At the September meeting the board focused on planning for the future. At the recommendation of the Finance Committee, the board adopted three financial “triggers” throughout the fiscal year to ensure we are proactively monitoring our status and avoid a spring budget crunch. The board endorsed the president’s decision to appoint an independent committee to run the January merger vote. This committee will design a transparent, confidential, and unbiased process. The joint taskforces are continuing their work, and will be presenting their findings to both congregations in November and December. These taskforces and the feedback from the congregations will inform the Memorandum of Understanding that will be voted on in January.
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.
I was invited to speak to you tonight to tell you why Or Chadash is an important part of my life. I suspect the actual reason I was asked to speak to involves one of my family members: my 4-year-old daughter Sylvia. Her favorite thing, maybe in the whole wide world, is going to Shabbat Services. She can’t wait every week for Friday to come. She asks me, “Mommy? Is tomorrow Shabbat?” And I patiently tell her where we are in the week relative to Friday night. The ongoing love for Shabbat has been going on for a surprisingly long amount of time now, especially considering her age, I think we’re almost to 25% of her life!
Perhaps it’s fitting that she loves it so much. It has to do with last minute errands that were happening the day before Sylvia was born. Almost five years ago, I was in the hospital, very pregnant, when it became clear that she was going to be born the next day. My husband, Larry, had a long list of the things that absolutely had to be done before we became parents. In his mind, one of those crucial items was dropping off our check (by hand) to become members of Or Chadash. Who was I to object? So that’s how our membership officially began. We have been members ever since. This congregation has been supportive of us while we welcomed two beautiful children into the world and as we said goodbye to both of Larry’s parents.
Sylvia’s insistence on attending Shabbat services every Friday night has become a source of amusement and sometimes bewilderment to Larry and me. We would look at each other and wonder what it was that she was so drawn to. We thought: “There’s no way this is just about oneg, is it?” I mean, we are a bit strict about sweets and special treats, but to sit through services for an hour a week just for a cookie seemed a little much. So I started asking her. “Sylvia?” I said. “Why do you love going to Shabbat services?” She thought about it for a second and then rattled off a list: “I love the Rabbi, and the Cantor, and oneg, and the songs and getting dressed up.” “So, basically everything, is that right?” I asked. She nodded and smiled.
I’ve kept thinking about her list ever since and all the things she said but also the things she didn’t say. I thought about my own experience attending with her and the wonderful things that stuck out in my mind. The number of people at services who know her name and have become her friends is amazing. People I’ve never formally met greet her by name and say “Shabbat Shalom Sylvia”. The welcoming nature of our community is highlighted in the way she is treated. Also, the patience and willingness for everyone to accept her presence, even though she is one of a few children who are in regular attendance. The corner of quiet toys has been so helpful in easing her into an adult environment. She can only sit still and display her “shabbat appropriate behavior” for so long before her inner 4-year-old is raging to go on display. I have been so relieved when one person in particular told me not to be so hard on her; that they understand she’s little and her presence, even if she’s not having the best-behaved night is much better than her absence.
Sylvia has learned so much about tikkun olam and tzedakah through this community. Recently, Richard Wahl spoke during Friday night services to discuss how we as a Jewish community can help asylum seekers in Tucson through the Casa Alitas program. How the problems they face are the same problems that we as Jews have faced throughout our history. At the end of his speech, he mentioned that more details would be discussed in Room #5 during the oneg. After services and grabbing a cookie, Sylvia turned to us and said, “Ok, now can we go to hear about how we can help?” She was adamant that she find out more. We were a little surprised she was paying so much attention and also pleasingly shocked by her passion to help others. Just this past weekend, I took both kids with me to the grocery store on a special mission to go buy non-perishable food for Project Isaiah. My parents, who had joined us here for Rosh Hashanah, had given me some money to go buy food. I was explaining to Sylvia and her younger brother that I was going to use some of their money and some of our money to pay for all the food. Sylvia insisted that she too wanted to get money out of her tzedakah box to help contribute. These little acts reaffirm that the experiences she is having as a Jewish child are teaching her to be a kind and compassionate person who understands the importance of making the world a better place.
Some of my favorite moments in our congregation involve singing. Particularly on “Friday night live” evenings, when extra chairs are being added to the back of the room and there are so many voices singing along, it overjoys me to see our common love for Jewish religion. And for all of you here this evening, that love for Judaism is on display. Even though Sylvia’s love for Judaism will very likely fluctuate throughout her life, just as it does for many of us, Judaism will be in the fabric of her soul. She will never remember a time when she didn’t know the sh’ma or the v’ahavta. Even if she forgets some of the words, she will still hum along.
The notion of “the future” to a four-year-old is very different then the future to most of us. Our sense of time and scale is different. Most of us worry about the future; our collective future as a congregation. Sylvia is fortunate to still be naive to the complications that will come her way. But her love for Judaism and Shabbat reminds me that there is still something captivating about being here together. She feels what we feel when we are in a room full of voices, saying the words that generations of Jews have said together. And that is something worth remembering as we all have to evaluate the role of religious Jewish life and choose to support it. I ask you to help in supporting Congregation Or Chadash, if not just for yourself but also for the future of Reform judaism in Tucson and kids like Sylvia.
There is a component of being Jewish that involves the concept of Tikkun Olam, which is commonly translated as repair the world. It refers to a wide range of activities that help others via service and philanthropy. We at Or Chadash use the Social Justice and Action Committee as one vehicle for our members to perform Tikkun Olam and indeed there is no lack of things that need repairing or at least a bit of help in our community. In this season of reflection and appeals, your contributions to the Congregation Or Chadash annual appeal enable us to keep operating and reach out to those in need in our community.
Before telling you about our committee let me tell you how I got involved. I really have to start with my Dad. Growing up as kids we had no idea of the impact he had in our community. He never mentioned what he did. He was just Dad. As we got older, we slowly learned from others that he was a significant contributor to several Jewish causes and to our synagogue. He did it in a way that did not attract attention to himself. He quietly helped others in the family when they needed it. I just learned in the last month that he tried to resolve a long-standing feud between two of my cousins and even helped to take care of one of their children that was alienated by the fight.
Some of his personality rubbed off on me and I have made my efforts to help others, in particular via education. I am very convinced that if we can give people a meaningful education, they will have the tools to be successful and contribute to our society. When we came to Tucson and joined Or Chadash I got involved with the Social Action Committee. I saw that we did not have an educational service program and contacted the TUSD director of elementary ed to see how we might find a school. It turned out that during that call the new principal of Wright Elementary, a Title 1 School, was walking by and overheard the conversation. She quickly said “We’ll take them!”. That settled it, and several of us started working directly with the students at Wright as well as collecting school supplies and books for summer reading.
Members of our committee work with a number of other organizations in Tucson, which you can find on the Or Chadash website. Let me tell you about one other we have helped. Sister Jose Woman’s Center used to take care of homeless women in an old house that maybe housed a dozen women in an emergency. It was clear that they needed to expand. Members of our Congregation stepped up to help them raise funds for a new facility and others volunteered then and today at the new Center to handle the significantly larger population.
My punch line is that you don’t have to be a member of our committee to help others, but everyone should make an effort to do whatever they can to give your time and financial support to those in need.
Two events are coming up where you can make a difference. Project Isaiah is going on now. You will receive a bag as you leave services today. All you have to do is bring it back on Yom Kippur full of food for the needy that will go to the Food Bank of Southern Arizona. In addition you can write a check to Or Chadash to support the program or – just write that check instead of the food.
The other is a community-wide Pack-a-thon on Sunday, Oct 27, where we need a bunch of volunteers age 10 and older to pack meals for 50,000 needy Tucson citizens. They can also use a little financial help to cover the food cost.
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.
At the August board meeting we received end-of-fiscal year updates from Marty Zuckerman. The religious school over performed budget expectations, and the voluntary assessment was successful – our recorded cash loss on the year is only $4000 thanks to the work of our staff and the support of our congregants. The final set of amendments to the bylaws was approved by the board for distribution to the congregation. In preparation for a discussion at our September 22 congregational meeting, we reviewed the work of a subcommittee of Governance who are proposing changes to our mission and vision statements. We also received a report from the Security Task Force, and accepted their recommendation that Jim Liebeskind be authorized to provide security at events where it does not interfere with his other duties.
At the November meeting, the board heard several important reports. The treasurer reported that the High Holy Day Appeal has raised more than $30,000, $10,000 above its budget. There is a possible shortfall in dues collection, which we will receive more clarity on in future reports. The board accepted with gratitude a donation from the anonymous Family Foundation in the amount of $93,000, $30,000 of which is earmarked support salaries, and $63,000 of which will be used for various maintenance and improvement projects not included in the operating budget.
The Naming and Dedicattion Committee presented its final report, detailing a review of the records of past capital campaigns and giving their recommendations for honoring our donors over the years. The board accepted their recommendations.
Elaine Jones presented the work of the Alternative Dues Taskforce. This task force has analyzed our own dues receipts over the years, contacted a number of other synagogues to discuss their dues structure, and studied national reports on various dues models. Their presentation informed the board that our median bill for this year is $1406 and our membership number is stable. They consider the Sustaining Model to be promising – it requires calculating the average amount per family needed to maintain operations, and asking for pledges from each member unit. Their research indicates this usually has a positive effect on both congregational relationships and overall revenues. The board asked the task force to present their full report to the congregation at a town hall on February 10, 2019.
The president informed the board that he was creating a security task force, chaired by Mo Riback and with Jim Liebeskind as staff liaison, to review all our procedures in light of events in Pittsburgh and present any recommended changes to the board.