Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Best Adas Emuno

From the pages of Kadima, the newsletter of Congregation Adas Emuno:

A Message From Our President

Dr. Lance Strate

The Best Adas Emuno

As the new president of Congregation Adas Emuno, I want to begin by saying that it is a great honor to be asked to serve our synagogue in this capacity, and it is also a hefty responsibility.  Our little shul has been blessed in the past with outstanding leaders like Beth Ziff and Virginia Gitter, and our immediate past president, Alan Spector, under whom I served as Vice-President, and the example that they set stands as a model, and an inspiration.

My family joined Adas Emuno in 1999, and I have been a member of the Board of Trustees since 2006.  In that time, I have seen our congregation go through trials, experimentation, and numerous changes.  But we have also held fast to those things that define our temple, and set it apart from so many others:

  • We remain a warm, intimate, and welcoming synagogue.
  • We are open, pluralistic, diverse, and accepting. 
  • We are proud of our long history, dating back to 1871—we are a part of Jewish history, and we continue to make history year after year.
  • We are committed to the Reform movement in Judaism, and we are innovators in our own right.  
  • We are a do-it-yourself, hands-on congregation, where everyone has the opportunity to participate, if they so choose.  
  • We are a progressive community devoted to the happy marriage of faith and reason.
  • We are a center for the spiritual, the intellectual, the educational, and the musical.

Our religious school is our temple's precious jewel, and continues to be of the highest priority for our leadership.  It was my privilege to serve as chair of the search committee for our new school director, and I am grateful to Amy Chartoff, Annette DeMarco, Rebecca Kind-Slater, and Rabbi Schwartz for their participation as committee members.  Through diligent and deliberate efforts, we were able to identify several outstanding candidates, decide upon our top choice, and successfully hire her.  Annice Benamy is hard at work as our new Religious School Director, and we are looking forward to an exciting year for our children and teens, one that includes new initiatives such as family education and the long-awaited formation of a youth group.

Adas Emuno is, literally, an assembly of the faithful, and our religious community has never been stronger.  Over the past year, we have been fortunate to enjoy the vital and inspiring spiritual leadership of Rabbi Barry Schwartz.  And we look forward to another year of sacred observance of Shabbat, holidays and festivals, and the High Holy Days as Rabbi Schwartz is joined by our new student cantor, Allison Lopatin.

In past years we have had many enjoyable, enlightening, and meaningful events, social gatherings, concerts, screenings, adult education sessions and social action efforts.  In the coming year, we will continue to expand upon these programs.

The rabbis tell us that when we die and go to heaven, God will not say to us:  Why weren't you as great as Abraham or Moses?  However, God will ask us:  Why weren't you the best person that you yourself could be?  And likewise, collectively, we don't have to ask:  Why aren't we like Temple Emanu-El in New York City, or the Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island.  But we do have to ask:  Are we the best Adas Emuno that we can be?  

To be honest, I don't think the answer is yes.  But I do think that we can work together to move forward with that goal in mind.  And in thinking of all that needs to be done, here are some key words that come to mind:

Renewal.  This applies to our buildings and facilities, to our school curriculum, and to our liturgy as, for example, we adopted a new prayer book this past year.  It includes a renewed sense of spirituality of the kind that motivated experimentation within the Havurah movement, and in more mundane terms, a re-examination of our policies and procedures.

Innovation.  As a small shul, we have the advantage of flexibility, and we need to make good use of it.  To be the best Adas Emuno that we can be, we must remain true to our 4,000 year old tradition, and also to the progressive values of the Reform movement.  And we have to take advantage of the new media, social media, and emerging technologies that are available to us (speaking of which, have you friended us on Facebook and liked our page, followed us on Twitter and Google+, subscribed to us on YouTube, and do you read our blog?).  We must be a synagogue for the 21st century.

Planning.  The Yiddish proverb, mentsch tracht, Gott lacht, meaning man plans, God laughs, reminds us that the plans we make can only be tentative.  But it doesn't mean that we shouldn't bother planning.  Of course, we have to attend to the day-to-day needs of our temple, but we also need to engage in long term planning, consider contingencies, and look to the future of our congregation as well as the present.

Fundraising.  There is no avoiding it. We cannot rely on the charity of strangers.  But we can find new, creative, and entertaining ways to help support our synagogue.

Membership.  Congregation Adas Emuno is not a place. It's not the property, not the buildings, not the plaques on the walls, not even the prayer books, Ark, and Torah scrolls, important as they may be.  Adas Emuno is us, the assembly, the congregation, the people, the community.  Without members, Adas Emuno is nothing more than history, a past without a future, without a present.  Our presence breathes life into our synagogue, and to remain alive, we need to renew our membership.  Recruiting new members isn't easy, and we need your help.  We need your word of mouth, we need you to reach out, we need you to spread the word, talk us up, invite potential members to a Shabbat service or special event, let them know who we are and all that we have to offer.

Publicity.  When it comes to getting the word out, nothing beats word of mouth, but we can amplify our efforts through publicity.  Adas Emuno is perhaps the best kept secret in the Bergen County Jewish community, and it's time for that to change, time to stop hiding our light under a bushel, as the saying goes.

Listening.  I want to know what your thoughts are about our temple.  I want to hear your ideas.  And I want to encourage your involvement and support your efforts.  Over the coming year, I hope to meet with members of the congregation in small, informal groups, to listen to what you have to say, and find out how we can work together on behalf of our congregation.

Congregation Adas Emuno is an extraordinary, altogether unique, and beautiful spiritual community, a place where we join hands in praying for healing and in service for those in need, where hearts and minds work together in hamishe cooperation to create something for ourselves, something that is greater than ourselves.  As your new president, I pray that I am worthy of the trust that has been placed in me, and that at the end of my term, we are at least a little bit closer to being the best Adas Emuno that we can be.

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