Yom Kippur 5777 President's Address

Every Sunday morning a man takes a jog around a park near his home.  In one corner of the park is a lake where he would see the same elderly woman sitting at the water’s edge with a small metal cage.

One Sunday curiosity got the best of him and he stopped jogging and walked over to her.  As he got closer, he realized that the metal cage was in fact a small trap.  There were three turtles, unharmed, slowly walking around the base of the trap.  She had a fourth turtle in her lap that she was carefully scrubbing with a spongy brush.

“Hello,” he said.  “I see you here every Sunday morning.  If you don’t mind my nosiness, I’d love to know what you’re doing with these turtles.”

She smiled.  “I’m cleaning off their shells,” she replied.  “Anything on a turtle’s shell, like algae or scum, reduces the turtle’s ability to absorb heat and impedes its ability to swim.  It can also corrode and weaken the shell over time.”

“Wow!  That’s really nice of you!” he exclaimed.

She went on: “I spend a couple of hours each Sunday morning, relaxing by this lake and helping these little guys out.  It’s my own strange way of making a difference.”

“But don’t most freshwater turtles live their whole lives with algae and scum hanging from their shells?” he asked.

“Yep, sadly, they do,” she replied.

He scratched his head.  “Well then, don’t you think your time could be better spent?  I mean, I think your efforts are kind and all, but there are freshwater turtles living in lakes all around the world.  And 99% of these turtles don’t have kind people like you to help them clean off their shells.  So, no offense… but how exactly are your efforts here truly making a difference?”

The woman laughed aloud.  She looked down at the turtle in her lap, scrubbed off the last piece of algae from its shell, and said, “If this little guy could talk, he’d tell you I just made all the difference in the world.”

The obvious message here is that each person can make a difference in the world even if it is on a small scale, one person or one action at a time. Even if the woman cannot help all the turtles in the world, her small action has brought change to the ones in front of her. 

The other question we are probably all asking is “If the turtle would normally live his life this way, why do anything at all? Would he know any different if she had not helped?”

For me the answer is “Because if we have the power to make a difference, no matter how small, are we not in some way obliged to act?”  Isn’t that what tikkun olam is all about?  Small acts of kindness performed to repair the world?

Over the past 4 years I have stood here and asked for your support in our community.  I have asked for your participation, your engagement and your money.  I would like to wholeheartedly thank those of you who have answered those calls.   As I stand here today delivering my final appeal, I again ask for that support but I need something more.

As with so many congregations across the country, our membership and attendance is declining.  Our congregation is also aging and we lack a large pool of young adults living and maturing in our community working to take over the reins of leadership.  The natural extension of that decline is that we no longer have the number of steady annual contributions and large donations.  It was not that long ago that we had to add rows of seating in the back to accommodate the crowds during the High Holidays and now we are barely able to fill what we have.  Too often we worry about making a minyan during Shabbat or for other holiday services. 

Please don’t mistake my meaning - I’m not admonishing anyone, each and every one of you is a blessing.  I am simply pointing out what is evident to us all.  We are a shrinking community and it is becoming ever more difficult to sustain our synagogue.  As most of you are aware, we are operating at a loss and are increasingly relying on our reserves in order to meet our financial obligations.  Your contributions are now and will remain critically important.  Bluntly put the more we can rely on your donations, the longer we can hold onto our reserves; the longer we can keep the doors open. 

With smaller numbers there is more for each of us to do.  Participation and engagement is more important than ever before. We rely on each of you to help make a minyan, to lead services, to help prepare a Kiddush lunch, to help make a holiday special; in short, to help make our community more vibrant and alive.  Believe me I know it’s difficult to give more when we already give so much, but as Mark Twain said “If work were so pleasant, the rich would keep it for themselves.”

As I mentioned before though I have something else I must ask for. It has been said that “Changing is what people do when they have no options left.”  While that may be a little cynical I do feel we are reaching a point where we will have to adapt to our new reality and our decreasing size.  The next few years will likely be ones filled with uncertainty and change.  We have some difficult choices ahead of us as we work to find a vision and path for our congregation and synagogue. 

What I ask from each of you is to contribute your patience, your understanding, your commitment and your vision.  In order to survive we need the congregation to work together as we find our way forward.  Just as with the turtle story, each of us has the ability to affect change and I feel we owe it to each other to do so.  Each of us brings our own unique talents and perspectives to the congregation.  We all have something to contribute.  As H.E. Luccock said: “No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.”

When we share those talents we join together as something larger and more powerful.  We have the ability to strengthen and rebuild our congregation as a Jewish community that enriches each of our lives.  I cannot predict what our future will look like but I do know that we are coming to a critical juncture.  Each one of us has the opportunity to act - to make that one small difference in each other’s lives.  So grab that turtle and scrub it with everything you’ve got. 

Gmar Chatima Tova.

Yom Kippur 5776 President's Address

Several times a daughter had telephoned to say, “Mother, you must come see the daffodils before they are over.” The mother wanted to go, but it was a two-hour drive from her home. “I will come next Tuesday,” she promised, a little reluctantly.   Next Tuesday dawned cold and rainy. Still, she had promised so she drove there. When she finally arrived she said “Forget the daffodils! The road is invisible in the clouds and fog.  You won’t get me back on the road until it clears, and then I’m heading for home!”

“I was hoping you’d run me over to the garage to pick up my car,” the daughter requested.  “How far will we have to drive?” “Just a few blocks,” replied the daughter. “I’ll even drive since I’m used to this weather.”

After several minutes the mother asked “Where are we going? This isn’t the way to the garage!” “We’re going to my garage the long way,” the daughter smiled, “by way of the daffodils.” After about twenty minutes, they turned onto a small gravel road and saw a hand-lettered sign that read, “Daffodil Garden.”

They got out of the car and followed a small gravel path. When they turned the corner the mother looked up and gasped. Before them lay the most glorious sight. It looked as though someone had taken a great vat of gold and poured it down over the mountain peak and slopes. The flowers were planted in majestic, swirling patterns - great ribbons of color.  In all there were 5 acres of beauty.  “But who has done this?” asked the mother.

“It’s just one woman.  She lives on the property. That’s her home,” the daughter answered as she pointed to a small well-kept house.  On the patio, was a poster that read “Answers to the Questions I Know You are Asking”. The first answer was a simple one.  "50,000 bulbs,” it read. The second answer was, “One at a time, by one woman. Two hands, two feet, and very little brain.” The third answer was, “Began in 1958.”

“It makes me sad in a way,” admitted the mother. “What might I have accomplished if I had thought of a wonderful goal thirty-five or forty years ago and had worked away at it ‘one bulb at a time’ through all those years?  Just think what I might have been able to achieve!”

The daughter's reply was simple.  “Start tomorrow,” she said.

I was recently pondering how to approach this year’s appeal, much more recently than I should be.  During the midst of my mental ramblings I got to thinking, “Why is it that we have an appeal on Yom Kippur?” 

Perhaps it is because these are the days of awe.  Maybe since we are engaged in T’shuvah it is a perfect time to reflect on our commitment to the synagogue?  Perhaps it is because this is the New Year?  What better time to assess your commitment than at the start of a brand new year!  Or maybe it is for the reason that might have popped right into your mind?  It is the one time of the year when we are guaranteed a large crowd. 

Here we are at the start of the New Year and we have the largest gathering of the season and what do we do?  We ask for money.  Kind of unseemly… I know.  I’d like to take that idea and toss it out and approach this another way.

What is it that brings us together today?  A religious commandment?  A sense of obligation? A feeling of connection? Tradition?  The Torah tells us on Yom Kippur we are to rest from prohibited labor and afflict ourselves.  I certainly hope that coming to Shul isn’t seen as an affliction.  Perhaps it is to hear the sounding of the shofar?  The question remains why are we gathered here together?  The answer is Kehillah - Community.

Community can be defined as “A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”

Clearly we as a congregation fit this definition.  We are a place you can join.  We are a place to belong.  We share our interests in Judaism but I feel there is more.

Another definition states that community is “ownership or participation in common.” 

To me this states that community is not just a place to belong, or a place to share, it is a place you build.  We are not only members of the B’nai Jacob community, we are also the architects.  Each of us makes a choice to engage in the community and make it stronger.   We do this through our participation and we do this through our financial contributions.    Many of us, and I encourage even larger numbers, actively participate in the life of B’nai Jacob – we attend Shabbat and Holiday services, we serve on various congregational committees, we prepare Kiddush luncheons and help lead services, we serve on the Board of Directors. Each time we engage in the community, we engage in an act of construction.  Strengthening who we are and defining who we will be. 

In addition to our wonderful Rabbi, I feel the real assets of B’nai Jacob are The Torah behind me, and the community in front of me.   While each are uniquely priceless, their value skyrockets when they connect.   A Torah scroll that is not loved, not studied and ignored is nothing more than a roll of parchment and a community that does not have a blueprint to follow, a foundation to live on and a set of ideals to pass from one generation to the next is forever lost.  Each one of us has the power to take up that blueprint and help build that foundation. 

We need to always remember that B’nai Jacob belongs to every one of us. Make your voice heard on how to improve the workings of the congregation and how to strengthen our sense of community. Help us generate ideas for fundraisers and become actively involved so that fundraising events can become a reality. For if we do not step up to the challenges, who will? And, to quote the famous passage, if not now, when?

It may sound overly dramatic but in reality the very survival of our congregation is currently at stake.  Our congregation is filled with people who are so much more precious than money; however the reality in life is that we need funds to survive.  We are caught between the realities of modern Jewish life and its significant fiscal demands.

Over the years our congregation has declined in size, leaving us with a much smaller pool of talent and resources.  Our current synagogue was built during a time when B’nai Jacob served a much larger congregation.  As a result we are struggling to remain financially viable. 

Now is the time for our action.  As members of the congregation each of us has the power to make a choice.  We can actively devote ourselves to building the community and funding the synagogue or we can sit idly by as it slips further into decline. 

As a community we need to stand together when we rise up and say, this is important to me, this is important to us. We prioritize our faith to the community and to the world. We become proud of who we are. We are Jews and the continuation of Judaism in our homes and in our community is vital to our very existence.  If we all commit ourselves today to building something lasting and beautiful, imagine what we could accomplish.

Shana Tova;  Gmar Chatima Tova

Yom Kippur 5775 President's Address

I’m not sure if it is an actual minhag that my address begins with a joke or not, but this year I thought I might take a different approach and open with a poem.   If in the end you feel cheated be sure to let me know and I can tell some knock-knock jokes. 

The sun lit a wet branch by the poet Zelda.

                        The sun lit a wet branch

and gold leaves captured my eyes.

The gold leaves that coursed

night and day

through my heart’s blood

changed their configuration.

And when they reached the soul,

its solitude,

they became distant signs

of light,

clues from heaven,

ancient wonders.

To me this poem strikes a chord.  It speaks to the way natural beauty is all around us.  If we open our eyes to these simple gifts we can see how beautiful and inter-connected the world is and how we are all a part of something larger than ourselves. 

You may be asking yourselves “this is all very moving but why is he sharing it with us?”  The answer is “for several reasons…”

The first is because I feel it reflects our synagogue.  We are blessed with a wonderful sanctuary that has big bright windows.  One of the first things that struck me about B’nai Jacob is how inviting and peaceful it is.  I often find myself gazing out during a service at the beauty that surrounds us.  I find peace and inspiration in that.

The second reason is the source of the poem.  It may surprise you to know that it is in the margin of page 62 in the Machzor.  These wonderful Machzorim, as well as new Chumashim, were generously donated this past year to the synagogue. Both have brought joy to those who have had the opportunity to use them.  I particularly enjoy the beautiful writings included in the Machzor above and beyond the normal prayers.  When I noticed this passage during the Rosh Hashanah service I felt I had to share. 

Lastly, the theme of the poem ties in nicely with what I would like to speak about today – being connected.

This may come as a surprise but I’m not always the most focused individual, just ask my wife.  I admit that sometimes while sitting in services my mind wanders and I like to look out these big bright windows.  I find a lot of peace and beauty in the trees and nature that I see.  A few weeks back I was sitting in a Shabbat service and my mind was wandering.  I looked out at the trees and something unique caught my eye.  There suspended in midair twisting in the wind was a single leaf.   It wasn’t falling to the ground but rather just fluttered about 6 inches from the other leaves.  It took me a moment to realize that what held it in place was a tiny silver stand of spider’s silk.  I thought to myself “Now if that is not a metaphor for all of us then I don’t know what is.”  

Imagine the tree as our congregation and each little leaf one of us.  In our own way we each have a thin fragile thread that binds us to the synagogue and Judaism.  Like the leaf each of us has forces that blow us in all directions.  And like the thread these forces threaten to snap our connection at any given point yet like that silk we hold fast. 

For some of us that thread may be family, for others it may be our roots in Judaism or the community and for some it may simply be faith.  Whatever the thread one thing holds true we are all still tied to something larger.  I know the thought might come to mind that the real strength for a leaf comes from its stem and for some I have no doubt that is true.  I believe though, that for many of us we have slipped past that and our connection is far more delicate.  With the growing demands of life it is all too easy to let that silk snap as we drift away. 

There is an obvious symbolic connection here that Torah is a tree of life and those who cleave to it are blessed.  For many that connection to Torah and Judaism is tied to this congregation and synagogue.  Again that silk holds us firm and leads us back. 

Each year a tree loses its leaves and is then renewed the coming spring.  Sadly over the years many of our leaves have fallen or drifted away.  While we are fortunate that each year new leaves bud to fill the void, the truth is our branches are growing sparser.  Each leaf must stretch itself wider take in more light and hold tighter in order to keep out tree strong. 

Each week I have the joy of seeing our youth at the bimah as Shabbat services conclude.  I worry about the future of the tree for them. Without our contributions now, I fear that our tree will falter and their leaves will never have the opportunity open and bloom. 

Last year I spoke about how time is money and asked each of us to devote more of themselves in making the synagogue prosper.  I issued a challenge to find 1 new thing about the synagogue that brings you joy and I asked that 1 time you attend the synagogue when you might not have otherwise done so.  I hope that some of you were able to do that.  I know I have enjoyed seeing many of you over the past year and I look forward to seeing more of you in the future.  For myself I have discovered the peace and beauty of being here on Shabbat morning, not just for the service but also for the connection to the world around me and the people that fill it.  A connection, if you will, to something larger.

Even without the unexpected costs of failed appliances, storm damage or extreme winter conditions the upkeep for our synagogue is costly.  It would be less than truthful if I said that we do not need every dollar you can spare.  However my sentiment from last year remains as strong as ever.  To be strong we need your help, we need your participation and we need your contributions but most importantly we need you.  Each of you is a vital leaf on our tree.  Through your support and participation we are all made stronger.  Don’t for a moment think that one person cannot make a difference.  After all without the 10th to make a minyan, 9 Jews are just a group of people ready to eat. 

As we take this time to reflect on last year I ask each of us to look inward.  To see what that silk is that ties us to this larger community and to make it stronger.   I have said it many times before; look beyond the high holidays and consider joining us for a regular Shabbat service or one of our special events.  We are fortunate to have funding from the Salon foundation which allows us to bring in quality programming such as our upcoming guest Rabbi Tovia Singer.  If you aren’t comfortable attending an entire service try dropping in for just the Torah service or one of our classes such as Torah study or Mishneh Torah.  Even a Kiddush lunch would offer a great chance to connect with the community.  I challenge you to find your inspiration.  We as a community are more than just prayers and davening.  We are a people tied together by common threads. 

We are all part of something larger and we each have our part to contribute.  It is through these contributions that we build the whole.  Together we can make our tree flourish.

Shana Tova! Gmar Chatima Tova!  

Yom Kippur 5774  President's Address 

Meyer and Judith, a Jewish couple, were traveling together to the Far East. Suddenly, over the aircraft’s speaker system, the captain announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am afraid I have some very bad news. Our engines have developed a problem, and we need to put this plane down in a few minutes’ time. The good news is that I can see an island below us that should be able to accommodate our landing. The bad news is that this island appears to be uncharted—I am unable to find it on any of our maps. So the odds are that we will have to stay on the island for a long time before being rescued, if ever at all.”

Meyer turns to Judith and asks, “Judith, dear, did we turn off the oven?”  “Of course.” She says.  “Are our life insurance policies paid up?” “Of course.” She says.  “Did we RSVP for the synagogue Mitzvah Day?”  “Oh no! I forgot to sign us up.”  “Thank Heavens!” the husband exclaims, “They’ll never find us here!!”

This is not to say that being stranded on a desert island is preferable to helping out at Shul, but each of us, in our own little way remains hidden. 

As I’m sure you are all aware it is tradition that, as president I have the opportunity to come before you on Yom Kippur and ask for donations.  It is sort of the synagogue’s version of the annual NPR pledge drive; only we don’t pass out tote bags.

This year I would like to take a slightly different approach.  “Time is money”; the old adage is as true today as it ever was.  Our lives are busy and complicated and we frequently have distractions pulling us multiple directions.  Time is a precious resource, perhaps that is one reason we are so reluctant to part with it.  “Ahh” you might think, “I know where you are going with this.  This year instead of my pocketbook, the Shul is going to hit me in the day timer!”  Correct!... well we still need your pocketbook, but we’ll discuss that later. 

This past year B’nai Jacob celebrated 100 years.  As a community we have a long history and throughout that time B’nai Jacob has made a commitment to be here for you.  Many of you have grown up here.  In that time we have celebrated the joy of weddings, the births of children and grandchildren as well as the simcha of many a bar and bat mitzvah.  We have witnessed the cycle of holidays turn many times over and we have been there to comfort you for the loss of loved ones.  This synagogue has made a commitment to lift you up, however, it needs your support as well.  And yes, I am not just speaking financially.

Imagine if you will the following tear filled movie scene:  A young divorced mother who spends all of her time working to support her son and make ends meet is throwing him a birthday party.  There is one last gift; this one sent by his father, who didn’t attend.  Eagerly the boy opens the gift to find a new x-box game system.  His mother, thrilled for him exclaims “look, just what you wanted!”  The boy sadly pushes the game away and says “I only wanted it so that dad would play it with me.”  OK maybe a little melodramatic, but how often have we just thought to support the synagogue by making a donation or writing a check?  Sure we may be giving shul what it needs financially, but how involved are we in its daily life?  To be strong we need more than a financial donation.  For B’nai Jacob to thrive, we need people to be here spiritually and physically.  We need your motivation, enthusiasm and participation.

Sadly, over the years we have had members move away and move on.  Five years ago when I began to attend B’nai Jacob, Shabbat services were as crowded as this past Rosh Hashanah and High Holiday services were practically standing room only.  I’m not trying to make anybody feel guilty, but rather I’m trying to convey the sense of anxiety I have over our recent trend.

It’s no secret that our synagogue, like many others, is in need of financial support.  In the past year we have had a number of large expenses that have been hard on the synagogue.  We have had to replace the roof and pay to trim and remove trees.  Refrigerators have been repaired and work has been done on the parsonage.  All of these things are costly and your financial contributions make it possible to do what we need in order to keep the synagogue operational...but we also need you.  Many of us are here today out of a sense of obligation.  We have a spiritual connection to Judaism that demands our presence on this, the most solemn day of the year, but what of the joy?  If you only attend one service a year and it is Yom Kippur, then I promise you, you are not seeing us at our best!  I would like to issue a challenge to each of you. Both those who come rarely to those that attend regularly.  I challenge you to find 1 new thing over the next year, about the synagogue, that brings you joy.  I challenge you to come to Shul just one time over the next year when you might not have otherwise done so.  Let’s all challenge ourselves to enhance our connection to the B’nai Jacob community.

I know that for some a deterrent to attendance has been the amount of Hebrew used.  Believe me, I know how intimidating Shabbat services can be if you don’t speak or read Hebrew.  But even if you can’t understand or follow a single word, it can still be like a Hebrew opera played out before you.  After Shabbat services we offer a Kiddush lunch, which is an excellent chance to reconnect with family and friends.   You’ll have the opportunity to meet some of our newer members and hopefully build new friendships.  This personal interaction and commitment to one another that helps make our community strong.  Think of it as attending a beautiful performance; come to hear Rabbi chant Torah, listen to his words as he teaches us insight from the parsh, and Kiddush lunch is on us.

If you have ever found yourself someplace unexpected and wondered how you got there, then I’m sure you can appreciate how I feel today.  I’ve had to work to find a place at B’nai Jacob, and I promise you that if you invest your time in our synagogue it will pay dividends.  You will discover a sense of accomplishment, a sense of belonging, a sense of involvement and, most importantly, a sense of joy. 

I ask that this year as you consider your pledges and open your pocketbooks, you also consider opening your calendars and pledge some of your most valuable resource, your time. 

Shana Tova, Gmar Chatima Tova. 

Mark Schneider, President

President's Message - April 2013

Five years ago when our family joined the B’nai Jacob community, we knew right away that we had found something special.  We felt welcomed into a new family, and we are so glad to have made this our home.  I am very pleased to now have the honor of serving our congregation as President.  Looking to the past presidents, I know I have some big shoes to fill and hope that I can serve our community well. 

When I began to gather my thoughts for this article, I had a lot of ideas swirling in my head but the one thing that keeps coming back to the surface is ‘community’.  When looking to the future, I see many possibilities and opportunities for B’nai Jacob, but the reality is that without people and participation those visions can never be realized. קהילה (Kehila) or community…it’s who we are.  We may be individuals or small families, but together we form a community, one that has the opportunity to really impact those around us. 

My great fear is that our declining numbers and participation will continue to the point that our congregation is in jeopardy.  What kind of president would I be if I didn’t ask for more people to join us for services on Shabbat, right?  I feel we need to move beyond that and seek new ways to foster involvement.  We need to look for ways that we can strengthen our community and help it grow.  We have recently had the joy of welcoming new members but even with the addition, we still risk not making a minyan on Shabbat and have discontinued regular Friday evening services.

As we celebrate the past 100 years, we must also look to the future.  Please join me in finding ways to make our congregation stronger and our community more vibrant.  The Board of Directors and I welcome your input and suggestions.  We are Kehila, and together we can make the next 100 years something to celebrate.

B’Shalom,

Mark Schneider, President

An Introduction

Welcome to Congregation B'nai Jacob, an egalitarian conservative synagogue in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Whether you have recently moved into the area or are just visiting, we encourage you to attend Shabbat services, take part in Synagogue activities or just come by to visit and meet our congregational family. We have grown in the past few years both in membership as well as in programming - social, educational, cultural and religious. We have a group of hardworking volunteers and a dedicated and inspirational Rabbi who make this all happen and we welcome your participation.

 
We have various congregational committees which are always looking for new committee members and new ideas. Working on committees can be very rewarding and a great way to meet and work with new people. If you are interested in a particular committee, please contact the committee chairpersons listed below.

November 2011 Remarks

On the theme of Tzedekah.

2011_November_President.pdf

Fri, June 23 2017 29 Sivan 5777