High Holiday Speech

October 2021   Keeping Connected

L’Shana Tovah,

Hi friends. It is nice to be back in the sanctuary this morning. And I do understand not everybody is ready to be back here but at least this year, we are able to meet everyone’s individual needs and that is really what is important, that each of you are able to be here today spiritually in a way that is comfortable for you. I’m still hopeful next year, we will all be back in the sanctuary together.

So, I wanted to focus my speech this morning on a few different words. The first word I want to discuss is community. I looked up the definition of community on-line, not that I didn’t know what it meant, but I wanted to see the official definition. Community is a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.  Now, we may not all share the same attitudes and interests, and that’s okay because we can have communities within communities for that. But one thing for sure is we share the same goal, and that is our love for Congregation Shalom and our commitment to making sure this is the best place possible for the Jewish community in our area, for the congregation, and for each other.

So, what are some examples of how we have been a community this past year?

  • Well, first, we have our amazing Sisterhood and Brotherhood groups. Both of these groups worked hard this past year to keep the sense of community top of mind and make sure there were opportunities for us to be together, whether it was with retreats, walks or hikes, game nights, barbecues, on-line cooking classes, movie nights, book groups, and bike rides.
  • Second, our school provided a very needed sense of community for our kids and parents. First of all, under Deborah Morrissey’s leadership, we ran a very successful school program this year. We have amazing teachers who were able to maintain that sense of connection for our kids.
  • The school made it possible for our community to be together for Hanukkah, thanks to the Chai schoolers who built a larger-than-life size menorah allowing our members to light candles together on each night of Hanukkah at our temple or virtually.
  • Our school community came together to create and give Shalach Manot bags to members in our community for Purim. Our community was overwhelmingly grateful for this effort.
  • The school also brought community to our families through their on-line Tu B’Shevat seder, Purim shpiel, and their first ever candy seder for Passover. We had menorah and hamantaschen challenges also throughout the year.  There were lots of ways the school helped us feel part of a community.
  • Third, our Shalomites also made sure they continued their sense of community, and were able to come together to lead 2 services this year, do some online cooking classes with our own Noah Ablove, and make some Purim gift bags for our religious school students.
  • And of course, Rabbi Perry, made sure to keep our community together through spirituality and Jewish learning.  We had extremely well attended Shabbat services, Havdalah services, Torah study, adult Hebrew classes, and Café Wisdom, maybe even better attended than before the virus.
  • And our community goes beyond just helping our own members. We held a blanket drive for Lowell Wish, we made many donations of food to the Table of Plenty, we assisted in the creation of gift bags for Mother’s Day for mothers in shelters, our 5th-7th graders and our Chai School kids were able to make and donate 72 scarves to the Lowell Transitional Living Center, we collected food for families who rely on free school meals, we increased our frequency of food collection for the Lowell Transitional Shelter, and our community came together to donate money to help us purchase and serve a catered Christmas meal for 54 senior citizens living in Chelmsford Senior Housing.
  • And these are just some examples; there are more.  Congregation Shalom is a unique institution.  The Covid-19 virus has destroyed many aspects of our lives but it did not destroy or interfere with the sense of community at Congregation Shalom.

The second word I want to focus on today is a word I am actually tired of hearing and that word is “unprecedented”.   So, I looked up the meaning of this word also.  The definitions include novel, unexampled, never been known or experienced, unparalleled, not done before, and exceptional.  In the past year, we have heard this word so many times and in almost cases, this word was used with negative connotations in association with covid-19, politics, and other things.  So, I decided that I want to talk about the word unprecedented in relation to Congregation Shalom, and turn it around to be associated with something positive.

  • Many of the ways we had to and were able to keep our community together this past year were certainly unprecedented.
  • In the past year, we held about 30 Shabbat services, 12 Havdalah services, and 3 Yizkor services through zoom. That was unprecedented.
  • We had 17 students in our madrichim program this year. For those of you that do not know, our madrichim are 8th– 12th graders who help our teachers, work with our students on Sundays, and also meet with students online weekly to help them with Hebrew and Religious studies.  We had 17 teenagers committed to helping other students.  That is pretty amazing and unprecedented.
  • So many people in this community step up to the plate and help. I was thinking one year, maybe I could literally stand up here and go through the membership list and thank each of you for what you have contributed.  It would be a very long Rosh Hashanah speech.
  • Right before Annual Meeting in June, we had a member family surprise us with a $10,000 donation to help the operating budget this coming year. That was incredible and unprecedented.
  • In literally just this past week, I witnessed what I am calling 3 unprecedented actions which just emphasize again how special this community is. Let me tell you quickly about each of these.
  • First, on Friday at 10:22 AM, I received an e-mail that the temple building needed an upgrade on the smoke detector system. That was at 10:22.  At 10:39 AM, I already had an e-mail from a member offering to pay for the upgrade.  I consider that amazing, generous, and unprecedented in that it all happened in 17 minutes.
  • Many of you probably don’t know this but our insurance policy expires this coming October. We have had the same plan and premiums for the last few years.  This year, myself, Joanna Myers, and Stephen Rodman worked with an insurance agent who specializes in policies for synagogues who we heard about through the URJ.  Well, this week he e-mailed us our new policy and although we did expect an increase in the premium, it was about $1000 more than we had budgeted for.  So, I went back to him and asked if there was any way to reduce the gap.  He immediately came back with this response: “As I truly thought you were all very nice people and I want to help you, how about a contribution to Congregation Shalom in the amount of $1,000?”  Here was a stranger, someone we spoke to maybe twice, offering us a $1000 donation which would help us out this year until we get the right amount in the budget for next year.  I think that was unprecedented.
  • Finally, the third thing that happened this week. I will tell you it was a pretty busy week… So, in the last 2-3 weeks our new HVAC system was installed.  On Friday at noon, I was informed that our HVAC contractor was not able to install the Merv-13 filters into the new system because they were backordered for 12 weeks.  Well, we promised you all that Merv 13 filters would be present like we had in our older system.  Many, many people, including our HVAC contractor, spent all afternoon Friday trying to find the filters as we needed them for this morning and we were about to enter a holiday weekend.  No luck.  Saturday morning, Mitch Hyatt was able to locate what we needed, but they were in Lebanon, NH and the store closed at noon.  Mitch and Joanne rearranged their Saturday morning plans and took the 3 hour round trip drive to make sure our community had what we needed and our handy man made himself available to get the filters installed on Saturday afternoon.  I would say this is amazing and unprecedented and we cannot thank them enough.

So, my final word for the day is renewal.  There were a few definitions of renewal I found but the one I want to focus on is the replacing or repair of something that is worn-out, run-down or broken.  So, in the last year and a half, I bet many of you, as did I, spent time and money on the renewal of things in your home.   All of a sudden we were spending a lot more time in our homes and we found things we needed to take care of, we wanted changed, or we just wanted something new.  Well, our temple home is also going through renewal.  As I mentioned, we just replaced the very old HVAC units.  You may remember we had a campaign for some kitchen updates.  The new preparation tables are now in the kitchen and the convection oven is on its way.  We have a brand new state of the art sound system in the sanctuary.  And many of you that know me well know that I really really want to replace the 25-30 year old carpeting in this sanctuary.  So, my hope in this new year is that we will begin a campaign to take this on to provide a sense of renewal for our spiritual home.

And I just want to end by saying thank you as always to Meryl for the amazing music she has provided for us today and will be providing for us in the coming days.  A special thanks to our office staff, Sandy Moore and Liz Jegasothy, for their herculean efforts in making sure we were ready for today.  And to Rabbi Perry, our spiritual leader, and my friend.  When you are President, you get a first hand glance at the many different aspects that make up the Rabbi’s job and we are very lucky to have such a dedicated spiritual leader, someone truly looking out for our members and this community.

I believe that what we have at Congregation Shalom is special. And I wish you and your families a happy, healthy, sweet, and peaceful New Year!