Betsy Diamant-Cohen, Yom Kipper 2012
Yom Kippur Speech - at the end of the Kol Nidre chanting
My family moved to Baltimore 14 years ago, from Jerusalem. Stuart was originally from England, I was from Connecticut. We met in Israel where we lived for more than 12 years. We knew what it was like to move from country to country, and assumed that when we came to Baltimore we would have no problem making friends. WRONG!
Although we are both outgoing, when we arrived here, it seemed like there was a closed circle of Baltimoreans which was very hard to break into. I signed our kids up for basketball at the JCC assuming that I would meet other moms while sitting on the bleachers watching our children on the basketball court. WRONG again. Even when I introduced myself in a friendly manner, the other women quickly went back to reminiscing about when they were in school together – and they didn’t mean college – they meant ELEMENTARY school. When I realized that, I thought I would never fit in.
We went shul shopping. At our shul in Israel on Purim, everyone dressed up – both adults and children. In fact, the whole country dresses up. I remember riding on a bus in Jerusalem with a bus driver dressed as a pirate! So on our first Purim in Baltimore, one of our favorite holidays, we all put on costumes and went to shul. Not this shul. A different one. A bigger one. Yet despite the fact that there were many more congregants, we were among only a handful of adults who actually wore costumes….and the other adult costume wearers were seated on the beema leading the services. Boy, did we feel awkward! We had worked hard putting our kids’ homemade costumes together, and our children were disappointed that there was no costume parade for them to march in.
No one wished us “Hag Sameach” and although Purim is a joyful holiday, we found it very depressing.
After six months in Baltimore, our first visit to Chevrei Tzedek was for a family Friday night dinner. People we did not know made the effort to come over to us and say hello. The rabbi even called us later that week to welcome us to Baltimore. We met other Baltimore transplants (and by that, I mean people who had moved here within the past 30 years.) We liked the service, a traditional synagogue service but with equal participation of both men and women. So we came back. And, on Purim, EVERYONE dressed up! There were kings, queens, Mordechais, Esthers, baseball players, construction workers, hobos, movie stars, clowns, and more. Our small sanctuary was colorful, crowded, and boisterous! The children marched around in a costume parade and were rewarded for their dress-up efforts by the clear appreciation of the congregation.
This was a place we could become a part of.
So, we joined Chevrei Tzedek. We learned that Chevrei cared passionately about social action, and that by joining the shul, we were also expected to join a committee and become active on it. I joined the family programing committee. We met at different people’s homes, and very quickly I was absorbed into a wonderful group of people who also cared about being Jewish, about Israel, and about building a caring community.
When a year had gone by, I realized that we were no longer isolated – Chevrei had become our community and we had made good friends through the shul that still remain good friends, even after fourteen years in Baltimore!
As with any congregation, Chevrei has its ups and downs. There are years when we have more congregants and years when we have less. Some years there is a big group of kids about to be bar-mitzvahed (we call them “the bar-mitzvah chug”. They help each other out and do social action projects together). And some years, the bar mitzvah chug has only a few children in it. And, like other synagogues, as the years go by, we have lost some members and gained others. But throughout it all, I have noticed some very special things about Chevrei.
Small kindnesses. Not random acts of kindness. Deliberate acts of kindness, done quietly, with no fanfare, because it is the right thing to do.
On a large scale, as part of the Baltimore community: Cooking meals for occupants of a homeless shelter. Running events where our children raise money to buy toys for children less fortunate than they are. Organizing donations of food and toiletries. Cooking breakfast and singing Christmas carols on Christmas morning for families in a nearby homeless shelter.
As a congregation: Arranging meals for families when there is sickness or death. Supplying printed copies of announcements for congregants who do not have access to the Internet. Creating a system which enables congregants to easily find their page in the prayerbook.
And then, the personal kindnesses, from one congregant to another, which I see on an ongoing basis. No one talks about it, but it just happens. Small little kindnesses off the radar screen, from one congregant to another.
I’ve noticed how several congregants quietly offer rides to those without cars to enable them to attend congregational events or committee meetings. I know that some congregants cook meals for each other, and help out with grocery shopping for those who are less mobile. They don’t talk about it. They just do it. And more.
I feel proud to be part of a community where people look out for and respect each other. Some of us like to dress in fancy clothes for shul, others prefer comfortable, informal clothing (like me!). Some members like to engage in conversation, others sit silently and enjoy listening in. We are a community of people with a wide variety of professions, ages, and abilities. I’m proud that our synagogue was the first one in Baltimore to officially support marriage equality in Maryland, following on the call for us to be what our name proclaims: Chevrei Tzedek: Friends of Justice.
All Chevrei members are asked to join at least one committee. The committees are open to anyone who chooses to participate in them. In addition to using this as a way to publically recognize all the hard work and volunteerism that takes place at Chevrei Tzedek, I’m going to name the committees and I’d like the members to stand as their committee is being named. This will show who is involved in which committee. And, if you hear of one that sounds interesting, please feel free to approach a committee member after services to ask about joining.
Adult Education organizes and coordinates all adult education programming, including Shabbatot Limuds, mini-courses and Shavuot eve Tikkunim. Thank you.
B'nei Mitzvah committee develops policies and procedures and coordinates activities relating to bar and bat mitzvahs and the B'nei Mitzvah Chug (the group of kids with upcoming bar and bat mitzvahs). Thank you.
Communications is responsible for all internal and external communications, such as newsletters, brochures and membership outreach materials. Thank you.
Family Activities organizes and runs synagogue-wide events such as: Kabbalat Shabbat services and dinners, a Sukkah Potluck lunch, Purim and Chanukah parties, a Tu B’shvat seder, and events to Welcome New Members. Thank you.
Finance and Fund Raising organizes and coordinates all fundraising and budgeting activities. Thank you.
Israel Action plans and leads activities about the State of Israel and Israeli culture, history and politics. Thank you.
Membership organizes and runs membership outreach, orientation and retention activities. Thank you.
Mitzvah develops policies and coordinates mitzvah activities for congregants, such as sending shiva trays and coordinating other shiva logistics, assisting seniors and sending get-well cards. Thank you.
Ritual develops policies related to halachic observance (kashrut, etc.) according to Conservative Judaic standards, and oversees services and ritual observance with the Rabbi’s guidance. Thank you.
Social Action organizes and coordinates social action initiatives in the wider community. And you’ll hear more about that from Barbara tomorrow. Thank you.
Strategic Planning develops processes, membership surveys and other means for enhancing our short-term and long-term direction. Thank you.
The Youth Committee organizes and coordinates programming for youth ages 0-18. Thank you.
High Holiday organizes and coordinates Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services and tickets. Thank you.
I mentioned that Chevrei Tzedek is a hands-on participatory congregation. Although we have a rabbi, the congregants are involved in voluntarily running many aspects of the shul on a day-to-day to basis. It’s important to realize that we have very few paid staff. All that you see around you is run by busy people, just like you, who have chosen to become involved.
Here are some of the shul tasks that are coordinated by volunteers:
Please stand for a moment if you are involved in any of these efforts. Thank you.
I love the participatory nature of our shul. Sermons are given not just by the rabbi, but are open to all congregants who choose to sign up for them! Many congregants give freely of their time and abilities to help us run the participatory services by giving divrei Torah (sermons) or leading discussions, reading from the Torah or Haftarah, and davening (leading prayers). Each Chevrei member has the opportunity to read become involved, if they wish. Families can sponsor Kiddushes by buying the food ahead of time, physically setting up the tables, and clearing up when the food has all be eaten. There are so many ways to become involved! Thank you to everyone who has contributed in one way or another.
This year, for the first time, Chevrei Tzedek is even being run by a committee. We are called “the Mazkirut” and Hebrew word that loosely translated means, “the Secretariat.” Six of us work together sharing responsibilities (and lots of emails) regarding the day to day functioning as well as the envisioned future of our shul. Not all mazkirut members could be here tonight, but will all members of the mazkirut in the room, please rise? These are the people to speak with if you have any questions or comments about the congregation.
A shul also has a spiritual head, and we are lucky to have Rabbi Avram Reisner as our part-time rabbi. Rabbi Reisner is active in Conservative Judaism on a national level; not only is he a longstanding member of the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, he is also one of the editors of the prayer book that we use every Shabbat! How cool is that?
So, there is a lot to proud of here at Chevrei Tzedek. We have a unique community and I’d like to invite you to become involved, or even more involved than you already are.
We have a potluck meal in the Sukkah next week (October 6), a fund-raising dinner honoring Neil Rubin on December 1, and regular Saturday morning Shabbat services which draw a significant number of Chevrei Tzedek members.
As we usher in the New Year, I’d like to thank all of the Chevrei members who extended the hand of friendship to us when we first arrived in Baltimore, to those who welcomed us into their synagogue and quickly made us a part of things, and to those people who are not yet members but have chosen to join us for Kol Nidrei tonight. Thank you.
May the coming year be a Shana Tova U’m’tooka – a good and a sweet year for all. G’mar Chatima Tova.
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These speeches have been written by our members and delivered during the d'var torah portion of the service.