By Sharon Bleviss
This message was given by Sharon during the first day of Rosh HaShanah services at B’nai Emunah, San Francisco.
I’m Sharon Bleviss, the president of our Congregation and it is my honor to be here with you today. It is important for all of us to remember that taking time off from our busy lives for these two days of Rosh Hashanah, to reflect on who we are, is a healing and strengthening exercise. To be in the presence of our congregational family is even more healing, since we are exposed to all the love and support that can only come from a close-knit group such as ours.
The High Holy Days are a time which draws folks to shul from near and far. A gentleman wanted to get into the shul on Rosh Hashanah, but without a ticket they wouldn’t let him in. He pleaded, ‘Look, I just want to give a message to Morris in there.’ The man at the door said, ‘Sorry sir, you’ve got to have a ticket.’ The gentleman replied, ‘Just let me in for one minute, then I’ll be right out.’ ‘Alright,’ said the man at the door, ‘but I better not catch you praying.’
Just a little humor there…
I was elected in May 2006 to lead a fine board of directors in the management of our shul. Custom dictates that every year on this day the President is to stand before you and deliver the state of the shul address and this will be my last such address. At the end of six years at the helm, I will pass on the torch of leadership.
Being President of a shul’s board carries a heavy responsibility. In fact, the President of a congregation in Israel went to visit Rabbi Ben Azzai, who was in a Tel Aviv hospital having just suffered a mild heart attack. He said, ‘Rabbi, the board just voted 12 to 8 to wish you a speedy recovery.’
Seriously though, if one ponders the Torah readings leading up to Rosh Hashanah, as I have shared with you in the past, there are some striking metaphors to our B’nai Emunah world. As Moses led the Jews through 40 years of wandering in the desert, so did we ‘wander’ for two and a half years after Rabbi Ted Alexander’s retirement. And just like Moses, instead of being paralyzed by the task at hand, a core group of committed individuals jumped right in and began to embrace the challenge. And though the task was daunting, as it was for Moses and the Jews, the faithful—B’nai Emunah, children of faith—persevered and made it to the Promised Land.
And what is the metaphor for B’nai Emunah’s Promised Land? Once again, the ‘faithful’ remained true when others said it couldn’t be done. This community banded together just over three years ago to hire Rabbi Mark Melamut to take us into the Promised Land. Indeed, the synagogue is currently in a period of Renaissance, our own land of milk and honey.
The last year has been a culmination of the last five years of work here at CBE: streamlining, changing, building new energy, seeking long-term sustainability. First, we worked on defining who we are and reorganized Board structure to create transparency, establish accountability and formalize processes. We have remained committed to fiscal responsibility by trimming unneeded expenses, reprioritizing spending, reorganizing salaried positions, increasing income through the cell towers, preschool and other rentals, improving accounting procedures, creating an Endowment Fund, and lowering our monthly mortgage payments. We have increased communication with the weekly BEmail and bimonthly Profile, the ever-improving website (take a look if you haven’t lately), a Facebook page and blog (yes, it’s true), web ads, and the directory which is available to all members. One cannot miss the increased programming, such as social action, Judaism University, Tot Shabbat, Thursday minyan, and camping Shabbaton, not to mention the host of new activities planned for the upcoming year. We have invested in our children through the school and USY youth group. We have improved the physical plant and maintained the building, most recently ‘remodeling’ our space with new doors, gates, security measures and planters, a new look for the lobby and, of course, these wonderful new chairs (no sleeping now!) The Ritual Committee and clergy have brought innovation and a new spirituality to Shabbat and holiday services, as well as the new machzorim before you. We have, alas, said goodbye to several members through death but have also welcomed many new members who have entered our doors.
This is a time of transition for B’nai Emunah, not unlike what the Jews experienced once they crossed the River Jordan. History tells us that their journey was not an easy one, but one fraught with battle and peril. Just as we are entering the New Year, we here at B’nai Emunah are entering a New Era. We stood on the mountain and looked in, just as Moses did, and now we have ventured in fully. We are surrounded by the comfortable past just as surely as we are touching so many things that are new.
Is it smooth sailing from here, now that we are in this New Era in the Land of Milk and Honey? Hardly. In these uncertain financial times, we face the ongoing specter of increased costs and the need for similarly increased donations, of looming mortgage payments and salary obligations. We need to welcome even more new members into our family, just as our ancestors did in the land of Israel, and share with them the best kept secret that is B’nai Emunah. We need to draw people on the edge into the vibrant center. The remarkable accomplishments of the past year are YOUR accomplishments; it is TEAMWORK, the community, our tribe, that has sustained us, and will sustain us going forward. Unlike at times in the past, we clearly see that way forward, one in which shared leadership will take us there.
So when you listen to the shofar this year, don’t just listen. Hear it as a call to action, to join the team, to try new things, to learn, to care for others, to find the moments every day that make you smile, to choose life.
Permit me another opportunity to inject some humor:
A friend was in front of me coming out of the sanctuary on Rosh Hashanah, and as always the rabbi was standing at the door shaking hands as the congregation departed. The rabbi grabbed my friend by the hand and pulled him aside. The rabbi said to him, “You need to join the Army of G-d!”
My friend replied, “I’m already in the Army of G-d, Rabbi.”
The rabbi questioned, “How come I don’t see you except for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?”
He whispered back, “I’m in the secret service.”
At this time of looking inward, we as a community must collectively determine what our year ahead will bring. Rosh Hashanah is a time for introspection. Ask yourselves what is really meaningful in your life today, especially in these precarious times. My guess is that B’nai Emunah will be part of the answer.
I leave you now with a new year’s blessing, and a little more humor:
Life is short! Break the rules! Forgive quickly! Love truly, Laugh uncontrollably Never regret anything that made you smile The best things in life are free … Until the government finds out and taxes em’.
Have a wonderful 5772! Shanah Tovah to all!