At Central Synagogue

Remarks from the 2017 Annual Meeting

Posted May 25, 2017

Abigail Pogrebin, President’s Remarks

In the midst of uncertain, disquieting times in the world right now, it’s a reassuring joy to be able to report that the State of our Shul is strong, steady and I’d venture to say, even sweet.

We have five remarkable clergy in our Senior Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, Rabbis Mo Salth, Ari Lorge and Stephanie Kolin, and Cantor Julia Cadrain.  We’re blessed by their simchas this year – Stephanie’s baby, Ari’s upcoming wedding, and Julia’s engagement – huge mazel tovs to all.

We are soon going to be welcoming a new Senior Cantor, Daniel Mutlu, from Houston. I don’t want to overstate his talent and warmth, but suffice it to say that all of us could not be more excited about what he’s adding to our stellar team.  We’re also immensely grateful to Cantor Cadrain for holding down the fort with such professionalism, talent and grace during the time we were without a senior cantor.  Thank you so much, Julia. And a shout-out must be given to our amazing Israeli guest cantor. Shani Ben-Or has been a beautiful contributor to music at Central and we are so glad you are staying another year.

Marcia Caban has completed her first year as our Executive Director. We undeniably put a huge amount on her plate from the get-go, but she has risen to every challenge and already brought fresh eyes to old challenges. I can’t say enough about her wise stewardship – not just in the areas of finance, governance, and attention to our physical plant, but when it comes to staff development and accountability. It’s been a pleasure to work so closely with her.

The LCLJ religious school, under Rabbi Rebecca Rosenthal, is humming with project-based learning – a new approach to teaching our Jewish texts and traditions which has already resulted in more engaging, creative endeavors, and will hopefully yield more mastery and ownership when it comes to connecting the next generation to Jewish life.

The nursery school under Cindy Grebow has a great, happy gang of parents and toddlers – they’re a mood enhancer just to glimpse in the hallway.  The school had another year of successful exmissions to kindergarten and a lively and creative benefit this year, which raised significant funds for the new, much-needed roof playground, which I hope you’ll all visit when it’s done. The special announcement is that Central is starting a summer camp for the first time, and enrollment is already robust.

On the adult learning front, you’ll hear more from Rabbi Buchdahl, but I can speak personally and say that last fall’s Elul initiative, conceived by Rabbi Nicole Auerbach – for which so many of us joined or created small groups to engage in chesbon hanefesh – “accounting of the soul” – the front-loading of atonement which is encouraged by our tradition before the new year arrives – this was one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever been part of.  (I hope you’ll consider joining or forming a group next fall when it happens again.) I can also vouch for the excellence of the three panels we hosted on Enduring Disagreements, which waded into sensitive waters of this political moment with courage and evenhandedness.  We should all be proud of our Senior Rabbi’s preparation and nimbleness when it came to her moderating all three fascinating discussions.

We continue to have percolating small group engagement and the number will expand next year.

We continue to have thoughtful programming on Israel, thanks to Rabbi Marion Lev-Cohen in particular, including a very successful interfaith trip to Israel, and we will be TK in the coming year.

Rabb Lisa Rubin continues to engage and inspire new Jews. We will be expanding the Exploring Judaism program to accommodate the demand and its excellence. You’ll be hearing more about that in the fall.

Rabbi Mo Salth continues to be our Comforter-in-Chief, among his many other gifts and responsibilities. I know you all share my appreciation for his extra sensitivity and care when it comes to the toughest life cycles.

Rabbi Ari Lorge has expertly taken the reins on Community Organizing – known here as Central in Action – while Rabbi Kolin is on maternity leave. And he continues to connect our 20s and 30s members – a population that would otherwise be somewhat untethered to our community and our tradition.

Rabbi Stephanie Kolin had two babies this year – one an actual tiny adorable human girl, Raviva, and the other: the birth of the first Central in Action win: the raising of the age of criminal responsibility to 18 from 16. It was quite uplifting to see the hundreds that turned out for the Gov. Cuomo evening in March, and though the Raise the Age initiative was already on its way to crossing the finish line in the state legislature, we were told how decisive were the faith groups that weighed in – with careful, dogged activism – during the home stretch.

Our physical plant is in beautiful condition, but is undeniably and literally high-maintenance.  A lot goes into keeping our beloved sanctuary and the community house in fighting form. I want to acknowledge our facilities director, Jeff Dorn, who has been a steady hand on the tiller and also a great support to the breakfast program – for which we serve 200 meals per week at dawn. Jeff is always there.

We will be refurbishing the synagogue front steps this summer and upgrading the AC system.

We will be adding metal detectors for every Shabbat and High Holy Day services, not because there has been any cause for concern at Central, but because tighter security has become standard practice at every major New York Jewish institution, not to mention Madison Square Garden.

The Audio Visual report! From trusted Jesse Lauter – you all see him in the back of the sanctuary on Friday evenings; he’s the one with the overgrown beard.

  1. We upgraded our cameras to a high-quality high-definition camera, significantly improving our streaming quality.
  2. We bolstered our streaming program even further by adding Facebook Live and on-demand viewing of our services up to one week after service-completion.
  3. We transitioned all of our archival recordings to “digital,” allowing people to receive recordings of their life-cycle events with downloadable files and YouTube links, transitioning us out of using DVDs.

And there are some further exciting developments coming next month so stay tuned!

So much of what makes Central effective and reliable is unseen and unsung. Our nursery and LCLJ teachers, our maintenance and security team, our admin staff across the street. I hope you’ll join me in thanking them for the dedicated work they do and how well they do it.

And finally a note of personal gratitude. May 31 marks the beginning of my final year as your president and I could not feel more privileged to work with Rabbi Buchdahl, Marcia Caban and their respective remarkable teams, and to have gotten to know and value a congregation that has honestly deepened my own sense of Jewish family, and how precious and unlikely that is in today’s times. Thank you.

Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, Senior Rabbi’s Remarks

We’ve entered a new chapter in our story – B’midbar. B’midbar in hebrew literally means in the wilderness, but the book is known in English as Numbers because it begins with a census of the Israelite people.  The counting of all the Israelite community was an important way of taking stock of who was there, which tribes they represented and who were able bodied enough to contribute to the community.  The Hebrew for taking a census is Se’u et Rosh, which literally means “lift the head.”  This prompted a rabbinic commentary from Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl to say, “let the Israelites hold their heads high in pride.” Taking count is a way of helping a community feel pride in what they’ve accomplished.

I would like to begin a review of our year with a census of sorts – retelling of the story that our numbers tell of where our community is. And i hope it will help you feel proud of our year in numbers:

Start at the beginning of the life cycle…

43 new babies born in our community.

410 Kids enrolled in LCLJ to date, up from 320 this time last year – putting us on track to be over 700 students in LCLJ. Over 40 kids in our brand new EC summer camp.

30 students in Confirmation class who traveled to Spain and will lead our Erev shavuot service this Tuesday night.

136 Students in the EJ class this year with 40 conversions.

Over 740 adults engaged in some kind of sustained learning, not one-off speakers, but weekly learning in Melton, EJ, iEngage, Small groups or a Bible or Talmud class!

500 1:1 conversations as part of our listening campaign.

1000 People of different faiths who came to the Raise the Age Action with Governor Cuomo and helped raised the age of criminal responsibility this year.

We hit Several hundred thousand viewers for our HHD services, from over 100 countries.

More than doubling of our wait list since the HHD to over 500 families.

These are numbers we can feel proud of.  But our congregation is so much more than the numbers. It is important that each person feels they are not just numbered, but known, noticed, and needed. As part of this effort, this coming year we are putting our energies into expanding our Core group initiative and double the number of people participating in these lay-led small groups at Central in the coming year. This large congregation is made intimate by having a small group of congregants you meet in a sustained way, with whom you learn and celebrate and grow spiritually. You will hear more at the HHD’s but we hope that each of you will find your core community within the congregation.

This book is not only Numbers, but B’midbar, the wilderness. It is an apt name for what it feels like right now in our national and spiritual landscape – we are in unchartered territory. These months since the Election I’ve seen a level of activism, outrage, vulnerability, polarization and agitation like I’ve never seen. It has meant some harder conversations I have had with members in the last 6 months than all 10 years prior. There are those who want Central to do more, speak out more, and others who want Central to remain a sanctuary.

It has caused important soul searching for me and our senior leadership and lay leaders about the primary mission of Central in these times and where our Jewish values call us to act. I affirm that we are first and foremost a spiritual home for our community.  We will continue to prioritize caring for those who are sick or struggling, comforting our mourners, educating our children, seeding and sustaining a love for Israel, celebrating our milestones and observing Shabbat and the seasons of our Jewish calendar. Our synagogue is uniquely privileged to share in these holy acts which form the sacred fabric of our Jewish lives.

And we will also find ways to live out Torah in the public arena where our Jewish values call us to act, and speak out, in thoughtful conversation with you and our leadership.

I continue to be proud of the diversity of this congregation – it is its strength. We need to lean into the many varied views of this congregation so we exercise those muscles for constructive disagreement, and respectful dialogue.  If we can do this here, we can model how this can be done in the wider Jewish community and in our city and country. We began this process with the initiative – Enduring Disagreements – where we heard from speakers such as David Harris, Jonathan Haidt, Yehuda Kurtzer, and Rabia Chaudry. And we had 100 congregants engage in sustained practice over the Omer period to prepare themselves for the kinds of conversations we want to have – in the political realm, in issues of justice and regarding Israel.

Speaking of Israel – we are in new territory regarding Israel as well.  Just yesterday was Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem day – marking the day, 50 years ago yesterday, where we celebrated Israel’s control of the Old City upon the victory of the 6 day war. 50 years ago, Israelis and Jews around the world celebrated the reunification of Jerusalem for the first time in 2000 years with unequivocal pride and joy. 50 years later, the ramifications of the war and an continued presence in the West Bank for 50 years has taken its toll on Israel, on the Palestinian people residing there and on American Jewish relationship with Israel.  I continue to affirm our unconditional support for the State of Israel, while we make sure to engage in efforts that can help Israel realize its aspirations for a safe and peaceful resolution to this conflict.

There is still so much in the world that feels unstable beneath us – rising anti-semitism at home and in Europe, rising anti-israel sentiments, especially among younger generations, recent terror attacks including the the one this week in Manchester at a concert filled with children. These acts shake our confidence. But I think this is where our community has found even more comfort and strength and hope in being together.  Wherever we go, it’s eternally Egypt.  But the winding way to that promise passes through the wilderness. We are in that wilderness now – but we will work towards the promise of a world redeemed.  And together, we will do our part to help get us there.