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President’s Remarks – High Holy Days 5783

Yom Tov, Shana Tovah u’metukah, or in other words, Gut Yontif. I’m Andrew Altman, president of KI, and I’m so happy to see all of you — here, filling up the Sanctuary, and online, streaming from around the world. Welcome!

I want to offer a special welcome to Rabbi David on your first High Holy Day season at KI, and to Rabbi’s wife Lisa, and Rabbi’s parents Rabbi Jerome David and Peggy, who are all here tonight. We’re thrilled and honored you’re here on Erev Rosh Hashanah.

Thank you, Rabbi David, Cantor Levy, Hazzan Tilman, organist Andrew Senn, our volunteer choir Shir KI, the professional singers, and Jeff Miller on trumpet and Shofar, for tonight’s beautiful and meaningful service.

I wish you could see the view from here on the bimah. After two-and-a-half years of the Pandemic, we’re back. But more accurately, the positive story here is that we never really left.

While we weren’t always here in the Sanctuary, (some but not all of us did attend in person last year, and I’m well aware that some still are not ready to return in-person), tonight many are here sitting side-by-side, in the physical presence of the ark filled with our seven Torah scrolls in their white gowns and polished silver; we’re praying and singing in unison (which we’ve all experienced with cringe is not possible on Zoom!), under the gaze of the Prophets from the Landau windows, and basking in the glow and familiarity of the traditions generations old and yet relevant and comforting tonight.

It was your faith in the strength of our spiritual home, Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel, that allowed us to serve our community in so many ways over the past years, and to remain a beacon of education, social action, communal engagement, innovative and meaningful worship, and much more.

KI staff, clergy, lay leadership, and congregants all collaborated to meet — and now continue to meet — the challenges of our times with compassion and resolve. Together, we made sure to offer opportunities for congregants to worship, commune, celebrate, mourn, and serve those in need. We kept members connected to each other and to KI through thousands of phone calls, Zoom meetings, streaming, and outdoor events.

And now what? Tonight we begin T’shuvah – repentance and new beginnings.

The essay “T’shuvah: Returning to Our Truest Selves at the High Holidays,” by Rabbi John L. Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles, CA, includes this observation, which I invite each of you to interpret in your own personal and unique way, connecting to your story that brought you here tonight:

“When successful, t’shuvah is restorative and utopian, for it enables us to return to our truest selves and overcome the past for the sake of a better future.”

One question that comes to mind tonight is: Does that future include KI? What role does KI play in your future? What role do you play in KI’s future? I know, that’s more than one question.

I can still hear the call of the Shofar as if it were yesterday — or a week ago from the rooftop of our building at our Shofar on the Roof celebration.

And I wonder… what calling — to what exactly? What I hear is probably what many of you hear: the call to reflect on our lives, our life choices, how we treated our loved ones, strangers, our home planet. The call to commit to a plan of action for the coming year to do better.

So what if we all — all of us in this holy room now, and all of us with our eyes on a screen at home now or some time later — committed to including in our plan to do better the goal of strengthening the bond between ourselves and KI, meaning not just the programs but the people, too. What can you do? How can you do it?

What would that mean for KI? We could start with what at KI attracts you? This list is long…

Compassionate and professional pastoral care for those in need, education for youth and adults alike, musical and fine arts entertainment, opportunities to work shoulder-to-shoulder with others from both the congregation and community at large to serve others, meaningful worship, joyful celebration of holidays and marking life cycle events, finding and giving solace, and so much more.

KI makes us realize the value of community today in our often chaotic and unpredictable world. It offers for many people emotional safety and connection, and audacious hospitality for all – a goal we know we must continue to work hard to meet.

While WHAT KI offers is obviously important, sometimes the ‘why’ is more important. Why serve congregants and the community, why join KI, why attend our events, why engage at all?

I tell my students to do the right thing simply BECAUSE it’s the right thing. But really, sometimes humans need more to hold onto.

Why did two-hundred-fifty people decide to spend their time at KI that gorgeous afternoon at Shofar on the Roof? To play games with friends? Enjoy hoagies and pretzels and ice-cream with other parents? Meet the Rabbi and his family? (Yes.) Or to hear the call of the Shofar among like-minded people as they readied themselves for Rosh Hashanah?

For some people, the answer to their ‘why KI’ is their desire to comfort a grieving friend or stranger. For others, their ‘why’ is because they can’t understand why anyone should have to be hungry in our country, and cooking or serving for the food insecure is their chosen method of Tikkun Olam. For others, they enjoy listening to stories from someone who has no one else to tell them to.

I have heard that some of you love that KI is a warm, fluffy blanket wrapped around you or a fellow congregant, providing emotional safety and warmth, helping to cope with challenges from work or family or health concerns. KI for others is a weighted blanket keeping you or someone you care about grounded during uncertain times politically, financially, or simply during any time that stresses your mental health.

On the flip side, KI provides for some of you not a salve but a celebration, a way to honor family milestones, observe holidays, or share the joy of a b’nai mitzvah, anniversary, or wedding of yours or a loved one. Your ‘why’ is to be amidst a trusted community with whom you share a moment in time through a Jewish context.

For still others, your “why” is your deep conviction in support of Israel, or  Jewish education and our extraordinary team of teachers in the Preschool and Religious Schools JQuest and Quest Noar.

At a time when houses of worship among all faiths in the United States are battling against apathy and waning interest in organized religion, KI is gaining enthusiasm and new members. Tonight I’m asking why? Why KI?

Is it one of the specific reasons I just mentioned, or a combination of those causes? Or do you feel like one member told me, that you just feel a strong need to do your part to ensure that synagogues, as institutions of congregants, continue to thrive into the next generation, and, of all of the synagogues you know, you chose KI?

Tonight, I call on all of us to discover, or rediscover, our particular why, and apply it to your what and how. Your ‘why’ might spark you to join one of our  forty synagogue committees, help plan an event for the congregation, bring a friend to Shabbat services or to one of our Torah or Talmud study sessions, attend an arts or educational program, make that stretch gift you’ve been thinking about, or volunteer with one of our many social action and justice programs.

I fully appreciate that you make choices every day regarding how you allocate your time and resources, and I hope you see KI as not just another charity but as your Reform Jewish home. I call on all of us to make decisions that are values-driven, relational, and not just transactional. Because I believe that if this is the case, KI will continue to thrive.

We ARE creating tomorrow together, and together we’ll make 5783 another great year at KI.

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I wish you a happy and healthy new year.

Shalom Aleichem – Peace be upon you — with Open Doors, Open Hearts, L’Shana Tova.

Andrew Altman, KI President