MAY 6, 2007
The Jewish calendar and the synagogue calendar are not always in sync, but occasionally they mesh just right. This Shabbat we will read the end of the Book of Leviticus, including a series of blessings that come from fulfilling God’s commandments and curses if one does not. Next week we commence with the Book of Numbers. So too, with this annual meeting we close one book, one administration of leadership and reflect on the year past, as well as look to the next administration and the year to come.
The Haftarah, from Jeremiah continues on the theme of blessings and curses with the verses: “Blessed are those who trust in the Eternal, whose trust in the Eternal! They shall be like a tree planted near water, sinking its roots into the watercourse, never noticing when the heat comes, its leaves green, careless of times of drought, never failing to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8) The suggestion is that faith, not simply belief in God, but active faith, which includes prayer, study and ongoing acts of goodness, can be an anchor to people; faith, which links an individual with a community of likeminded men and women, can make a difference in people’s lives.
Interestingly, recent studies in our Jewish community have indicated the truth of this. Those who are faithful, who are linked to their religious communities, who attend services statistically feel less stress than those who do not, as they deal with the ongoing challenges of post-Katrina New Orleans. Specifically they have less trouble concentrating, sleep better (not during the services), have more energy, are not as nervous and have less difficulty settling down. While I would like to tell you that this is unique to the Jewish community, that would not be true. Nonetheless, this study simply validates what Jeremiah taught over two thousand years ago.
Our goal this past year, even more so than in other years, was to provide outstanding programs, recreate a sense of the normal, build upon the strengths of the members who are here and start thinking about the future. I believe that we have been eminently successful in our endeavors, as you will hear from our President Miriam Latter in a few minutes.
This was a year where lay and professional leadership really needed to step up and I believe all have succeeded. I begin with our lay leaders and as you read in our May bulletin, I cannot provide any more accolades for Miriam. Her caring soul was the perfect fit at this time in our congregational history. Through her commitment to outstanding programming, she has nurtured, fed, entertained and led us with excellence. She wisely surrounded herself with capable officers, board members and past Presidents, taking charge where she deemed it appropriate and strategically delegating as well. Chazak, you have been strong as you complete this term of leadership and with a new slate of officers to be approved later today, Chazak, we will continue to be strong as we move to the future.
Our professional team continues to be creative and responsive to the challenges of New Orleans synagogue life. The addition of Melanie Blitz as Nursery School Director has already lifted that program tremendously. Many of us knew Melanie primarily as a gifted caterer. However, her talents, insights and abilities extend beyond the kitchen.
With her life-long links to this congregation, she fit in perfectly with the total operation and the rest of the professionals. We continue to be blessed with Phil Gaethe as our Temple Educator and I am so pleased for him that this summer he will participate in the NATE Educators Seminar in Israel; with Victoria May, whose multiple talents both musical and editorial and care for this synagogue are apparent to all; with Louis Geiger, our Temple Administrator, who has the duty of managing this physical plant and the constant level of activity, making sure we are fiscally sound, while calming the nervous B’nai Mitzvah parents, who want everything to go perfectly. They all work hard and do a marvelous job, supported admirably by Dianne Green, Monica Dittfeld, Sheila Freedman, Jenny Ermatinger and Michelle Bassham, along with the various men and women who comprise our custodial staff. This is a big operation and it takes quite a team to make it run smoothly.
I must confess that as I look at the coming year, I am excited about the opportunities that are before us. Our members can continue to sink their roots.
Twenty years ago, we celebrated Israel at 40 with a year long program of activities relating to Israel on a variety of levels. This year, the entire community unites to celebrate Israel at 60. We will try to coordinate, so that the whole community can enjoy activities without overlapping on individual programs. Our Fall and Spring Continuing Education classes will relate to Israel and I am hopeful that our friend Rabbi Micky Boyden will be back to share a weekend of learning. I am encouraging Brotherhood and Sisterhood, always vital components of our synagogue life, to plan Israel related programs as well in addition to their other numerous possibilities.
I am pleased to see that our Friday evening worship attendance is picking up a bit. Tot Shabbats have been enhanced by the involvement of Melanie Blitz, who has created complimentary art projects to go along with the worship. Similarly our Family Shabbat services have been popular and well attended by and large.
However, I would like to introduce a new program a few times in the coming year called “Synaplex”. Just as you walk into the Cinemaplex of the Palace Theater and choose among a variety of options, the same can take place here on a Shabbat. All begin with dinner, but then there will be a variety of Shabbat activities from which you can choose: a Jewish theme related movie, yoga, Jewish meditation, a regular service, Israeli dance, Torah study, art activities and I can go on. This kind of program has energized many a congregation throughout the country and I would like to see us give it a try. I think it will be fun.
I envision new liturgy in the coming year. The much anticipated and delayed Mishkan Tefillah, the new siddur for the Reform movement, should be available shortly. We will examine it carefully and then decide if we would like to adopt it for the congregation. In addition our Yom Kippur Reflections service continues to be popular, but could use revision. I invite any who are interested in working on that project to let me know. We are also searching for new High Holy Day youth service options.
I’m also looking forward to renewing our Shabbat morning Torah Study program. Minimally it will entail me leading the study generally on the first Shabbat morning of the month, beginning with Bereshit in October. Hopefully the group will build and we will have weekly study offerings before we know it.
Our teens will be quite busy this Fall, as we host NFTY Southern’s Fall Conclave. With the theme of Jews Around the World, they will become more aware of what Jewish life is like beyond our borders. As a congregation we will have the responsibility of hosting teens from around the region, offering them home hospitality, so please be available the weekend of November 2-4. Phil Gaethe will present a special curriculum for Post Confirmation students and parents, called “Packing For College,” a URJ program to look at the Jewish challenges of selecting and going to college.
Katrina is still influencing who we are and what we do. We are preparing for the coming storm season with the lessons learned in the back of our minds. If you have not submitted updated contact information, please do so. The Religious Action Committee and Katrina Response Committee have provided us with opportunities to physically repair our city, gutting one house and building others. We continue to try and create a meaningful relationship with the Upper 9th and 7th Ward Women’s shelters. I am a bit frustrated that more of our members have not stepped up in these endeavors. I realize that some are still in the process of repairing their own lives, but many others do not have that excuse. In the year to come it is my hope that we will do better. Tikun Olam, repairing our world continues as one of our essential mandates.
Of course a fascinating outgrowth of Katrina has been the relationship with Congregation Beth Israel, which is still evolving. Last year we cooperated in one or two programs and I anticipate more of that in the coming year. They have hired their own rabbi, Uri Topolofsky, a man who is fully supportive of pluralism in the Jewish community. Truly, the linkage of our two congregations may be ground breaking in American Jewish life, but rest assured that it will not impact our approach to Judaism.
And so, as one year ends, a new one begins, just as in our ongoing reading of Torah. We pray that it will be another year of blessing.