. We need to take back the religious sphere, and support ways that it might instead be a source of connection and healing in this moment. And we need the resources of both an ancient and a constantly renewed tradition to think about what is and what could be in our country.
So I ask not as a sales pitch but really meaning to be in the spirit of the day – what are the places in your lives where can you bring your whole self, be fulfilled, or restored transformed, and take that feeling to the streets and our culture and everywhere it’s needed? Shana tova.