Shabbat shalom! I cannot tell you how good it is to see you. Just a few days ago I was in agonizing pain, lying in a hospital bed, not expecting to be here tonight. Through the benefit of physical therapy, modern chemistry, and Sally’s loving care, I am very grateful to be here. I have often said to you that the difference between health and illness is one second. One second I was standing, the next I was on my back in the shower, having torn the three tendons in my left hamstring. This just reminds me never to take my health for granted. I am fortunate in that this is really just an inconvenience. It is worse for Sally than for me. I should fully heal in a few months. Every morning after I awake I say, “Modeh Ani L’fanecha,” Thank you God for restoring my soul unto me.” Every new day is blessing. Every new day is gift from God. Every day we have our health is a good day. We should never take this gift for granted. I so appreciate all your well wishes and prayers for recovery. Please save them now for those who are truly sick. They are the ones who really need our help.
This Shabbat we read Parashat Vayigash, the penultimate Torah reading in the Book of Genesis. In this parashah, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, Jacob moves his entire clan to Egypt, Jacob blesses Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Menashe, and Jacob offers a death bed character assessment of each of his twelve sons, predicting their descendants’ future. Predicting the future based on one’s past is always a bit risky. The authors of the Joseph story, writing long after the future events occurred, had time as their ally. I can offer you a tentative prediction of what will happen in the next five years with the caveat that only God knows what the future will bring.
The committed Reform Jewish community in Baltimore will to continue to shrink. Those who leave our synagogues do not usually affiliate any else, joining the majority of Baltimore Jews who are unaffiliated. At one time, we made up well over a third of Baltimore’s affiliated Jews. I suggest that today the number is closer to 20-25%. We simply cannot maintain four active synagogues and the staff that requires. Temple Emanuel is the first casualty of this contraction, having to sell their building and rent space from Conservative Beth Israel in Owings Mills. The survival of this sixty year old congregation is much in doubt. The rabbis of both Temple Emanuel and Har Sinai are leaving at the end of this fiscal year, leaving both congregations in transition.
That is not to say that the two southern most Reform synagogues, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and Temple Oheb Shalom, do not have financial challenges, but I can confidently report that we are both quite stable. We, in particular, are in a good place. We are a vibrant and healthy congregation. Our membership is stable and the number of young families is growing exponentially. Some excellent developments have taken place in this last year which bode well for the future. In particular, our Engagement Task Force, funded by the Associated, chaired by Vicki Spira and staffed by Maxine Lowy, has involved dozens of baby boomers in the life of the congregation by building one on one relationships between congregants. To paraphrase Martin Buber, all of life is about relationships. The creating of deep personal relationships within our congregation is paramount to our health. This effort will be extended to other cohorts in the near future.
We introduced our new High Holyday Machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh, to rave reviews. We find it incredible that we did not hear one negative reaction. One of the major reasons for this is the wisdom of our officers in allowing our entire clergy team, Cantor Braun, Rabbi Nagel and me, to spend three days in New York at a seminar on how to use and introduce the new Machzor. We were the only synagogue in the country to send a full clergy team to the conference. This gave us the confidence and knowledge to craft the High Holyday services as we did. With Paul Binko’s help, we were able to create a meaningful and more relevant High Holyday experience.
Now I yield the bima to Rabbi Nagel who will continue the Rabbi’s report:
Thank you, Rabbi Nagel. Let me conclude by briefly discussing the three challenges we have to meet now and in the next few years.
- Enrollment in our early childhood center, the Learning Ladder, has substantially decreased. We are not sure why this has happened and are in the process of working with a consultant from the Union of Reform Judaism to help us understand the reasons. We know that attendance at all Jewish pre-schools in Baltimore has greatly decreased. We will be making some serious decisions about the Learning Ladder within the next year.
- Our magnificent historically significant facility is in need of some serious repairs. Now 55 years old, it is showing its age. We need to replace the heating and cooling systems, windows, and other parts of the infrastructure. This is an expensive proposition. We should be planning a campaign to pay for this.