Last year, I stood before you and gave many examples of how I knew that our community here at Temple Beth Sholom was thriving. Tonight, I am pleased to say that we are still thriving. We have had an exciting year, with innovative programming, increased ritual participation and two outstanding congregational trips to Israel with Rabbi Scolnic. Just check out our new and constantly improving web site: www.tbshamden.com to see how vibrant our congregation truly is.
Of course, we could not sustain this level of activity without the income the shul receives, above and beyond dues collections, through various fundraising projects. So, I would be shirking my responsibility, then, if I did not stand before you tonight and speak about our annual High Holiday Campaign. Our Campaign Chair, Marc Seigel, recently sent each of us a compelling letter, asking us to please make our annual gift.
I am reminded of the story of the Shul president who stood before his own congregation and announced: “I have bad news, good news and bad news.”
The congregation sighs and says, “Please, tell us the bad news.”
The president says: “The bad news is that the shul needs a new roof.”
The congregation sighs more deeply and asks, “Please, give us the good news.”
“The good news,” says the President, “is that we have the money for the roof.”
There was much cheering and clapping. Then the congregation said, “Give us the bad news.”
“The bad news is that the money for the repairs is still in your pockets.”
We don’t need a new roof – at least not at the moment – but we do have real budget demands that cause us to rely on the High Holiday Campaign today as much as ever. So, I simply ask you to give generously.
I am here tonight, also, to ask each of you to live generously. I often talk about the importance of community; of building a community here at Temple Beth Sholom. Among the most important things we can do as a community is to take care of those in need.
In Judaism, we often speak about “Tikkun Olam” — repairing the world.
In our community, the expressions of tikkun olam are quite varied – collecting food for the Hamden Food Bank, serving meals at a soup kitchen, partnering with a social worker at the Department of Children & Families to provide household items and holiday gifts to those in need, providing food for women living at New Haven Home Recovery, participating in the Walk Against Hunger, and giving tzedakah.
I am constantly reminded of the importance of setting a good example for my children. And I would like to believe that each of us does so, by performing acts of tikkun olam, even in little everyday ways.
There is a story that I read to my son Zachary the other night, that I would like to share with you tonight. It is called “Bagels from Benny.” Benny is a young boy whose Grandpa owns a bakery. Benny likes to help in the bakery before school each day. Every day, Benny hears customers thanking his Grandpa for making the best bagels in town. And every day, Benny hears his Grandpa say, “Why thank me?” Benny asks his Grandpa what he means, and Grandpa explains that because bagels come from flour, which comes from wheat, which comes from the earth, it is G-d who should be thanked for the bagels.
Taking this explanation to heart, Benny tries to come up with a way to properly thank G-d for the bagels. The next day, Benny works very hard in the bakery and asks Grandpa if he will pay him for his efforts each week, by giving him a bag of fresh bagels. Unbeknownst to Grandpa, on Friday afternoon, Benny brings the bagels to his synagogue and with great trepidation, places the bag in the ark, saying: “King of the Universe, I brought you some bagels. I know you make them, but you never get to taste one, because Grandpa sells every last one.” Benny put the bag in the Ark & closed the doors, rushing off to school.
On Shabbat, Benny and Grandpa went to shul. Everyone prayed, except Benny, who stared at the Ark, wondering if G-d ate the bagels. When the Ark was opened and the Torah was taken out, Benny saw that indeed the bagels were gone. So week after week, Benny worked for his bag of bagels and gave them to G-d.
Naturally, Grandpa became curious, so on the next Friday, he followed Benny to the shul. He could not believe his eyes, when he saw Benny put the bagels into the Ark. “What in the world are you doing???” Grandpa asked. A shocked Benny spun around… “Grandpa,” he gasped, “I am thanking G-d. Every week I give him bagels and he eats them.” Grandpa begins to explain to Benny the impossibility of Benny’s belief, when the door to the shul creaks open. Grandpa and Benny duck quietly into the shadows. In walks a man in a tattered coat. He took the bag of bagels from the Ark. “O Lord, I was so hungry,” he sobbed. “For weeks You fed me. From heaven you sent such beautiful bagels……I have good news for both of us….. I have found work. Now I can feed myself and you can stop baking bagels. You helped me Lord. Now I promise to help others.” Then the man left.
Benny cried with disappointment. “G-d didn’t eat my bagels; that poor man took them.” “Benny,” Grandpa asked, “You wanted to thank G-d, didn’t you? Well, you did.” “How?” Benny asked. “Didn’t you give bagels to a hungry man?” “Didn’t he promise to help others?” “Then you made the world a little better.”
“I did?” Benny asked.
“You did,” Grandpa smiled, “And what better thanks could G-d have?”
What a beautiful lesson this story teaches about helping others. There are many ways that we as individuals and as a congregation work to help others.
For many years, our Mitzvah Committee, chaired by Barbara Stein has made its frequent visits to Arden House, the details of which I look forward to reading about each month in the Bulletin.
Our Sisterhood, in addition to the work of the Mitzvah Committee, last year donated 100’s of used books to a worthy cause.
Our Men’s Club annually sends out Yom Hashoah candles, helping us all to remember the victims of the Holocaust.
Our children, too, serve as examples for us.
Our USY President, Shayna Bartell, is a clown. Really… a clown… with the makeup, big red nose, funny hair. Shayna brings her clown shtick (along with some of her clown friends) to entertain the sick and the elderly in our community.
Another one of our teenage congregants, Stephanie Davis, emailed me recently to tell me about the “midnight runs” she was organizing over the summer. These midnight runs involve making a bunch of sandwiches, and bringing them – at midnight – to homeless shelters in New Haven. Stephanie hopes to involve others in the shul in her midnight travels.
Shayna & Stephanie are only 2 of many of our shul’s teenagers that have learned the lesson of tzedakah, and are making us all proud.
Our Hebrew School and K’Tanim students are taught lessons about tzedakah from an early age and engage in numerous “mitzvah projects” as part of their Jewish education.
And they learn that in Pirke Avot, Hillel said: If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?
Tonight, though we fast, the lobby is filled with food to deliver to the hungry, due to your efforts. As they say, “We can do.”
At Temple Beth Sholom, we can be proud of our efforts to Repair the World. We can take pride in the efforts of those who came before us. And we can feel confident about what our children will do in the future, because we are ensuring that our children have good role models and that they will learn from observing our own actions, not just listening to our words.
There are few people who are better role models in the area of Tikkun Olam than the person I have chosen as this year’s recipient of the Temple Beth Sholom President’s Award. She is someone who lives and leads by example. Just ask her children, Hans and Rini. This year’s recipient, of course, is Diane Kaplan.
Diane has served this congregation for many years, contributing greatly to our educational programming and she truly is the “face” of Social Action at Temple Beth Sholom.
In her annual report of the Temple’s Social Action committee, Diane said “I hate hearing about people in desperate situations, people in places I could be without the good fortune I’ve had in my life. On the other hand, I get to see what caring people there are amongst us.”
Diane’s words really resonate. And in hearing her speak these words, her sincerity and dedication are compelling.
For those of you who don’t know Diane personally, let me tell you a little bit about her. Diane is an avid reader. This is good, because she has also been a librarian for about 30 years, most of which she has spent at Yale in the Manuscripts and Archives Department at Sterling Library.
Diane enjoys crossword puzzles and old movies. She is also a fan of the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, and Peter, Paul and Mary. Since Hans and Rini have moved out, Diane and her husband, Steve, have started to enjoy Elder Hostel educational trips.
Diane is also our resident grammar and vocabulary expert on the Board of Directors. Perhaps unbeknownst to her, Diane started quite a controversy at a Board meeting last year, when a board member suggested a project that would “incentivize” people and Diane announced that “incentivize” is not a word. Since then, board members have shown me evidence that, indeed, it might in fact be a word, though no one has been brave enough to try to use it again.
I also asked Hans to share with me some thoughts about his mother, and listen to what he wrote:
“Performing mitzvahs is something that’s been important to her and that she’s passed on to Rini and me. Be it working at the soup kitchen, collecting food or clothes for the less fortunate, or finding money on the street and putting it in the tzedakah box, she’s always going that extra mile to help out others. She wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Diane, it is my great pleasure to present you with this plaque, “In recognition and appreciation of your longstanding dedication and commitment to the improvement of our community.”
Diane….tonight, on the holiest and most solemn night of the year, I publicly thank you for all you have done.. for your persistence, for your wisdom and for your leadership. And thank you for incentivizing all of us to do good work. On behalf of all of TBS, let me wish you and your family Shabbat Shalom, Shana Tova and G’Mar Tov.