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Yom Kippur Address 2016

Good afternoon.  And L’Shana Tova! My name is Seth Charatz.  My family and I are still a little surprised that it is me, addressing you, the Temple Beth El Congregation.  It is my honor to serve as our President during TBE’s 100th anniversary.   I’d like to tell you a bit about who I am and who I am not.

Perhaps, the “am nots” first.  I am relatively young and I do not have years of experience leading Temple Beth El or any synagogue for that matter.  While my Jewish lineage is strong in Brooklyn and New Jersey, I am not a TBE member whose many generations have attended these high holiday services.  I attend some Shabbat services each month, but I do not help make daily minyan on a regular basis.

HOWEVER, I AM so proud and honored to be your President and to have joined the Temple Beth El Community.  Having already told you what I am not, let me explain how I came to this position.  It is my hope that this story will illustrate the magic of the TBE community and the great things that lie ahead in Temple Beth El’s future.

Let’s go back to Rosh Hashannah 1996, I was sitting in the back of this social hall with my college roommate and new girlfriend (who is now my wife).  We were students at the University of Rochester.  We had been given free tickets to attend Rosh Hashanah services here at Temple Beth El.    The size of the sanctuary, the booming voice of the Hazzan, and the familiar sound of the shofar all blew me away.  I was at home.

Ten years later, Sonya and I returned to Rochester with our almost 2- year old daughter Leah.   One of our first stops was to join Temple Beth El. We had bought a house, joined a synagogue and were expecting our second child, Eli.  Through TBE, we found culture, education, and friendships for our growing family.

TBE has become a central part of my family’s life in Rochester.  This year we celebrated its centennial anniversary.  Clearly, TBE has also been central to the life of so many Jewish Rochesterians over the past 100 years.

Our congregation celebrated 100 years with a variety of amazing programs and celebrations.  None would have been possible without the generous financial support of many individuals and many families. Over the past 100 years, so many have continually supported endeavors for the benefit of the entire Temple Beth El Community.  We thank them profusely, but I remind you that TBE is a community of not a few families, but for ALL.

Our 100-year celebration just concluded with a truly magical evening, the Centennial Gala.  A detailed and photographic history of our Temple Beth El Community is still adorning the social hall walls. If you haven’t seen it yet, please take a walk back in time.  Some of the faces will likely be familiar.  You might even find a photo of yourself.  Back in 1916, a group of 10 men decided to establish Temple Beth El as a new Conservative synagogue in Rochester. I was struck by something written by those men in 1916 which is on the walls,  I’d like to read it to you:

The Future Jew?

A serious problem.

Our religion is drifting.

We are responsible for our children’s welfare

Our Jewish faith has been carried through great struggles for us.

We are living today in this great country blessed with a freedom that allows us to enjoy every pleasure in life.

Do we appreciate this great blessing? If so how are we showing our appreciation?

Surely not by allowing our religion to drift from us.

This most serious question has been the dream of our young people who feel that they want our beautiful religion and must preserve it.

Our Temple Beth El is their only hope.

We want our religion and its sacred customs, which our forefathers so respected and we want an interesting service that will appeal to our young people.

We know that you may be connected with another congregation. However we need a helping hand in this movement, which means an interesting conservative service for our young people who are drifting away from us.

We hope you will be with us.

I wonder what those 10 men would think of our synagogue today.

I am going to gather that they would laugh, maybe scratch their head , and then say “some things just don’t change”.

For example, Dan Glowinsky, our immediate past president who worked extremely hard the last 2 years, and I, were discussing “synagogue presidential matters,” in other words…..COMPLAINTS …. We both are amazed and surprised at the number of people who will easily approach us with a comment, complaint, or idea.  And while we may initially be annoyed, upset, or angry, we SO value the ability and comfort of our congregants to freely speak their minds.  Frankly, it highlights that our congregants are heavily invested in the progress of Temple Beth El.  It shows us that you consider TBE your home away from home and really want to make it the best place it can be.

I feel confident that the founding members would approve of the many great things that are happening in this building. Thanks to our Education Director Samara Sofian, our school age children are embarking on a new education model. With Limmud. our aim is to engage our children, while at the same time teaching and educating them in our traditions, prayers and language.

Jo Sohinki, our Director of Early Childhood Education, is leading our Keshet preschool and young family programming. She is taking stock of where we are and promises to take us to a whole new level in leading the only Jewish preschool in Rochester.  100 years later, these same values are still at the forefront of synagogue life.

Our clergy, Rabbi Bitran and Hazzan Leubitz are always present to help lift our spirits and guide us down our Jewish, spiritual journey. 100 years ago, the founding 10 congregants probably couldn’t have imagined a building as full as it is today.  They certainly didn’t imagine that we would have women reading torah or that we would have ever had a female rabbi, but they were looking to not let ‘religion drift.”

Thanks to Rabbi Bitran for his drive to make Temple Beth El the place where we can study, learn, and grow.  We thank Hazzan Leubitz for his dedication to inspiring music and melodies to help us study, grow and learn.

We have a variety of clubs offering all sorts of social and religious programming.  Our Sisterhood, Men’s Club, Young Professionals, and Hazak offer programs for the many different groups of women and men, older, and younger.

I know it is Yom Kippur and that most of us our fasting.  But, food is a huge part of any Jewish event.  I am confident that Temple Beth El’s founding members would be floored by the Shabbat kiddushes that our volunteers prepare from scratch, set up in our social hall, and then clean up afterwards.  Even if you are not here weekly, the bagels, soup, salads, and cookies will be here for you and your family.

Without the tireless work of our Executive Director Debbie Zeger, this place could not keep going at the rate it does.  Debbie pours her heart and soul into her job making sure Temple Beth El is a warm welcoming community for all who come.  Debbie ensures that day to day operations appear smooth even when they may not be.

We have many dedicated volunteers, board members, and Officers who I cannot thank enough for making this our house of God.  All play their behind the scenes roll in making TBE a happy, and healthy community for all of us.

Running a synagogue is difficult. As in any service industry, there are many employees and personalities whose needs must be balanced.  At the end of the day, TBE also has to balance our books.  Every year this proves to be a tough task.  It becomes increasingly difficult as our needs and expectations grow.  And this is where the synagogue president’s job becomes a little uncomfortable…, Here’s the part where I talk about…….money! As many of you know only about 50% of our congregation pay a full dues commitment, yet we seek to fund all these exceptional programs, events, and services.

Our newly formed Development Committee led by Todd Stein is working to make the future of Temple Beth El secure.  We have many ways for you to give to Temple Beth El.

We have revitalized our Pillar Society, which is a donor recognition program for members whose annual commitment goes BEYOND their full dues commitment.  There are 5 levels of commitment including Yachad for those members under 40 years old. I hope many of you will join Sonya and I as Pillars.  A building or community is only as strong as its supports, or pillars.

Our Temple Beth El Foundation supports the Education and Youth programs in our shul acting as an endowment for those programs.  Perhaps this is where your interest and passion lies. TBE’s future generations are counting on us to continue the legacy of teaching and growing our youth

In the spring we will be rolling out our Legacy giving campaign. Our goals are to enable our congregants to make a lasting gift to Temple Beth El that will enable this temple to be a place for many more generations.

How are your seats?  I am sure that everyone would agree that they are hard, tight and squeaky.   The seats in the sanctuary are 60 years old.  Can you hear everything that I am saying? I know that you can’t (I am told this every time I give announcements after Shabbat services. )  I am happy to announce that we are in the process of designing and updating our sanctuary.

A Sanctuary renovation committee has met, and we have engaged an architect.  In the near future we will begin a Capital campaign in order to bring this space up to snuf. Keeping the character from 60 years ago with the comforts of the 21st century. We will need your financial help to make this a reality.  I would love to be your President when this happens.

Finally, you received a letter from me asking you to participate in our High Holiday Appeal. Please be with us, contribute what you can to YOUR Temple Beth El appeal. These gifts benefit you and all our members by allowing us to continue to provide everything that goes on here and helping us continue to move into the future.  You have received cards and letters in the mail. Please send them back with what you can. Every little bit helps. Not only will you be participating in tshuvah, you will be bolstering our youth and cementing them in this wonderful community. You will assist in building Temple Beth El, just as those young families did in 1916.

100 years ago 10 men met to establish Temple Beth El, a conservative synagogue in Rochester New York. I am proud to be a member of this shul and I hope that you are as well. Here is to the next 100 years…………

L’Shana Tova, Gmar Chatima Tovah . May you be inscribed in the book of life. ……. Shalom