This message was read during the Annual Meeting which took place May 3rd, 2020
As this is a Zoom meeting, I will attempt to be brief as I’m certain there is plenty to discuss and it’s a difficult arena to maintain. I think it best to discuss the State of the Temple in terms of BC, AC, and AAC, meaning, Before Coronavirus, After Coronavirus and After After Coronavirus. Let us begin with BC. Right before Coronavirus hit, there was a loaded Spring coming. We had just founded an environmental committee, we were beginning T’fillin Tuesdays, we were scheduled to host Family Promise meetings and learning sessions from the Climate Strike group, Purim and Passover were on their way, our Twilight Zone Torah study sessions were continuing, our youth group was going to meet the Muslim youth group from the Islamic center, and Brad and I were scheduled to hold mingle sessions at Brokerage Brewery. And even with all that, I’m sure I’m still forgetting things. The point is that before Coronavirus, Temple Israel was to have a very busy Spring. It was exciting! Every age group was involved, new members were volunteering. There was a sense, at least for myself, that we had made the collective decision to resist congregational inertia in favor of experimentation, outreach, and education. We were alive again, and we were headed towards great things.
And then, COVID-19 hit us. Everything was either cancelled or made virtual. Everything changed. Everything.
But, as Jews often do, we evolved; we changed in order to survive. Instead of digging in our heels of custom and tradition, we leapt headfirst into technological advances and new experiences. Our Passover Seder was done via Livestream, Services on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings are held virtually. We continue to learn through Torah from a Distance. Our social action projects have not diminished as we continue to hold drives and make our community aware of those in need. And, to be honest, despite all the challenges, things have been going pretty amazingly. And thus far, things have been going swimmingly. We continue to gather virtually, we continue to worship, to learn, together and separately. In fact, believe it or not, our Shabbat attendance is consistently higher online, and we are reaching a far greater number on non-members and could be members, than when services were exclusively in person. I continue to reach out to those in need via phone or email; I am continuing to train those studying for conversion via phone and zoom; our congregants are staying aware of the latest and most important topics of the Reform Movement, our children continue to learn Hebrew and participate in Bar/Bat Mitzvah training, our religious school carried on and together with them I was able to bring education and music.
Those who are feeling isolated are being cared for, those in need of spiritual comfort are getting it, and those who hunger for learning have ways to achieve it. So what now?
For now, we’re in no rush to open our doors and risk the health of our members, even as Indiana begins the slow process of opening back up. Brad and I continue to monitor URJ and CCAR recommendations. For now, both organizations are telling us that the Reform Movement is continuing virtual community gatherings until the unseen future. Indeed, we just heard that all URJ camps will not be open this summer. While we will continue to look to our government leaders for guidance, because our first priority is your health and safety, we may not open as quickly as other institutions and businesses. Given the uncertainty before us, know that together with the Board and our PAW committee, we are already beginning to think through contingencies should we not be able to gather together come High Holy Days. In fact, with Diane and Shari, the newly appointed PAW chairs, I think we will all be in good hands as we decide on the best possible steps forward. I know it is hard for all of us to imagine our sanctuary empty during our most holy of days but it is a reality we must acknowledge, and one that we should and can embrace with optimism. We will get through this.
Finally, what about AAC? What will happen when COVID-19 goes away, or the risks drop to a level where we feel safe to open our doors again? At that time, we will need to look within ourselves and ask what kind of congregation we wish to be. Having experienced months of isolation and virtual community, even what was once normal for Temple may not be normal anymore. Or, what was normal may not be the new normal that we need. When the day comes that we open our doors again, the world, already different now, may be even more different then. How will we respond? Will we strengthen and expand our social justice work? Will we search for new or creative ways for us to be financially sustainable? Will we ride the wave of ingenuity and experimentation led by the Reform Movement?
My hope is that we will hold on to the very best of what Temple Israel was and be open to the very best that Temple Israel can be. I hope that this will be a journey that we all embark on together. A rabbi, a board, a committee or two simply cannot do this work alone. It takes a community, a kahal. But that is AAC. Today, for now, let us focus our hearts and minds on the holy work we can do from afar. I hope that as you are able, and when it is safe to do so, you are each finding ways to support those in need in our community. I hope you are finding comfort in the rituals of shabbat which, though virtual, have not changed despite the circumstances. I hope that you know that I am here for you, Brad is here for you, and your entire Temple Israel community stands behind you. Many of you have heard me share one of my favorite quotes from Pirkei Avot, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” What you probably haven’t heard as often, however, are the lines that precede it. “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now.” I can think of no better prayer for each of us during these difficult times. Amen.