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Yom Kippur 5782: President's Address

Bob Friedburg

Just yesterday Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the URJ sent his thoughts on this Day of Atonement: “There are several steps to t’shuvah, which is often a long, emotionally grueling process. First, we must acknowledge the wrongs we have done. Second, we must demonstrate true remorse and regret for our behavior. Third, we must take responsibility, seeking to repair harm that has been done and using learnings to ensure that the future is more equitable, inclusive, and respectful to all. Only then can we ask for forgiveness.“

And he continues …

“Jewish institutions too must do t’shuvah. It cannot be emphasized enough that the heart of our Reform Movement is our deep commitment to shaping a more just and compassionate world. That holy work must begin with each of us and the sacred communities we love and lead.”

So what does Community mean and what responsibility do we have within the TBJ community?

Community might be a group of people living in the same place. I am part of the Bedford Community. It can also be about shared beliefs or religion. All of you listening today are part of the Jewish community. Other times it’s a choice … driven by a desire to be part of a community. Many of you chose to join the Temple Beth Jacob community.

But let’s talk about the other dimension of community. The feeling of belonging … being noticed … being valued.

Some of us achieve this simply by how we communicate. In my earlier years this was something I envied in others. The people who seemed to know what to say to who at the right time with poise and confidence. I remember well … my inability to jump into opportunities and the feelings that resulted from it.

  • If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
  • And when I am only for myself, what am I?
  • And if not now, when?

The famous words of Rabbi Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”

Sometimes it’s really hard. For those of us who are introverted, new to an environment, or had a bad experience, it can be debilitating. To risk the emotional pain can seem unbearable or just not worth it. Not understanding Hebrew, not understanding or connecting with prayer, not feeling connected to the people, competition with other things in our lives: all of this contributes to a sense a feeling stuck.

To get that sense of connectedness … to fill our spiritual and emotional needs we have to find a way to push through this.

Azut d’kedushah. It can be interpreted as holy boldness, holy audacity or even holy chutzpah. Think of it as way to overcome our own internal limits … a way to move beyond our comfort zones in order to do the right thing.

Your asking for what you need, your asking to help, your asking to contribute, your questioning the status quo is a mitzvah of growth for you and a mitzvah of learning for the community.

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

… and when I am only for myself, what am I?

I look at this beyond face value. There is no one at TBJ who acts in a selfish manner … being only for themselves. However, there are opportunities for us all to re-examine what we are doing, or not doing … to say who is it not working for and what can we do about it.

This too can be really hard. It’s a normal reaction to say “We’re doing the best we can, if someone chooses to not participate it’s their choice.” There is no question about the effort put in by so many people. The wealth of our committed volunteers, staff and clergy is what has kept TBJ strong all these years. Let’s explore the possibility that what we have been doing, no longer has the same impact it did in the past. As Jews we pride ourselves with seeking out what is not working and taking steps for change. Can we look inside the Temple with as much vigor as we do outside the Temple?

Azut d’Kedushah … let’s be bold

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

… and when I am only for myself, what am I?

…. and if not now, when?

Yes, when the temple building opens there will be place for us all to meet. We’ll hug, smile and have that wonderful feeling of togetherness. But, we do not need to wait for COVID to pass to work on our feelings of community. Let’s start now.

Some of us are ok during these times. Maybe we feel we don’t need the TBJ community to live a full life during the time of COVID. But maybe somebody needs you. Sometimes we need help, and sometimes we can offer it. How can you encourage and enable connections within the TBJ Community … but just outside of the building?

We are all stewards of this Temple … more than that we are stewards of this community. It’s a mitzvah of the highest order … to extend oneself to those who are looking for an opening … an opportunity to connect, to contribute, to make a difference.

This is how we can strengthen our community … our individual feelings of community. I am asking that you join me in a renewed look at the Temple during the two years of my Presidency.

I look forward to this journey with you. 

G'mar Chatima Tova

Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyar 5784