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At Central Synagogue

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David B. Edelson
Yom Kippur Appeal 5775

David B. Edelson  |  October 3, 2014

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Last night, as I finalized these remarks, I asked my wife if ever, in her wildest dreams, she thought I’d be standing here tonight. Without missing a beat, she replied, “David, you’re not in my wildest dreams.”

Most Jews consider Kol Nidrei the holiest night of the year. Somehow, when we entered the synagogue this evening, we did so differently, more intentionally, than on other nights. We took our seats and knew, instinctively, to look inward and take stock of our lives. When the Kol Nidrei melody began, our thoughts deepened, turning to those no longer with us. The power of this service is undeniable.

Thank you for allowing me to puncture this magical spell to reinforce why Central Synagogue is so essential and deserves our generous support.

Last Kol Nidrei, I contended that we must support Central for what it means to each of us and to our families. Twelve months later, on this night, I see more clearly how much our synagogue, as part of the American Jewish community, can also mean to Israel and to Jews around the world.

Each year, we enter Yom Kippur uncertain about the future; but this year, the months ahead seem especially foreboding. Who isn’t worried about the Islamic State, the ebola outbreak, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and here at home, the tensions in Ferguson?

Especially troubling for many of us are those issues related to Israel and anti-Semitism: the conflict with Hamas, the Iranian nuclear threat, growing anti-Semitism in Europe, and the ugly demonization of the Jewish state.

Reading the news over the past few months has been upsetting and, at times, heartbreaking. Yet, even so, these issues can seem far away, especially to us as members of a vibrant and respected synagogue in Midtown Manhattan. But, at the same time, they feel all too close to home.

What can we, here at Central Synagogue, do to help make the world a better place? How can we protect and strengthen Israel and fight anti-Semitism?

Surprisingly, in a rare show of restraint, even I don’t have the chutzpah to claim that a gift to the Yom Kippur Appeal will bring about global peace and harmony.

But, realistically, we can help in a simple yet significant way. We can ensure that Central Synagogue—our Jewish core—flourishes, enabling us to help others by our actions, by our words, and, critically, by what we symbolize to those beyond our walls. It is not hyperbole to note that others are inspired and energized by the example we set.

If we want to help others, we must start by helping ourselves. To borrow from Rabbi Hillel, if not now, when? If not us, who? We can help secure the Jewish future by assuring the vitality of our Jewish home.

At Central, we must do a better job educating our children and ourselves about Judaism and Israel. As Nelson Mandela observed, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Our kids should emerge as young adults knowing who they are, what they stand for, and why we practice Judaism the way we do. And each of us should also be able to wield this powerful force for good.

Our support for this place provides our clergy—and our whole congregation—the credibility to weigh in on the most important issues facing the Jewish people. Our voices matter, and they carry even more force given Central’s prominence in our city, in the Reform movement, and in our country.

For over two thousand years, the synagogue has anchored every Jewish community. The synagogue has been that core from which Jews throughout the ages have ventured out to, quite literally, change the world.

It has always been a sacred obligation and privilege for Jewish communities to support their synagogues, whether in Babylonia, Casablanca, Minsk, or, in our case, Midtown Manhattan.

This is our synagogue—if we don’t care for it, who will? Your gifts improve the quality of our worship and programs. They maintain our beautiful Sanctuary and our Community House. And, because of your gifts, we lend a hand to congregants for whom the cost of membership is a burden.

We support Central because of how much it means to us. It is not just a temple—it is a genuine community. Central makes us feel safe and gives us strength. It brings balance and perspective to our busy lives. At the end of a long week, we get lost in the music, prayers, and quiet introspection of Friday night services, and emerge re-energized. We establish lasting and deep-rooted friendships.

I know it may sound trite, but Central makes us feel like part of something bigger than ourselves. It is, quite simply, exactly what a synagogue community should be.

You are what makes this community unique. Your commitment to this place, and to one another, is incredible. Our clergy and staff cherish your love and support.

If being part of a vibrant and inspired Jewish community is sacred, if Judaism and Israel are sacred, then investing in Central is sacred.

Please give generously again this year—we can’t take Central for granted. Please show that, as a congregation, we care. We care about Jewish continuity. We care about the miraculous, and at times messy, enterprise called Israel. We care about the safety and dignity of Jews around the world. And, closest to home, we care about each other.

Every gift matters, regardless of size. As the saying goes, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito in the room.”

Central Synagogue is definitely worth your support—you won’t regret it.

Let me end with my thanks. This is my third and final year serving as President of Central. I have been honored to help lead this congregation. Whenever my energy lagged, I was revived by the constant reminders of your devotion to our shared home. This is a special place and you are a special congregation. I couldn’t possibly thank you enough for all you do for our community.

May the coming year be filled with sweetness, laughter, and joy for all of you and those you love. Thank you so much, Shabbat Shalom, and Shanah Tovah.


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