Sunday, May 7, 2017

Buildings and Grounds

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

A Message From Our President

Dr. Lance Strate

Buildings and Grounds

As a religious tradition, Judaism emphasizes the importance of spiritual communion and transcendence. Unlike many other religions, however, for the most part we do not advocate complete separation from the material world. Jewish teachings generally do not focus on the nature of the divine or the hereafter, or on trying to know the unknowable, but rather ask us to direct our attention to the world we inhabit and the question of how we should live in our lives, on the practical concerns of education, ethics and social justice.

In other words, we are asked and tasked to remain well grounded, even as we acknowledge the presence of something greater than ourselves, and aspire to the heights of religious experience. We enter the sacred space of our sanctuary, and observe the sacred time of the high holy days, festivals, holidays, and Shabbat, only to return to the profane space and time of our everyday lives. As others have pointed out, the Fourth Commandment not only directs us to "remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy," but goes on to instruct us that "six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to Adonai your God." We are commanded both to observe the Sabbath and also to fulfill our earthly responsibilities and get our work done.

With this in mind, I would like to point out that our labor, as a congregation, includes the maintenance and repair of our buildings and grounds. This includes our sanctuary and social hall, our religious school building, the rabbi's residence next to our religious school, the garden area alongside and behind the religious school, and our front lawn, driveways, and sidewalks. We are fortunate indeed that our congregation owns these properties outright, with no mortgage or liens against them, and to have our Buildings and Grounds Committee ably chaired by Michael Fishbein for many years.

The tasks that fall under the heading of buildings and grounds are familiar and numerous, and as profane as they come, whether it's taking out the garbage, cleaning bathrooms, changing light bulbs, shoveling snow, mowing the grass, fixing and maintaining heating and air conditioning, painting, replacing worn carpeting, fixing and replacing school equipment, and so on, and so on, and so on. I think we all pretty much know what it's like, after all.

It's not the sort of stuff we associate with a house of worship, and it's not the sort of stuff we like to think about anyway, but it's an important part of our earthly responsibilities, it's work that has to get done if we want to have a sanctuary, social hall, and school. And I think we all know that the costs associated with this sort of maintenance have only gone up over the years.

At our April Board of Trustees meeting, we took a long hard look at our revenues and expenses, and our membership dues, religious school tuition, and b'nai mitzvah fees. And we also looked at the building maintenance fee we ask all of our members to contribute to. And the funny thing is, no one could remember when it was last adjusted. Was it a decade ago? More? No one knew, but in the end, it didn't really matter. A long time ago the fee was set at $200, and it might as well have been a galaxy far, far away, given how much has changed since then.

I want to be honest with you. No one on the board wants to raise any of our dues or fees, we agonize over the issue, and over our fiduciary responsibility to our temple. The truth is that we are running at a deficit, and we need to increase our revenue to reduce the degree to which we are in the red. For this reason, the board voted to raise the building maintenance fee to $350, while agreeing not to raise membership dues, religious school tuition, and b'nai mitzvah fees. As this is the first time this fee has been raised in many, many years, we hope that you will understand and support this decision.

Our buildings and grounds are not our congregation. Our congregation consists of you and me, of us, together. But our buildings and grounds make most of what we do as a congregation possible. They are our common inheritance as a congregation, and our common responsibility, and it is incumbent on us to take proper care of our properties, so that we can pass them on to future generations.

I end this message with a further plea for donations above and beyond our dues and fees, because membership, tuition, and the like do not cover all our expenses. If you can afford to give something extra, please consider supporting our little shul on the hill, so that we can continue to be the little shul that could.

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