Category Archives: Religious Services

Torah Dedication Remarks from Shavuot 5778 by Jerry Jacobs

The following remarks were presented by Jerry Jacobs at the Shavuot Torah Dedication on Sunday, May 20, 2018. 

Dear Friends:  On behalf of the entire Jacobs family, greetings on this first day of Shavuot. We are thankful to all of you for sharing this very special occasion with us. This year, Laura and I are celebrating 50 years of membership in this congregation. In that time, there have been only two Torah dedications at our shul, and the last one occurred some 40 years ago. We felt it was “chai” time to fulfill one of the shul’s longstanding needs by commissioning a newly scribed Torah to add to the Aron.

We honor today my mother’s father, Mayer Quain, Meir ben Simantov HaCohen, who died in 1944 when I was one year old. I never really knew my grandfather, but my mother told me many stories about him, and I will relate some of them today. He was “true” Sephardic—that is, of Spanish/Portuguese ancestry (my mother called that “true” Sephardic)—and was born in Bulgaria in 1883, when it was part of the Ottoman Empire. Mayer’s father was a Ko-hen, pronounced Quain in Ladino, hence his English name, Quain.

Mayer sailed to New York as an unaccompanied teenager around 1900 and became a successful business entrepreneur, culminating in his 1935 purchase of an exclusive boutique hotel in midtown Manhattan called the Hotel Elysee. The Hotel, still in business today, also had a well-known nightclub called The Monkey Bar, and remained in our family for 80 years.

Over the years, many celebrities stayed at or lived in the Hotel, including Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Tallulah Bankhead, Ava Gardner, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Harold Robbins, and perhaps most famously, Tennessee Williams, only because he lived and died there.

My grandfather took the Kahuna priesthood seriously, and he was also a 32nd degree Mason and a Shriner, as were his two sons. Indeed, Mayer was a kind of Sephardic “godfather,” dispensing advice, loans, gifts, and even some jobs to his Sephardic friends, acquaintances, and relatives Monday mornings when they visited him at home — which he believed to be part of his priestly and Masonic responsibilities. Please do not stop by my house tomorrow: I am not a Cohen or a Mason, and it’s yom tov.  🙂

Mayer did not live to see his six grandchildren grow up or his great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren attend Jewish day schools.  But I know that he would be very proud to see the way they are continuing their Jewish heritage, as we have seen this morning. The donation of a Sefer Torah in his memory is part of our pay-back to him and pay-forward to future generations. The tribute to Mayer Quain, our patriarch, is richly deserved. When one passes, we traditionally say, “May his or her memory be for a blessing.” With this new Torah, we pass this blessing on to the shul.

After services, you are invited to a Kiddush lunch in our downstairs Social Hall. It will feature several Sephardic food delicacies in honor of my grandfather. A very special thank-you to my dear wife Laura and to Sonya Okin who were the chief caterers for this event, and to all those who helped in the kitchen. Also, much appreciation to Edgar Rendon, Marni Corsaro, and Marcy Burka who worked so hard on the arrangements for this larger than usual gathering. Very special thanks too to Laura Naide and Alexis Joyce and their staffs for preparing the children who added so much to this event. Last, and most, we thank Rabbi Bass for helping to organize all that occurred today, for the beautiful Torah mantle and yad which adorn our new addition, and for her unending friendship and spiritual leadership.

I close with my grandfather’s farewell blessing:  “Saludozo y hechos buenos” — “May you have good health, good business, and successful good deeds.”

Introducing the Student Torah Reader Incentive Program!

We at CEH are introducing the Student Torah Reader Incentive Program! We are striving to support a number of critical goals. These include: increasing the ranks of available Torah Readers, encouraging the participation of young people in our services, and connecting young people with Jewish activities outside the synagogue.

The program works as follows: for every Torah portion or Haftarah a student in our Congregation reads, $18 will be added to a special account. This money will then be applied to the cost of Jewish activities, such as a Jewish Camp or a Youth Group Event. Eligible programs include trips to Israel, Jewish summer camps, Jewish youth group activities and any activity approved by the Rabbi. Students are eligible to participate in the program after they have completed their Bar or Bat Mitzvah, until they have graduated High School. There is no limit to the number of portions a student can read.

Please contact Rabbi Bass if you are willing to read Torah or Haftarah!

Religious Committee – March Meeting Recap

At the meeting on March 8, 2018, the Religious Committee discussed a new Torah Reading Incentive program for our students. While we are still finalizing the details, we think it will be an exciting way to encourage them to read Torah on Shabbat morning.

We also discussed the upcoming Torah Dedication Ceremony to be held on the first day of Shavuot.  Shavuot Services with Sefer Torah Dedication, Donated by Jerry & Laura Jacobs, will take place at 10:00am on Sunday, May 20, 2018. This event is going to be exciting and unique. We discussed ways to make it a truly joyous simcha, and applaud the planning committee for the hard works that’s been done. This is going to be a fun one!

Questions? Contact the Religious Committee at vp.religious@etzhayim.net.

Ask the Rabbi: Why don’t we always cover our eyes during the Shemah?

Why do we cover our eyes when saying the Shemah at certain times, but not at others?

Jews have a custom of covering our eyes while saying the Shemah (Deuteronomy Chapter 6, verses 4-9). We say the Shemah twice daily because it is written in the text itself (verse 7): “And you shall rehearse them with your children and speak of them, when sitting in your house and when walking on the way, when you lie down and when you rise.” The rabbis of the Talmud interpreted this verse to mean that we should recite the Shemah in the evening and in the morning. They called this part of the service “Kri’at Shemah,” the reading of the Shemah, and they believed we needed to focus deeply to truly grasp the meaning of calling the Eternal “One.” Also, the word Shemah means “hear” or “listen,” and when we cover our eyes it is easier to concentrate on the words we are saying.

There are other parts of the service during which we say the Shemah, but those are not moments that require the complete concentration of reciting the three paragraphs of the Shemah (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41). For example, during the Musaf service, we simply acknowledge that the Jewish people say the Shemah twice a day. And during the Torah service, as we are about to carry the Torah to be paraded through the people, we use the Shemah to affirm God’s unity, in a ritual of call and response that ensures that we, as a community, declare our conviction in the oneness of God. In both situations, and in others like that, we do not require the concentration needed to read, speak, teach, and mull over the words of the Shemah. Therefore, when we need to focus on this prayer, we cover our eyes, and when we need to affirm our convictions, we do it proudly, eyes open, with courage and commitment.

Religious Committee – January Meeting Recap

At the meeting on January 11, 2018, the Religious Committee was excited to learn that the Jacobs family we be donating a Sefer Torah to our congregation. We began the discussions of how we’re going to mark this wonderful event.

We also talked about what steps we can take to have more members participate as service leaders and Torah readers. If you, or anyone you know is interested in this, contact Jonathan Arden at vp.religious@etzhayim.net and we’ll work with you to get you more involved. If this is something that’s outside your comfort zone, have no fear. We have smaller opportunities to get you started.

New Torah will debut at Shavuot: Join us for services on the first day of Shavuot — Sunday, May 20, 2018 at 10:00am — to celebrate the addition of the new Sefer Torah to our congregation. This is a truly a unique and joyous occasion, and if that wasn’t enough, there will be great food, too!

Congregational Chanukah Party was a Rousing Success!

In case you missed it, the Congregational Chanukah Party on December 13 was a blast! We had about 150 people of all ages who ate 400 latkes and 10 dozen donuts, sang songs, played games, and built a 15-foot-tall Lego Hanukkiah in the back of the sanctuary. It was quite a sight to see!

Building the Hanukkiah

We also made Maccabee badges of courage for ometz lev, our Jewish value for December, and candy dreidels. Attendees donated a mountain of socks and underwear to Bridges to Independence, which provides services to homeless women/families and those at risk of homelessness.

The Lego Hanukkiah completed – it nearly touches the ceiling!

Everyone got to take home an Etz Hayim t-shirt as a Hanukkah gift. If you didn’t get one, contact the office and ask for one. (T-shirts are available in Kids’ or Adults’ sizes Small, Medium, and Large.)

Todah rabah to Morah Laura, Elisa Rosman, Jill Shenk, Harold Dorfman, Carey Averbook, Alan Schwaber and Naomi Harris for such a fun and unforgettable event!

Candy dreidels
Pretzel + marshmallow + Hershey kiss = DREIDEL YUM!

SAVE THE DATE: Don’t miss Etz Hayim’s Party of the Decades, coming up on Saturday evening, February 17, 2018!

Yom Kippur Speech 5778 by Alan Savada

This speech was delivered at Yom Kippur services on Saturday, September 30, 2017.

“Martyrology” by Alan Savada

Those of you who were here for the Rabbi’s sermon on the first day of Rosh Hashanah will be getting a small encore, as today I will be speaking a little about the Sephardi communities affected by the infamous inquisitions. Often referred to as the Spanish Inquisition, it may have commenced in that nation, but sadly spread to other countries and reach as far away as Mexico and South America, then under Spanish and Portuguese domination. Interestingly enough, while the formal Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition technically ended in the 19th century, the institution still survives today as the Catholic Church’s Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, renamed in 1965 to defend the church from heresy, headed today, oddly enough, by a Spanish archbishop!

Anti-Judaic violence began in Spain as early as 1391, when pogroms there resulted in mass conversions of thousands of Jews fearing for their lives. The Spanish Inquisition formally began almost 100 years later in 1478, and extended to the entire Spanish empire then including the Netherlands, the Kingdom of Naples and of course, the possessions in the New World. The original goal was to target those who had converted, but were still adhering to their old religions. It was not until 1492 that all Jews were forcibly expelled from Spain and its colonies.

This expulsion caused a migration of over 90,000 souls into nearby Portugal, whose first king incidentally had a Jewish minister in his court some years earlier. King Manuel at first welcomed the Jewish exiles, but in subsequently choosing to marry the Infanta of Spain, the so-called enlightened Dom Manuel, agreed in his marriage contract to commence persecutions of those he had invited to cross the border.

In December 1496, all Jews had a choice of conversion or exile; they could not, however, take their children or belongings if they chose the latter.

The fate of the Portuguese Jews became the same as their Spanish brethren with forced conversion in 1497, although the inquisition was not formally installed there until 1536 – and was only abolished in 1821.

Last week you heard about the Lisbon Pogrom, or Massacre of Easter 1506, when on April 19, a New Christian, who had converted from Judaism, simply disagreed with a supposed vision by a Dominican friar, which the latter insisted was a presage to the end of the plague and drought. The soul who disagreed was immediately beaten to death by the crowd as a heretic and burnt in the large public Rossio square outside.

The Dominican friars absolved those present of any sins they might choose to commit, and the mob, also joined by Dutch and German sailors, proceeded to murder over 500 New Christians.

King Manuel had taken leave of the plague-ridden capital and ultimately sent magistrates to hopefully ameliorate the situation, but the mobs had grown and violence spread so fast, nothing could be done.

The next day, all the converted Jews hid in their homes to avoid the conflict, but were pulled from their houses, many being burnt alive. Firsthand accounts tell us of infants having their limbs torn off and the day ending with over 1000 murders, not to mention the massive looting.

Tuesday brought members of the King’s court to the capital after the news reached him that his squire, a converted Jew, had also been killed. The Royal Guards were called to quell the rioters and murderers, but it was too later for the 1900 that had been killed.

Is it a comfort to know that many of the antagonists were arrested and hanged, and the Dominican friars that instigated the crowd were stripped of their religious orders and burnt at the stake?

I now divert to another part of the Spanish realm at that time, where we visited this summer. As early as the 1st Century of the Common Era, it is known that Jews lived on the island of Sicily. We were able to visit a mikveh in Siracusa (or Syracuse) where the largest Jewish ritual bath in Europe has been discovered under a hotel and dates back over 1600 years! At the time of the inquisition in 1492, there were 51 Jewish communities on the island with numbers exceeding 35,000.

Even as late as the 17th and 18th century, in the remains of a palazzo turned jail, we find Hebrew scrawling of prisoners. Somehow those who had converted were still subject to the inquisition for hundreds of years after it commenced. Incidentally, the palazzo/jail is now part of the university in Palermo.

Fast forward to today, after more than 5 countries, practicing Jews have returned to Palermo, where some of the street signs now exhibit Hebrew names and letters, although the neighborhoods are largely made up of Arab exiles and refugees from North Africa. Recently, the Archbishop granted a new fledgling Jewish community in Italy’s 5th largest city, the use of an unused Baroque oratorio which we passed by while there, but is still closed for renovations.

Its name: Santa Maria del Sabato, which is oddly being retained for now. Who knows when Jews will again worship in this site, near where the Great Synagogue of Palermo once stood.

Meanwhile, back in Portugal it was almost 100 years after the end of the inquisition that Jews returned to the country. In 1910, the Constitution finally allowed Jews to live within the borders without persecution…well, not completely.

Artur Carlos de Barros-Basto was born in Portugal’s second city, Porto, in 1887 and knowing of his Marrano ancestry, converted to Judaism to encourage others to assert their faith as allowed. In 1910, he raised the Republican flag in his hometown, and as a lieutenant in the army in WWI, was awarded for his bravery and honor on the battlefield. Small communities began to emerge in the late 1920s and in 1929, he laid the cornerstone for a new synagogue in Porto using his newly adopted name Avraham Israel Ben Rosh.

The face of Nazism and fascism sadly came to the fore in Portugal, and while the synagogue was opened in 1938, in the year prior, under a new regime, Barros-Basto had been removed further from his home post and ultimately court-martialed and dismissed from military service for participating in the “immoral” practice of circumcisions. He became known as the Alfred Dreyfus of Portugal, although later came to the fore to assist hundreds of Jews to escape the Holocaust during WWII. While he died in 1961, his descendants are still involved in the flourishing Kadoorie or Porto synagogue, a truly magnificent and grand structure which we first visited just over 4 years ago, and our Rabbi just returned from this summer.

Martyrology – well certainly today I have brought up the stories of many who suffered and perished for just being Jews, thousands of whom even converted and were tortured for that.

As time goes one, we witness the changes in so many communities that have been decimated and reborn, some of them the largest and most flourishing Jewish bastions of their ages. Today we are that flourishing bastion and it is indeed so important for us to remember the past, but also to continue to help to restore these communities. It is also imbued on us to stand against hatred, violence and the bigotry that sadly is becoming so prevalent in our modern world, resulting in the destruction of whole peoples. Maybe we can’t all be Avraham Israel Ben Rosh, but as we have indeed figuratively laid the cornerstone here at Etz Hayim, we can surely speak out and raise our voices when the time comes.

Tashlich Wrap Up

Approximately 30 people attended the stream-side Tashlich service held on September 21, 2017.  This year we enjoyed a wonderful walk to the small Doctor’s Run stream.  Rabbi Bass lead us in a brief, but introspective, service.  It was an excellent complement to the wonderful, yet more formal, prayers from earlier in the day.  Truly, a great way to start off the year and to help gain perspective on the true meaning of T’Shuvah.  A special thanks to Rabbi Bass for leading us in the service.

If you enjoyed connecting with other members in a spiritual way, be sure to join us for the upcoming holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, on October 12 and 13. Find out about all the services and events we’ll be doing on our calendar page.

Yom Kippur Sermon 5778 by Rabbi Bass

This sermon was delivered at Yom Kippur services on Saturday, September 30, 2017.

Spoiler alert: For those of you who didn’t see “Wonder Woman,” I will be giving away major plot points.  This summer I watched the movie “Wonder Woman” — three times. I also now own the DVD.  I absolutely loved it. It was fun, hugely entertaining, and made me feel great.  “Wonder Woman” is smart, charming, playful, and glamorous—things that we don’t often say about superhero movies.  I absolutely loved seeing Gal Gadot, a former Miss Israel and Israeli actress, work her magic on the screen.  She lights up the screen with her presence, and is unabashedly Israeli, even down to her accent.  The movie is well-made, with beautiful colors, great music, and great double entendres, as well as very funny lines.  The fighting scenes, which usually leave me bored, brought me great pleasure.  I will confess that I found great comfort in watching a powerful woman in a golden tiara and thigh-high boots beat hordes of terrible men. Oh, what fun!

I don’t profess to be knowledgeable about comic books.  Indeed, I only found out a few years ago that people who know comics divide themselves into Marvel or DC titles.  Prior to watching the movie, I learned a little bit about Wonder Woman’s origins.  According to historian and Harvard professor Dr. Jill Lepore, in 1940, after critics complained that Superman and Batman were too violent, All-American Comics hired as a consultant a lawyer and psychologist named William Moulton Marston, who lived with two women, Elizabeth Holloway Marston and Olive Byrne, in a polyamorous relationship.  Both women had graduate degrees in psychology; Holloway was also a lawyer.  With their help, he pitched a comic book featuring a female superhero whose enemy is inequality.  A press release explained: “‘Wonder Woman’ was conceived by Dr. Marston to set up a standard among children and young people of strong, free, courageous womanhood; and to combat the idea that women are inferior to men,” because “the only hope for civilization is the greater freedom, development and equality of women.”  As you might imagine, within a year “Wonder Woman” comic books were banned, allegedly on claims of indecency.  She then became the secretary for the Justice League.  When all the men went out to war, Wonder Woman stayed behind to answer the mail.  She would call out: “Good luck, boys! I wish I could be going with you!”  Her original creators were furious!

In 1975, Lynda Carter became Diana Prince in a television series.  The series took place during World War II.  According to the series press release, when the forces of evil threatened the nation, Diana would spin to transform into Wonder Woman, armed with a magic belt that gave her tremendous strength, bracelets that would stop any bullet, a tiara that could be thrown as a returning weapon and an unbreakable magic lasso that would force anyone to tell the truth.  It was a hit throughout the world.

In the movie, Diana grows up on the Island of Themyscira, watching other Amazons do hand-to hand combat and savage sword play to pass the time.  Her mother, Hippolyta, doesn’t want her to learn to fight because she knows that Diana’s destiny is to fight Ares, and she dreads the coming of this day.  Diana’s aunt, Antiope, has different ideas.  She believes Diana should know what to do when the situation arises.  She teaches Diana how to fight, until she becomes the strongest fighter on the whole island of the Amazons.  Now Diana is a grown woman, World War I is coming to an end, and her island is invaded by Steve Trevor, an allied spy, followed by boatloads of German soldiers.  Fighting ensues, the German soldiers are defeated, and the Amazons have suffered many casualties.  Diana feels she must go away with Steve to save the world. She sees a single monster as the sole obstacle to a world of peace and justice, and she seeks to defeat him.  Yet, she is very conflicted.  While she feels she needs to fight Ares and make sure humanity is saved, she knows she can’t have her mother’s blessing.  Her mother doesn’t want to lose her, and doesn’t want her daughter to be hurt.  Hippolyta explains to her daughter that, in her view, human beings don’t deserve her.  Diana confronts her mother saying that she must go and fight Ares, the God of War.  Hippolyta, with a pained look on her face, says to her daughter: “If you choose to leave, you may never return.”  To which Diana responds: “Who will I be if I stay?”  When I heard that line in the movie, I immediately thought about the maxim of the 1st century BCE Sage Hillel, in Pirkei Avot:

If I am not for me, who will be?

If I am for myself alone, what am I?

And if not now, when?

The traditional commentators see this in the following way:

  1. If I am not for me, who will be? That means people can only attain virtue through their own strivings.
  2. If I am for myself alone, what am I? That means selfishness and disregard for others are traits of inhumanity.
  3. And if not now, when? That means moral obligations must be carried out as occasions arise and must not be postponed, lest the opportunities pass by.

While I like the traditional interpretations, I feel that there is more to this equation.  The traditional interpretations see the three questions as separate entities, barely connected to each other.  I do feel, however, that this is a literary unit, and as such its message is not in the separate questions, but in the amalgamation of the three.

If we see the three questions together, they point out that uncertainty is at the heart of every human enterprise.  How can I balance the need to take care of myself with the need to take care of the world, with the correct timing for my actions?  All our actions have many angles, many inner motivations, and many prisms.  When we accept that we all live with uncertainties, open to the many possibilities, we cannot see things in simple terms, in distinct and clear categories of right and wrong.  When we ask ourselves, am I taking care of myself, while taking care of others, at this moment in time, we do live a richer, and more difficult, life.  There are always many, competing perspectives that are constantly tugging at our emotional and intellectual strings.  These three questions are potent because they point out to us the power of uncertainty, the idea that we can grow from being open to the many possibilities of living.

Living with the power of uncertainty can be dizzying at time, and can make us feel at a loss.  Those are the moments that we feel tempted to see things in one way, and one way only.  We are tempted to find certainty in every one of our actions.

When we have certainty, we close ourselves to other possibilities.  When we see things in one perspective, and have our minds made up that the way we think and act is the only correct way, we find ourselves locked in the prison of single perspectives.  Life loses its color, and our outlook is bleak.  There is a saying, attributed to Mark Twain, that clarifies the issues that arise with having complete certainty.

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

In other words, when a person is absolutely certain that s/he knows something to be absolutely true, without a shadow of a doubt, with certainty, that is when a person gets in trouble.  When we think we know the right way, and the only right way is our way, we close ourselves to other opinions, to other perspectives, and our reality becomes shriveled, sad, limited.  Without the ability to be open to questions, to different perspectives, to asking ourselves at the same time, is this good for me, for the world, and is this the right time, we incur the sin of certainty.

On Yom Kippur, we beat our chests and pronounce a list of sins.  We say: Ashamnu, Bagadnu, we have trespassed, we have dealt treacherously, a full alphabet listing of things that we have collectively done wrong.  This year, as we ponder our responsibilities through the list of actions, we must reflect upon the three questions that together point the way to the truth of the moral dilemma of living life on this earth.  Maybe we will have to add this additional sin to our list: the sin of certainty.

One might ask, but if I am not certain about something, how can I act in this world?  How are we to decide what to do, and not be paralyzed by doubt?  How are we to balance the power of uncertainty with the sin of certainty, and still do something in this world?  The answer to this question is found in the question I have been asking myself the whole summer: What would Wonder Woman do?

At the end of the movie, Diana finally discovers that she is the weapon that will destroy Ares.  The two are in an intense fight.  Steve Trevor, the man Diana rescued and fell in love with, dies, by flying away with a plane full of mustard gas and sacrificing himself so that London would not be destroyed.  He held in balance the three questions and came to the realization that he must do something that went beyond his personal interest.

Diana is devastated, and wants to spread her inner devastation on everyone around her.  She holds up a military vehicle in order to kill Dr. Poison, the mad scientist who created the vicious gas that killed the man she loves.  Ares, taking advantage of Diana’s pain, goads her about killing Dr. Poison, saying that after all, humans don’t deserve Diana, her courage, and her fight for their lives.  At this moment, Diana thinks about Steve, lowers the military vehicle she was going to smash on the mad scientist’s head, and says: “It is not about deserve. It is about what you believe. And I believe in love.”  And then she proceeds to destroy Ares.

I don’t have to tell you that at this point in the movie I was sobbing.  Okay, I am known for having cried at commercials, but I was really moved to tears here.  “It is not about deserve. It is about what you believe. And I believe in love.”  This is the answer to my quandary.  The answer to the three questions, the answer to not falling prey to the sin of certainty because of my fear and discomfort with uncertainty, is to act according to my beliefs.  It is not to act based on a value judgment about what other people deserve.  The way to act with integrity in this world is to stay centered, understanding that what we believe is the true motivation for our actions.  It is not about deserve.  We all act out of deeply held beliefs and perspectives.  If we are open to the fact that we are all acting this way, we can understand and hear with compassion other people’s perspectives.  The way we see and experience the world is highly personal, and if we accept the power of uncertainty we can recognize that other people’s ideas, while different than ours, have their place.  We will all come to conclusions about whatever we think is right or wrong based on what we believe.  And I believe in love.

I believe in loving other people as myself, as we learn from the Book of Leviticus.  I believe in caring, in listening with compassion, and in multiple perspectives.  I believe in seeing things from a kindhearted, loving point of view.  I believe that every human being has the potential of doing good and being good, and when I am proven wrong, I add this to the list of experiences I have, knowing that I am growing as an individual, because it is not about deserve.  And even when I am pained by choosing the wrong answer to the quandary, I know I acted out of love and compassion, and that my actions reflected my beliefs.

In this new year of 5778, let’s beat the sin of certainty out of our chests, embracing the power of uncertainty, and acting according to what we believe, not judging what others deserve.  And may we all believe in love.

Yom Kippur Appeal Speech 5778 by Dan Rosman

This speech was delivered at Yom Kippur services on Saturday, September 30, 2017. 

I am Dan Rosman and I am honored to be the president of the congregation for a second year.  I am very fortunate to work with so many dedicated members who serve on the board of directors, as officers of the congregation, and on our 18 standing committees.  I am always amazed by how many members give so freely of their time and energy to our shul.  I cannot thank them enough for their devotion to our synagogue.  And for those of you who would like to get more involved, I am just a quick phone call or email away.

But I would truly be remiss if I did not mention the glue that holds this place together: our amazing professional and educational staff.  We have been so fortunate to have a group that works so well together.

Our preschool is thriving under the leadership of Alexis Joyce where we had to turn away families this year due to a lack of space.  If you ever want to get a taste of the preschool, drop by around noon on a Friday and you will feel so much nachas as you watch our preschoolers welcome in Shabbat.

On the religious school front, we are incredibly lucky to have Laura Naide as Director of Religious Education. She ensures day in and day out that our children are receiving the highest quality education as well as making sure that we have a robust adult education program.  If you want to see the vibrancy of our religious school, make sure you stop by for a Sunday morning minyan where our children do a fabulous job leading different parts of the service.  And I strongly encourage you to check out our Adult Education programming that will be starting after the high holidays – I know you will find it worth your while.

Having worked with Marcy Burka for many years as Treasurer, I can assure you that we are in the best of hands from a financial perspective.  And if that were not enough, she has the herculean task of ensuring that the building is in tip top shape.

And this place could not function without all of Edgar Rendon’s tireless work.  He treats this place like his own home and works so diligently to ensure that our shul is well taken care of.

As the first person you see as you walk into the office, Marni Corsaro always has a smile on her face even while juggling a phone call, buzzing someone in the front door and getting out important communications to the membership.  She creates such a warm and welcoming environment for us all.

And, of course, our spiritual guiding light, Rabbi Lia Bass.  From presiding over lifecycle events to her teaching and mentoring of children and adults alike, her religious and spiritual guidance is a large part of what makes Etz Hayim so special.

There is so much that goes on behind the scenes to keep the shul up and running.  We can honestly never thank our staff enough for all that they do. So when you get a chance, please let them know how much you appreciate all their efforts that they contribute to Etz Hayim.

As I mentioned at the beginning, there are many active committees at our shul.  I would really like to encourage all our members to take a look at the list of committees and see how they can get involved.  Our synagogue would not function without the amazing group of volunteers that contribute in ways that are too numerous to count.

For those non-members here today, I would encourage you to join us for Shabbat services or one of our upcoming events like our Sukkot Potluck next week, and I guarantee that you will enjoy listening to the Klezmer band during our Simchat Torah celebration at 6pm on October 12.

As I was preparing to write my appeal this year, I started brainstorming about what Etz Hayim means to me.

  • It is a place where I learn and grow as a Jewish adult.
  • It is a place where my children are formulating their Jewish identity.
  • It is a place where I continue to develop my spiritual relationship with Hashem.
  • It is a place that provides a network of support during difficult times.
  • It is a place where I get many opportunities to help others and perform Tikkun Olam.
  • It is a place where Elisa and I can celebrate lifecycle events with friends and family.
  • It a place where Elisa and I have met amazing people and developed lifelong friendships.
  • At its core, it is the one place outside my home where I feel most comfortable.

I believe that synagogues are and will continue to be the center of Jewish life in America.  During these times where we are seeing a resurgence of anti-Semitism, it is all the more important that we sustain the only synagogue in Arlington as a center for Jewish life. I hope that everyone here will respond to my appeal because you value our congregation and its precious place in our lives and are ready to honor those that came before us.

There is a saying in the Talmud: “As my parents planted for me before I was born, so do I plant for those who will come after me.”

More than 75 years ago, during World War II, a small group of Jews in Arlington made a commitment to start a synagogue above a shoe store in Clarendon.  They poured their time, energy, and resources into creating what is now Congregation Etz Hayim.  Over the course of decades, many others have given of themselves in order to ensure that our congregation would be a Kehillah K’doshah, a sacred community filled with prayer, study, good deeds, and healing.

We who gather here this Yom Kippur morning have been the beneficiaries of those who came before us.  We have the opportunity to sow seeds that will bear fruit for generations to come. I am hopeful that you will all choose to make a commitment that expresses your gratitude and generosity and will allow Etz Hayim to perpetuate Jewish values, educate our children and grandchildren, and secure our Jewish future.

I challenge those that have given in the past to increase your pledge and those that have never given before to make a pledge today, in essence paying it forward as our founders did when they established this shul in 1940.

I thank you in advance for your commitment to Etz Hayim.  G’mar Hatimah Tovah!

–Dan Rosman

President, Congregation Etz Hayim