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 President's Message

 

L'Shanah Tovah

This is on behalf of a fabulous group of people who help run our Temple Kol Ami and wonderful Community, my fellow Executive (Ed Yudin, Jay Kowal, Adam Fisher & Dan Berchuk) and Board Members (Brian Forman, Anna Flisfeder, Phil Gertler, Erin Keller, Elaine Page, Gabriella Prut & Brynna Takht).  

A BIG thank you to our High Holy Day Committee chaired by Melanie Burko, our beautiful Choir and Musicians, and all our Volunteers for their time and dedication towards a successful High Holy Days at Avani Event Center.  Thank you as well to Rabbi Micah Streiffer, Cantorial Soloist David Bernstein, our new Director of Family Learning and Engagement; Raquel Black, our new Office Administrator Elana Fehler, our Choir Director Matias Memmel, and Jeff Bornstein who took care of all the sound.  

Toda Raba everyone!

I’m just going to mention a few exciting things that are happening at Kol Ami…we got married!   No gifts please, but we’ll always take a donation ;) Neshamah and Kol Ami have joined in holy matrimony and it has been a beautiful partnership. 

School is now exclusively Saturday mornings for JK though Grade 12 with a Wednesday Elective for Grades 3 and 4.  We have a wonderful Madrichim program for Grades 8-10 where students earn their volunteer hours and are actively engaged in learning about Judaism relevant to teen life.  Our Student teachers in grades 11 and 12 take on more of a leadership role in the school. All our Teens are encouraged to join TAKAY (The Temple Association of Kol Ami Youth).  We are thrilled to have the PJ Plus Program with us! Children 18 months-3 years along with their guardians come for an hour of hands- on Jewish fun! I’m happy to share we are offering a Taste of Kol Ami-where New Students can come and try our school program for free for 2 weeks without a temple membership. 

Speaking of membership, Temple Kol Ami has moved to the Voluntary Community Support model (VCS) replacing the traditional flat fee membership dues.  There are many benefits to the VCS Model. “Membership dues” are a transaction; VCS is voluntary support of your congregation, to the best of your ability. The VCS model speaks to our value of inclusiveness: there is no Dues Relief process; all levels of contribution are appreciated.  Just as we share as a community all that Kol Ami has to offer, together as a community we share the cost of supporting the congregation. Please contact the Temple or visit our website for information about membership and school.

These last few weeks I've been asking myself, "when does it end"?   At the age of 13 or 14 or 15 after my Bat Mitzvah, Confirmation and Reaffirmation I thought I was done. I thought I put in my time... but I was left with this empty feeling.  Then a door opened… it was Youth Group and when that was done, another door opened and it was when I went to University and wanted Jewish connection, and then more doors opened, teaching at different Hebrew Schools, and Birthright, and then another door opened, starting a Hebrew School and being a Principal, then more doors opened, Boards and Committees, and now our new home here at Temple Kol Ami.   Now at 45…am I done? This need to connect, this pull to turn the knob and see what’s behind the door, it keeps growing. You get what you give… you give what you get. What you put in you get out.   

Kol Ami has SO many doors for you.      

You might had noticed a few tables set up in the Lobby at Avani.  I had mentioned at Rosh Hashanah to stop by those tables and take a look at the different committees and groups that are available for you to participate in at Temple Kol Ami.  Community doesn’t happen on it’s own. Community is your Cultural home, a place where you can learn and grow. A place where you can find comfort, support, friendship, acceptance, and respect.   Kol Ami is your second home. For more information in joining a committee or group please reach out to me.

Shana Tova U'metukah.       

Committees and Groups:

Adult Education     School/Parent

Chesed                   Membership

Social                      Ritual 

High Holy Days       Social Action/Tikun Olam

Interfaith                  Sacred Space

Choir                        Baseball

Mitzvah Bakers        Book Club

Shtyx: Rock Shabbat Band

 

ROSH HASHANAH D’VAR TORAH

 

Please read the words of Kathy Stein, past president of Kol Ami from July 2011 to June 2013 and her inspiring d’var Torah from Rosh Hashanah.

 

Good morning.  This summer I was talking to someone about joining Kol Ami and then we went on to discuss how much they were going to pay, you know, as their voluntary contribution.  They said that they were willing to pay the cost of a high holy day ticket, as they only went 2 days a year, and that’s what it was worth to them. My initial reaction was annoyance, even anger - I was dismayed by the concept that being a member of Kol Ami or even their Jewish identity had a monetary limit.  What it’s “worth” to them!????  Remember, people paid with their lives for being Jewish!

I asked them why they bothered to come at all, and they said they were doing it because their family expected it of them.  Alright then. Better than nothing. I acknowledged their words, shrugged my shoulders and went on my way, externally calm and internally seething.

This bugged me on two accounts – the monetization and then dismissal of belonging to Kol Ami (or to any synagogue I guess) and secondly – doing something grudgingly based on a perceived obligation rather than finding something in it as a personal motivation or value.

I reflected on this exchange for quite a while and came to the realization that I shouldn’t have reacted in anger and that I needed to try to understand other perspectives.

But why did I react this way?  My Judaism is very valuable to me. I wasn’t born Jewish, and I’ve worked hard at becoming first a Jew, and then a practicing Jew. In Kol Ami I found a community of scholars and singers, family and friends.  A bunch of ordinary people whose Judaism was worth something to them and who wanted and offered connection and community. And my Jewish identity and connection grew strong.  

But I realize that not everyone feels this way – and in fact I may be in the minority.  

In 2013, the Pew Research Center did a survey of American Jews to examine their identities, values and experiences. The results showed that they were moving away from traditional religious affiliations and were increasingly saying that they have no religion at all — despite identifying themselves as Jews.  These “Jews of no religion” were far less likely to marry other Jews, to raise their children Jewish, to belong to Jewish organizations, and to feel connected to the Jewish community.

What about trends in Canada? The Environics Institute for Survey Research conducted a national survey of Jews in Canada in 2018.

Today, only one in three Canadians who identifies as Jewish considers religion very important in their life. For most Canadian Jews today, the basis of Jewish identity is less about religion than about culture or ethnicity.  But with Jews in Canada, more than half report that most of their current friends are Jewish.  Apart from formal affiliation, being Jewish in Canada seems to be about social connections. 

So, what drives connection or lack of it, to institutions like synagogues and to the Jewish community?

There are several reasons for Jews not wanting to become more connected to Jewish life. Some are simply not interested in doing so. Others have obstacles that make it difficult, such as a lack of time or resources. A third concern is not feeling Jewish enough, which may be about not identifying or feeling comfortable with the local community.

The feeling is more prevalent amongst younger Jews.  How do we welcome and connect with our Jewish kids? – young adults who were born Jewish, may have been schooled Jewish and camped Jewish but just don’t feel a connection the same way their parents do?  They don’t see organized Judaism, synagogue affiliation or communal prayer as an obligation or even as an occasional necessity – yet they identify as Jews. 

Despite a trend to less synagogue involvement, people are still looking for community, and people are looking for meaning. This yearning for meaning intensifies during this High Holy Day season, with Jews of all ages looking to connect with Jewish tradition.

Now let’s consider “looking for meaning” for a moment.  What is meaningful Judaism?  Is it found in obligation or in options?  In prayer? Is it in culture or lifecycle events? Is it in social action and tikkun olam? I think it is different for everyone.

But whatever it is, people need to take ownership on finding meaningfulness in Judaism beyond thinking it is expected of them or just to please others. They need to ask…”what connects me to our people?  Does it have a value?  What is important to preserve today and for the future? “

And what about different attitudes towards synagogue membership? 

 

Rabbi Michael Knopf shares the following insights:  the major flaw in the traditional synagogue model is not necessarily the fixed cost associated with membership but, rather, the notion of membership itself. The word “membership” is a transactional term. A member of an organization is typically one who pays some sort of premium in order to receive certain benefits at no additional cost. It is, therefore, the very definition of fee-for-service. Consider what we are members of today: a gym, Costco, Netflix. One thing in common is that they offer consumers a number of products and services in order to keep you as a customer.

Synagogues, however, hope to be communities, not merely service providers. While a member of an organization is primarily interested in what they receive for themselves, a participant in a community, while not necessarily sacrificing their own needs, is also interested in the welfare of their neighbors and in the success of the community as a whole.

Rabbi Knopf suggests that perhaps we can employ a term other than “membership,” How about the term “friend” instead of “member”? Why? Because there are few words more symbolic of a partnering relationship than “friend,” a concept that embraces support, interdependence, and sharing.

However, friendship isn’t free. As a midrash in Sifre Devarim puts it, “One only acquires a friend through great effort”.

So, synagogues must also make clear to potential friends that belonging to a community is not a fee-for-service transaction. True friendship also takes a commitment of one’s time and talent. Becoming a friend of a synagogue community also requires active personal involvement – in addition to monetary commitment. Kol Ami’s Voluntary Contribution model supports the monetary commitment aspect of this friendship – by asking you as friends, to understand what the financial needs are of our community and encouraging you to contribute to the best of your ability. 

So how do we encourage someone to consider being a friend to our community?  What is our responsibility? The Union for Reform Judaism promotes the concept of Audacious Hospitality…  let me paraphrase:

 

“Audacious Hospitality is one of the core priorities of the URJ’s 2020 Vision. …to actively work to engage uninspired and unaffiliated Jews, partnering with congregations … to eliminate the barriers that prevent people from finding their place in Jewish life. To acknowledge demographic shifts of the Jewish people and embrace our full diversity… we seek to create opportunities for learning that strengthen our relationships with one another and build meaningful Jewish communities … We welcome all.”

 

So now a moment to reflect ….What are we doing to welcome people – our own families, friends, acquaintances, people we’ve never met before? How welcoming are we to uninvolved or reluctant Jews? How do we welcome interfaith families, LGBTQ, Jews of colour?  Do we befriend Jews and their non-Jewish partners who might not look, act, live or love like us?

Welcoming the stranger is one of Judaism’s most time-honoured virtues. Our tradition directs us to be an inclusive people. The commandment to be hospitable appears in the Torah 36 times – more than any other commandment.

If we are going to welcome the stranger, we are then responsible for their experience. Maya Angelou gets it right in that “…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

 

We also need to redefine what it means to be affiliated. We need to accept that affiliation could be expanded to include all those who act upon their Jewish identity in any way.

By broadening the definition of affiliated, then we can widen the scope of connection. We can make Jews of all walks of life and non-Jews who are connected to our community feel comfortable and give them the opportunity to explore for themselves how they want to (or don’t want to) live Jewishly.

Let’s continue to provide even more options for connections at Kol Ami – through communal opportunities to study, to pray, to celebrate.  Whether we see a movie together or provide a lecturer, go bowling or apple picking, play baseball or poker; let’s support Jews, new-Jews and non-Jews and welcome them openly.  We need to appreciate what they do come to, and not be frustrated for what they choose not to attend.  And we need to make it welcoming and friendly and easy for them to return and participate again. 

To those of you who are here because you are doing it for your family, or because it is expected, or because you feel some undefinable cultural attachment – embrace your own presence as Jews and as part of the Kol Ami community and find in it something meaningful for yourselves.  And maybe this year, consider trying to connect in new ways, both socially and spiritually.

And to those of us who are comfortable, who may take for granted our Judaism and our connection to the Kol Ami community – realize that not everyone feels the same way all the time.  We can be better friends and offer connection and appreciate what is given back. And we can nurture and support on every level.

Human beings will always crave meaning and community. It’s up to those of us who find both in Judaism and here at Kol Ami to prove its worth to others.  Thank you.

 

 

 

Fri, 23 October 2020 5 Cheshvan 5781