Sunday, October 30, 2016

Kurt Roberg's Yom Kippur Appeal 5777

Chag Sameach, or as we used to say, Gut Yontef!

At this time of the year, during the High Holidays, my thoughts sometimes take me back to my childhood in my German birth-town, Celle, with its very small Jewish congregation. We had no weekly Shabbat services, the only time we could gather enough men for a minyan was on the major holidays; those services were led by our cantor, who was also our Hebrew teacher.

During those years in the 1930s, under the Nazi dictatorship, there seemed to be one silent factor in Hitler’s persecution of the Jews: for those who during the early 20th century and the short-lived Weimar Republic had become very assimilated, who had virtually abandoned Judaism as their proof of "being good Germans," for them Hitler left no doubt that they still were members of the Jewish Race; even Jews who had converted to Christianity were classified as "baptized Jews". All were reminded that being a Jew was not just a religion.

As a result, the Jewish congregations became even more the central place of common interests, as well as a resource center for valuable information and guidance for Jewish families.

After Kristallnacht in 1938, as a 14 year old, I managed to escape Nazi Germany to find refuge with my uncle in Holland; but the unprovoked invasion of Holland, along with Denmark, Norway, Belgium and France by the Nazi armies in May 1940 put me again under their control.

Luckily by early 1941 I was one of the few fortunate people who managed to escape war-torn Europe during a 4-month odyssey through Western Europe. This undertaking was made possible only with the help of various Jewish organizations and congregations in Amsterdam, Berlin, San Sebastian, Lisbon and New York.

By August, after having been held at Ellis Island for 2 months, with the possibility of being sent back to Nazi Germany, I was at last admitted and found a haven in New York’s Washington Heights with my family. The Heights was then the heart of the German-Jewish refugee settlement, and again numerous newly formed congregations were the backbone of that refugee society.

After I married and raised a family, first in New York City, then in New Jersey, we were members of conservative congregations, first in Riverdale and later in Englewood; then we joined Temple Sinai in Tenafly. From there we founded the Havorah Beth Chavairuth in the late 1970s. As a congregation without any real estate or personnel, a part-time rabbi and later also a cantor, we were a tight-knit group of people with many close friendships. All the functions and work were carried out by members.

Each week we met in the home of a member family who sponsored the Friday night services on a voluntary, rotating schedule.

By the way, the weekly Oneg Shabbat celebrations became legendary—there seemed to be a good-natured rivalry in offering wonderful home made cakes, pies and other special treats. One even heard opinions that some people attended services mostly for those great onegs!

But as happens in so many congregations, over the years an aging membership brought changes and at the dawn of the 21st Century we decided that it was time to merge. Our committee selected Congregation Adas Emuno, where we would feel comfortable; and we do! As a result I have been a member of this congregation for well over a dozen years.

After having experienced several large congregations, I love the intimacy of this smaller, heimische Kehillah with its distinguished history, perhaps because that was my background in my youth; but there are more compelling reasons for my feeling of great comfort here.

As in most organizations, there are some members who are doerswho make things happenand so it is here. Under the inspiring leadership of our president, Lance Strate, the Executive officers, the Board of Trustees and our many dedicated volunteers, this congregation really functions like clockwork, without any politics or glitches—things always get done.

The spiritual guidance provided by our wonderfully gifted, versatile Rabbi, Barry Schwartz, can be at once uplifting, inspiring and informative in leading our services and the weekly Torah study sessions, that stimulate our intellectual curiosity. Our talented Cantor, Sandy Horowitz, not only has a lovely voice, as you have already heard, she is also the very able Director of our Religious School.

Well, I have given you some background on this congregation and of my own history, but only to show you why I feel so strongly about the importance of having the support of a well-functioning congregationin good or in challenging timesa Congregation that cares about you and your family.

The family has been the nucleus of Jewish Life since time immemorial. I have mentioned the dedicated leadership of our congregation that is here to serve your needsthe spiritual or educational requirements of your family. And yet, after all those organizational necessities that make it possible, the most important part of our congregation is each one of youtogether we are the congregation and as such we can share each others support. Understandably, some cannot devote as much time as other members, but we appreciate everybody’s support in any formnot only with your annual dues, but also by possibly supporting some of our special projects or by celebrating family events with additional contributions of tzedakah.

The old synagogue in which I grew up dates back to the year 1740. It is the only one in all of Northern Germany that escaped total destruction during Kristallnacht. At its door still stands a tzedakah box made of stone and iron, for charitable contributionsthat age-old Jewish command for support of the community and its needs.

That tzedakah box of old has now, in our time, been replaced by a special envelope that you have received today.

Please consider your most generous High Holiday donation and return it in that tzedakah box envelope.

On behalf of the entire congregational membership, as the recipients of your kindness, I want to thank you.

Shanah Tovah!

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