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October 4, 2022

Yom Kippur Appeal 5783

Shonni Silverberg

In this season of reflection, I’d ask you to think for a moment about our community…these services…our worship and song. They show us something we all know in our hearts: Central is not your typical synagogue. This was made clear to me once again in an email I received last spring, one of many from members of our livestream community.

It was from a couple of Montrealers, who “discovered” Central when flipping through satellite channels during a visit to Vermont. They quickly became regular Shabbat participants. Months later, when they were walking with friends in Arizona, they mentioned that Central’s president (that would be me) was also from Montreal – which they learned from my Yom Kippur Appeal last year. One of their friends exclaimed that in fact my father had been his camp counselor at Unzer Camp Kindervelt in Quebec more than 50 years before.

Central’s reach online and into the homes and hearts of Jews everywhere has extended the old pastime of Jewish geography: Stay with me here: a synagogue in New York, discovered by Canadians in Vermont, brings friends together to worship and relive memories of Montreal in Arizona. Even more amazing to me is that rather than running out of the sanctuary when the synagogue president stands up to make the Yom Kippur Appeal, or in our streamers’ case, rather than checking their email, our community listens, and discusses it with friends.

We at Central have so much to be proud of this year:

  • Meaningful worship, wonderful music, unparalleled pastoral care, and literally hundreds of life cycle events, both joyfully happy and terribly sad.
  • Programs that enriched the connection to Judaism for over 10,000 participants: educating children in nursery and religious schools both midtown and downtown; adults learning in ongoing programs and special lectures; not to mention those participating in Rabbi Buchdahl’s morning meditation.
  • We continued to broaden our tent, welcoming everyone who wants to explore and practice Reform Judaism. This year, we created The Neighborhood, an innovative online community providing an onramp to deeper Jewish engagement; and our Center for Exploring Judaism introduced Judaism to168 students
  • To fulfill our commitment to Tikkun Olam, this year our Central community helped New Yorkers suffering from food insecurity, Americans struggling with medical debt, Ukrainian Jews impacted by war, and those in our city transitioning from incarceration. We also resettled two refugee families fleeing violence and persecution in Guatamala.

To serve this congregation at the very highest level, throughout the pandemic we invested for success. Our choices continue to be based in our values, and today we face higher costs in several key areas:

  • Attracting and retaining the very best clergy & staff remains our top priority. To that end, we have recently initiated programs to cultivate longer-term relationships with our clergy; and we just filled a cantorial and a key senior staff position that were open for the past year.
  • Despite the additional cost, we remain committed to the “dual option” when it comes to worship: investing to provide the highest quality services online as well as in person.
  • Our long-awaited return to more in-person gatherings increases our facility, security and staffing costs; and most welcome of all, increased food costs with the end to the COVID imposed “Jews without Food” mandate.
  • To meet increased need in this challenging economic environment, we are providing 66% more financial assistance to our own members than we did pre-pandemic; personal finances will never be an impediment to being part of our community.
  • Finally, while we have always focused on safety and security, the attack at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas last December was a reminder of the threat of antisemitic violence around the globe and in our country. We want you to know that we continually reassess our security program and this year, we have made important modifications and upgrades. Our wonderful security team, led by our full-time Head of Security, is constantly vigilant in securing the safety of our congregation, its clergy & staff.

You, our Central members are our core and our reason for being. Nothing is more important than taking care of our Central family—and your support enables us to do that with excellence. Last year’s YKA accounted for 1/3 of our operating budget. You stepped up; we are counting on you to step up again.

I want to speak for a moment directly to our livestream community. Last year, our HHD services reached hundreds of thousands of you in nearly 100 countries. Over 4000 livestreamers contributed to our YKA, and I want to thank each and every one of you: Monica in Johannesburg, David in Mexico City, Jack & Barbara, the Montrealers I mentioned earlier.

Every livestreamer has a story. You shared the many and varied paths that brought you to us, but you also told us why you stayed –the ways that Central adds meaning to your lives. We know you are with us and we read every email and letter you send. I hope you will consider supporting us again, or for the first time.

As I did last year, I ask you all, in this room and streaming around the globe, to think about your Central moment of 5782. A time when Central brought you just what you needed: a rabbi whose words rang true, a melody that uplifted you, a message that resonated, a connection to loved ones. For me, 2 come to mind: I had the privilege of standing on this bimah each week to say Kaddish for my father, which gave me the chance to testify to his life and to his impact on mine. And watching my handsome son Nathaniel and his bride wrapped in my father’s Tallit as they stood under the Chuppah this May, beginning their journey together.

Central is there for us. I ask you to be there for Central. I don’t subscribe to the adage that says, “Give ‘til it hurts.” I prefer: “Give ‘til it makes you feel great.” I thank you in advance for your support and wish each of you a year of health and peace.

Watch our sermon above or on Youtube, listen on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, or read the transcript above.