Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Time to Mensch Up

Yom Kippur Appeal

from Michael Raskin, Trustee
Congregation Adas Emuno
Leonia, New Jersey
Yom Kippur
September 18, 2010

When I was first asked to present the appeal, my first reaction was amusement.  You see, when I was a kid attending services, during the appeal, my friends and I would sit way in the back and use the appeal as an opportunity to make fun of the guy presenting the appeal.  Now, I'm that guy.

After the feeling of amusement wore off, fear set in. What do I say to you people?  What goes into an appeal? How do I do this? I've never done this?  The Cantor got wind of this and said "Raskin, quit your kvetching, you'll do fine!" Well, I took comfort in her confidence as I often do and the fear subsided.  It morphed into something else, which is where I'm at now and that's a feeling of honor and privilege.  So, I feel honored and privileged to be able to speak to you about such important matters as this appeal.

So, we're all in synagogue, together.  Some of you, this is the only time of the year you'll be here. Others, you're here with more frequency.  It doesn't matter to me.  What matters is that you've chosen to be here. And, I think you chose this congregation in particular because you recognize the unique special qualities this place possesses.  This place is not like a lot of other synagogogues.  As I was thinking about what makes this place special and why it deserves your support, I came across an article in the newspaper about the never-ending debate as to the "What is a Jew?" or "Who is a Jew?" that is taking place in Israel and in this country as well.  That debate always makes me mad.   I don't accept some Rabbi's definition as who gets to call themselves a Jew.  Here, the face of Judaism has a distinct and important look and I like the way it looks and I think you do as well.  This town needs Adas Emuno.  Bergen County Judaism, indeed World Judaism needs places like Adas Emuno.

We live in a world gone mad.  Extemists, under the guise of religion doing terrible things. And they seem to have an endless supply of recruits and money.  Some people turn away from religion as a result of this.  I say there's a different choice.  Turn to places like here. Rather than simply recognize that some evil is done under the name of religion, take action against this.  Supporting the appeal is a concrete act.  I'm not saying you'll save the world by supporting the appeal, but, in a small, but important way you'll be putting your money where your mouth is. It's also putting your money where your heart is, because in your heart, you know this is the right thing to do.

Another example of why this congregation deserves your support can be found right here  on this bimah.  First, our artists.  Fran is not here today but Beth is.  Wow.  I don't know if I've ever wanted to stand up and applaud at services before, but last night at Kol Nidre I did.  They are amazing artists and they chose us. They didn't have to. They could have chosen to be elsewhere, but they recognized the special qualities of this place.  So support the appeal; it's like applauding our artists.

Jennifer Katz-Goldstein is not here today.  Some of you know her. She runs the Hebrew school and she does a superb job.  I was here for the children's service and it was quite a sight when the Cantor asked all the kids to come up on the bimah.  It was  really impressive seeing the stream of kids heading up there.  Jennifer's great work contributes to that.  Many of us are concerned about our legacy. Well, this congregation is creating a beautiful legacy and you should feel proud to support us.

Then we have the cantor. She's our Derek Jeter!  Some of you may know, but she is making history.  A small group of cantors have been invited to the Vatican to perform for the Pope.  That's never happened before. She is an amazing representative of this congregation and she has chosen to display her talents for us.  We are fortunate she has chosen to do so.

She is at the forefront of this kind of interfaith dialogue and work. If there's any hope for this world, it's through actions such as the Cantor's and Adas Emuno.

And then we have our board. Among their skills  are an amazing eye for talent.  They found the Cantor when she was an unknown.  They knew she would be a star.  Now, she's not just nationally known, she's internationally known.  The board are the best scouts.  She was like a walk-on, undrafted and they grabbed her.  You know, we're a small team here. We're not the Yankees. We're more like the Oakland As.  We don't have a large budget like the Yankees.  They seem to be able to write endless large checks.  We can't.  We have to be careful with our money.  This board knows how to stretch a dollar beyond all recognition.  Your generosity is not wasted by this board.  This board knows how to balance a budget.  If we could send this board down to Washington DC and fire congress, this board would fix the country's deficit in 6 months.

We'll debate for hours on whether to spend money on a particular item or not.  We know that in this recession, it is especially important to be smart with the congregation's money.  They've been doing this since before the recession, too. 

All of us have been hit by the recession.  Some more than others.  It's especially important to contribute now because some of us can't.

Speaking of the board, I've been on the board a little over a year now.  If you had asked me 2 years ago if I was going to be on the board now, I'd have said "what are you nuts?!" If you had asked me 2 years ago if I would be delivering this appeal, I would have said "are you crazy, are you high?"  But, life is often about doing something you didn't expect to do. I didn't expect to be doing this.  But, I listened to someone and here I am doing it.  And, I'm  a better person for  doing it. For doing something I didn't intend to do.  Some of you are not sure whether you will contribute to the appeal.  Some are sure you won't.  Well, I ask you to consider doing something you didn't expect to do.  I guarantee you, you won't regret it.  You won't have buyers' remorse tomorrow. You won't wake up and say "darn, why did I listen to that guy?" I think instead you'll feel glad you did.

And, don't do this for "us," do it for yourselves, because "you" are "us."  As I was thinking about this idea,  "us" is "you," I was reminded of the words of a great Talmudic scholar.  Here's what he had to say about this.  "I am he, as you are he, and you are me, and we are all together."  When he wasn't studying Talmud, he was playing in a rock and roll band that achieved a little success; his name is John Lennon and he played in a band called the Beatles.

If I haven't given you enough reasons to support the appeal, come up with your own reasons, but please support us.  I think you'll feel like a mensch and it is time to mensch up.  To those who have contributed year after year, we thank you.  To those who have not, well, it's a new year.  Thank you.

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