[NOTE: Below is an excerpt of the speech I presented to the congregation at Rosh Hashanah services.]
I’d like to welcome each and every one of you for being with us today. I’m grateful for your support in making our Temple a thriving congregation in Des Moines. A special welcome to our guests from cities and towns across Iowa and the country, those visiting us for the first time, our newest members who have recently joined, to our college students from campuses near and far, our very own Youth Group and to those currently in Rabbi’s conversion class.
Let me be one of the first to wish you a Happy New Year and to thank Rabbi Kaufman for his leadership and continued support in our community. To our wonderful staff, David Muenchrath, Wendy Beckerman, Erin Plank, Jake Heilman and Charles Stanton for their hard work and dedication. You are all greatly appreciated.
To the Board of Directors, a wonderful group of individuals who have shared their sacred work with me over the past four months, I look forward to continuing our journey together in making the Temple a place that inspires us all. I would be remiss if I didn’t specifically thank two individuals who have helped me transition to this leadership role of President. To our past president Judy Shkolnick and our Temple’s first Vice President Gabrielle Callistein for their support and friendship. Of course, thank you to all of our past presidents for their time and dedication to Temple over the years.
The High Holidays could not be more meaningful and inspiring without the music you hear throughout the services. A special thank you to Ira Lacher, Chuck Kuba, Laura Sparks and Sam Miller and to each and every one of our talented choir members and musicians who have taken the time to be here and to share their music with all of us at this special time of year.
You may have noticed as you entered the building from the North parking lot, a landscape project that has been recently completed. This project could not have become a reality without the support of John and Cyril Mandelbaum. John and Cyril, thank you for making the Temple grounds a more beautiful space for all of us to enjoy.
The Jewish New Year begins with focusing on the awesome nature and potential that exists within each of us, having the ability to make a difference in the world. As we stand at the threshold of a new year we each should ask ourselves some simple questions: “What can I do in the coming year to actualize more of my potential?” “How can I contribute, even in a small way, to making the world a better place?” “What can I do to make a difference in someone else’s life?” The question each of us should ask this morning is “What can I do to make Temple a better place for me, for my partner, for my family, for my community, for our world?
”I would like to ask each of you to consider what I truly believe is a very important obligation of being a member of our Temple. No, it’s not about money. Actually, that’s another important part of our Temple obligations, but I’ll get to that shortly. I wanted to speak to you about volunteering your time at Temple. Volunteering is about finding something you enjoy doing, being around the company of others who enjoy doing the same thing while accomplishing a goal. Today, I challenge you to begin a spirit of volunteer engagement that invites each and every congregant to shape and nurture the Temple and the future of our community. The rewards are so invaluable in many ways and can make a vast difference in the overall health and welfare of our synagogue.
Synagogues that fully embrace the volunteer resource are more efficient, effective and achieve their mission, vision and goals. These organizations have the ability to accomplish far more than synagogues that depend on a few volunteers or their staff. I would insist if our Temple had a robust presence of volunteers each week throughout the year, I believe there would be a new level of engagement that we haven’t seen recently.
Imagine entering the building where a group of men and women assist our office manager with a mailing of a newsletter. Down the hall, a committee meets to organize rides and meals for those members in need. Outside, a group of individuals prepare flower beds around the Grand Avenue entrance and water the new landscaping. A group of young families gather in a park to coordinate a culinary group to provide desserts after Family Shabbats. The Brotherhood and Sisterhood meet to plan a mitzvah project to help several of our elder congregants spruce up their homes.
These examples happen across the country in other synagogues but it’s not as prevalent here. Some of the committees we currently have in place are led by just one person. These committees should have several people engaged and reaching out to other members interested in accomplishing their objectives.
A culture of volunteer engagement invites each and every congregant to shape and nurture the synagogue and the future of the community. This is accomplished by crafting a vibrant congregation in which all members are inspired by their passion to bring their skill to fulfill the mission of the synagogue.
The first step to introducing a culture of volunteer engagement starts with me and our Board. I’ve asked each Board member to volunteer as a greeter and announcer at Shabbat services where they will have opportunities to meet new faces and say hello to our congregants. It’s important for the Board to speak with and hear directly from each of you. To hear your concerns, your praises and your suggestions. You may have noticed that I’ve been volunteering at Shabbat services much more lately as a greeter and announcer. It was suggested to me by one of our members who felt the Temple needed to become more welcoming. During my time as a greeter and announcer, I’ve really enjoyed it! It brings me a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of truly being involved with our community. I’ve enjoyed meeting new people and visiting with current members.
Going forward, I’ll be working with others to create a list of volunteer opportunities that will be accessible to you in each and every Bulletin and on our website at all times. For those that are a little more tech savvy, a software platform will be used that allows you to view volunteer opportunities and signup in a matter of minutes. If you don’t see something that interests you, bring your ideas to my attention so we can make them happen. So on this Rosh Hashanah, I challenge each and every one of you to volunteer. Whether it’s once a year, once a month or once a week, whether it’s leading a committee, helping manage an event or simply raking leaves around Temple, please volunteer.
And speaking of volunteering, I cannot be more pleased to announce a wonderful opportunity that has been given us. The church who shares our space has invited us to participate along with them on a Habitat for Humanity Multi-Faith build taking place on Sunday, October 15th from 1 to 5 PM. I encourage you to sign-up for this wonderful way to give back to our community. There are only a few spots remaining so please refer to the High Holidays program for more information or contact Rachele Hjelmaas, our chair of the Social Action committee.
Besides volunteering, we also rely on your financial support. I am so appreciative of the financial support you provide Temple. Whether through your annual commitment or contributing to specific Temple funds and projects you feel connected to -- Thank you. Let’s face it, Temple needs to be financially supported by all of you to make ends meet. We are excited about making strides in growing our membership and are very fortunate to have an endowment that many other synagogues would envy, however the reality is that our total annual commitments fall short of covering our operating budget each year. In an effort to understand how our annual commitments influence our ability to operate, I have formed a committee to examine our giving model and have asked them to provide a recommendation outlining how our giving model should look for the Temple to meet its financial obligations without resorting to building assessments or taking large sums of money from our endowment in the future. The results of their analysis and their recommendation will be presented to the Board in a few months. At that time, the Board and I will work together to communicate any changes that may occur to our giving model.
As a new year begins, let’s first reflect on who we are as a congregation and as a community. Let’s remember our Temple founding fathers who established the first Jewish congregation here in Des Moines over 144 years ago. As we fast forward to today, from generation to generation, and think about our lives, we must not be complacent and take Temple for granted. In a world full of so many choices and options, where so many other priorities have enabled us from coming together to interact with one another, we need to strive to make time to get together more often, pray and sing more often and volunteer more often. There is no better time than now to become more connected to Temple. It’s our obligation.
Shanah tovah um’tukah
May you have a good and sweet New Year