It’s appropriate that I am the final speaker in our High Holy Day appeal circuit as I have been doing this for quite a while. I may have been the first to make such an ask 23 years ago. I think I should be receiving my 5- or 10- timer jacket for speaking on High Holy Days. One of the nice ones like they have on Saturday night live for 5-time hosts.
The Or Chadash veterans in the audience know most of my stories and in preparing this talk, Donna (my wife) begged me to not re-use jokes from the last couple of years. The problem with getting older is that I am not getting much new material and I forget what I have used before. I want to thank Elaine Jones, Marc Sbar, and Goldie Goldstein for sharing why Or Chadash is important to them and why they support the congregation. Each has a strong personal story on why they support the congregation and I have shared similar stories over the past 23 years I have been in the congregation. My tallit bag is filled with leaflets from services, bar mitzvahs, Aliyah cards, and Torah portions. Looking through that bag brings back many of the best memories of my life. I know that Sylvia will get a chance to make those memories as well.
I want to thank Rabbi Louchheim for all his efforts in supporting the congregation over the past 25 years. The Rabbi and I go back to when he was at Temple Emanu-El and I can say that he has been central in many of the highlights of my life and he is a lot of the glue that keeps Or Chadash together. We are approximately the same age and I feel good that we look and feel the same age – 27 years old. He is also the closest person that I know when compared to the high ethical behavior of my father who taught me many things, but especially the importance of integrity and philanthropy.
I especially appreciated the rabbi’s talk on Rosh Hashana where he talked of Amy C. Edmondson’s focus on Curiosity, Passion and Empathy for success in a Teaming Culture. That merges well with other triads such as Ability, Passion, and Resources from Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, and Hungry (surrogate for Passion) Humble and Smart from Patrick Lencioni’s book Ideal Team Player.
I am really lucky that part of my job is to read interesting books and see how the material could be applied at the UA, so I get to read a lot. Note the importance of Passion in all three of these approaches to success in whatever you are doing.
I also like to think that I am an idealist. Sometimes that has gotten me into trouble, but I have been clever enough to figure a way out.
Look, everyone knows that I am up here to help raise money for the congregation, so let’s get to the point. I am going to make part of my case for supporting Or Chadash specifically and reform Judaism generally, using a 2019 book – Alienated America, Why some places Thrive and others Collapse – by Tim Carney. This book has a great deal of statistics so it especially appeals to the engineer in me. I am not a fan of “silver bullet” answers to hard complex problems, but Alienated America take a swing at explaining why the country is struggling. Many people talk about economics and jobs, distrust of the current system, the system is rigged against individual success, and the feeling that people are not being heard. Very much, the image painted is the death of “the American Dream” for a large part of the country. It paints a scary picture. I do not want to give the book away – but Carney’s finding boils down to realizing that economics are important, but the social structure is far more important as an indicator of thriving communities. Life seems to be getting worse because citizens are facing their problems alone. Communities have seen declines in marriage, voting, church/synagogue attendance, and volunteer work. Even when money comes back to towns, happiness does not return if people there do not re-engage and the social structure is required to reengage. Communities with strong social structures are thriving. Or Chadash and Reform Judaism are parts of that Tucson social structure and hence is important for a thriving community here. This is why we all support Or Chadash – to build that social infrastructure in case ANY of us need it. The idealist in me says it is not about “what do I get”, it is about what “we” get.
Now, why is this the 23rd year in a row that we are asking for money? I recall when I was the president and we were 3 and 4 years on this journey. I had trouble sleeping in March thru May as I never knew for sure where we were going to get money to make payroll. I had this recurring dream that we would have to pay the rabbi in grocery certificates, and he did not shop at Safeway. But every year, we have persevered, built a home, and worked to achieve our mission. It is hard work, but I never figured out why it was such hard work.
Times change. The business model of many congregations has basically been a 60% dues/ 40% donation model and that model is not working well across the Jewish Community. Affiliations are down across the country in ALL religions. Donna and I have always considered Or Chadash as philanthropy – we support the congregation because we believe in the mission, we think it is important, and we believe in the people to execute that mission. We have a passion for the congregation, and this is how my mother and father taught me to do philanthropy – give to organizations that are passionate about the things you are passionate about. By the way, there are other business models. Our synagogue membership in Pittsburgh was $10 per year. People gave throughout the year for various causes and events in addition and in the end it turned out fine. For $10 you got a reserved seat on High Holy Days and my father, brother, and I sat right where Marcia Louchheim sits. For those wondering, I never sat with my mother or sister in a synagogue until I moved to Tucson. It was a different time.
Last week Rabbi Louchheim talked about “transactional” community members and I see more and more of this type of thinking. When the dollars get larger – and our dues expectations are large – the scrutiny gets larger as well and people start to think of value to the individual rather than the community. Also, there many worthy community groups asking for support – United Way reports 3900 charitable organizations in the Tucson region – so the competition for philanthropy dollars is strong. So, I am so glad that the leadership of the congregation is looking at different ideas and opportunities as I see continuing our current path does not lead to the thriving community that we all want and need. As I think every year, I hope that this is the last time that I have the pleasure and the need of asking you to support an annual campaign. However, for this fiscal year, we need everyone’s help. Please pick up and fill out an envelope. Do what you can and every gift helps. If you have already done this, I want to thank you for continuing your support for the congregation and supporting new opportunities that may make us think about memories, but will lead to a far stronger future for building a thriving community.