On Rosh Hashanah we celebrate the beginning of a new year. We reflect on our past and hope for a happy, healthy and joyous New Year. We celebrate another new beginning.
I’d like to start with a brief recap of the history of Reform Judaism and how it changed the character of Jewish life in America. Then I’ll share some of my personal Jewish journey, and then I’ll talk with you about the history and the future of Congregation or Chadash.
Reform Judaism was born in 1810 out of a desire to:
- Make Judaism relevant for modern Jews
- Repair the world – Tikkun Olam
- Create associations with people of other religions.
Reform Jews changed how they worshiped and how they envisioned authentic Jewish life.
German immigrants brought Reform Judaism across the ocean to South Carolina in the 1820s and then to Cincinnati and then throughout the United States. Reform institutions were formed and they ordained rabbis and influenced generations of American Jews. Their ideals brought forward new ideas and new practices wherever they settled down. Adaptation to change has always been a hallmark of Jewish history.
I began my life as a Jew on August 6, 1988 when Rabbi Weisenbaum supervised my conversion at Temple Emanu-El. Later, my family moved to Bet Shalom and then to Anshei Israel where we were members for many years. We celebrated my daughters Bat Mitzvahs and my Bnei Mitzvah at Anshei. During those years at Anshei I visited Or Chadash and Ner Tamid fairly often. The reform services touched my heart and my spirit more than others. In 2009, When my children were grown, I became a full member of Or Chadash.
Here, at Or Chadash, the values matched my own worldview. I respected the authentic Jewish Life I saw, the dedication of Rabbi Louchheim, Cantor Cohen and Or Chadash congregants. They lived their values, they walked their talk. I was home.
I became active in synagogue life. I served on our Social Justice/Action Committee, I joined Sisterhood, I chaired the Membership Committee, I sang in the choir, I was a board member, and then vice president. The more active I became, the more I felt part of something important. I felt that together, we were making a positive difference in the world around us and becoming better human beings ourselves- doing our best to live authentic Jewish lives.
So, when Steve Shuldenfrei called to ask if I would accept the nomination for President, I was very honored. But as we neared the end of our phone conversation (and we were well acquainted with one another), he joked “Well, I’ve gotta say, it’ll be a little strange to have someone with the last name of ‘Jones’ as President of Or Chadash.” Without missing a beat, I said “Well, I could change it to Jonesberg if it would make you feel better.” We laughed – and he said “I’m going to call you JB from now on.”
Now, let’s talk about Or Chadash– founded in 1995. We existed without a permanent facility for 9 years. We met wherever we could find space such as at
- the Zenith Center on 4th Avenue,
- the home of Rabbi and Marcia,
- Peggy’s Pavillion,
- the JCC,
- Tucson Hebrew Academy,
- Temple Emanu-El, and
- the Junior League,
before finally finding a home on Alvernon Way in 2004.
That’s a lot of moving around, a lot of change but we were a congregation no matter where we were meeting together.
We are approaching 25 years now and we are at a crossroads. We are no longer a start-up synagogue.
We started with 12 founding families and we are now 374 households, maybe 700 individuals.
But we still struggle financially every year just like we did in the late 1990s. Our first annual budget was $81,250. Now, it’s over $800,000.
The trend is that fewer families are affiliating and yet our costs continue to increase.
If we are to continue, to thrive, we have to think now about the future and that includes working with other congregations who are in similar situations.
As many of you know, some of our board members, including me, have been meeting with board members from Temple Emanu-El for the last 9 months regarding collaboration, and our boards are discussing collaboration options. We’ve had more than 10 meetings with congregants about these ideas,
In August we formed 8 task forces with more than 30 people from both synagogues. They are analyzing collaborations in different areas of synagogue life and we’ll be bringing those reports to you in the months ahead.
Through this process however we are not going to lose our Reform Jewish identity and we are not going to compromise on our Reform Jewish mission and values. While we are doing our analysis, we will continue to work on achieving our mission and that requires your continued financial support.
Judaism has endured centuries of change and is better for it- remember how Reform Judaism was founded on change. Congregation Or Chadash has also adapted to create the community we now love, and as long as we individuals can embrace change too, we will continue to fulfill our mission of repairing the world.
I am asking for your continued support for Or Chadash during our 2019 High Holiday Appeal. Remember, the future of Jewish life depends on your support.