Yom Tov everyone, Good Yontif to everyone here in the Sanctuary and all of you streaming from around the world. Welcome to Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel for this special Yom Kippur Service.
Thank you Rabbi David, Cantor Levy, Hazzan Tilman, Andrew Senn, our professional choir, Trumpeter/Shofar Blower Jeff Miller, Cellist Jessie Reagen Mann, and every one of our staff led by Brian Rissinger, and all of our skilled, dedicated volunteers. We don’t say thank you enough, and I want to be clear that our Lay Leaders and Congregants appreciate the enormous amount of high quality work that you do every day at KI, and especially during this High Holy Day season.
At erev Rosh Hashanah services, I described KI as a t-shirt quilt and further asserted that each of you could represent one of those shirts, with its memories and special occasions, and that all of us, along with what we bring to the synagogue, get fastened together to form something new, unique, and more valuable than the its parts – our KI Congregation.
Now, as I stand before you getting ready to make that annual ask for our High Holy Day appeal, I realize that no, actually, I’m not actually asking you to donate to our High Holy Day appeal.
I’m asking you to make a gift to the KI Congregation, to our shared history and struggles and hopes and values.
One KI value that always stands out to me is our focus on our youth and teens, as you no doubt read in my email appeal last week (right?).
I ask today that you share a gift this season that originates from your values and the value that KI holds in your heart.
For me, KI was central in helping my husband and me raise our son within the Jewish faith. We benefited from the cutting-edge Religious Education program and individualized Bar Mitzvah preparation. Berel read from the Torah in this exact spot – my feet now in his footsteps. He later studied for his Confirmation under the encouragement of Clergy and read his speech on this bima.
And then what? Lee and I didn’t fade away from KI life and in fact increased our level of participation, as many of you have. Why??
First, the people. As many of you have told me, we’re here for the special people who make up this Congregation, this community quilt. I love volunteering with you, leading with you, debating with you, and sometimes praying, chanting, singing, and celebrating with you.
Then there was that anonymous Congregant who planted the seed for this idea in my head years ago when she joined KI. She simply felt it was of paramount importance to support a synagogue, to help keep and propel the Jewish faith into the future, especially now, in a time when organized religion is facing multiple threats from within and without.
I see a re-emerging role of the synagogue today for Jews and our larger community. It’s the best, and in many cases the only, meaningful space for us to congregate in times of grief, simchas, prayer, celebration, and social justice and action.
Specifically, I want to emphasize the importance of KI’s clergy and staff. We know that KI’s positive impact on our youth is profound and long-term. I cherish Rabbi David’s, Cantor Levy’s and our staff’s ability to nurture and comfort our children and teenagers, encouraging them to embrace values and traditions consistent with their families, KI, and Reform Judaism.
Finally, our synagogue has today taken on a new heightened role in a world where anti-Semitism is on the rise and is becoming louder and more open and brazen, as Rabbi David referenced in his Sermon on erev Rosh Hashanah.
Just this past Thursday, Brian and I attended a Zoom conference entitled “National Update on the Rise of Swatting and Bomb Threats During the High Holiday Season.”
It seemed surreal for me to be briefing on how to respond to attacks – both physical and emotional – on Jews in 2023. It took me back to my high school and college days. But that’s our reality now. We know that these are designed to disrupt our ability to practice our religion through instilling chaos and fear.
I believe that the synagogue, and especially KI, is a bulwark against fear, a hub of communal Jewish activity, and a symbol of stubborn pride and survival, not unlike the Magen David flying just about everywhere we went in Israel this past summer.
So today, I ask you to please consider making KI one of your largest gifts this year. Your generous gift this season will help ensure that our clergy and staff can continue to instill a strong and enduring sense of Judaism in our youth and continue to strengthen our Jewish home for all of our Congregants this coming year.
On behalf of all of the Trustees, I wish you Shana Tovah, a healthy and sweet year, and a meaningful fast today. G’mar Tov.
Andrew Altman, KI President