Hard as it is to believe, I am an exceptionally shy person. While I never hesitate to step into a spotlight if my substantial ego tells me I have something to contribute to the circumstances, I am always uncomfortable when it is turned on me by others. So here I am, looking at November on the horizon, when my "platinum" status of twenty years' time will be celebrated throughout most of the month. Why would I volunteer for such attention?
The answer is two-fold. First, these twenty years deserve recognition because of the exceptional teamwork that has enable Agudas Achim to flourish. My arrival in 1987 marked a new beginning for one of the oldest congregations in the Commonwealth. The people of the congregation – veterans who could reach back as far as our founding and young men and women who are attracted to what we have become – have all supported our synagogue with enthusiasm, hard work and firm but loving criticisms. We have been blessed with staff members who, without exception, brought talents and skills to our community. I have had the good fortune to be one constant among many variables, blessed with a congregation willing to give me a lot of slack in the ties that bind us.
Second, we need to invest in the future of this congregation and retire the debts of the past. If this anniversary and our mutual affection allow us to accomplish this goal, then my responsibility as the rabbi is to help in every way I can. We have a substantial target amount. But we have the ability to retire our mortgage and thus complete the beautification of the sanctuary through our Pillars, to amplify our program budget by reducing our debt service, and to secure an endowment that will help Agudas Achim attract a new generation of leaders and members whose only question will be, "How can I become a part of this community?"
For whatever reason, we don't like to talk about money. Those without it often think they are being evaluated negatively because they don't have it (they are not) and those with it often think they are receiving attention only because they do have it (they are not). You can't set aside your attitudes toward fundraising any more than I can set aside my feelings about all this attention. But you can consciously put them into perspective. When you are approached you can choose to see this request as a referendum or an investment. What is the difference? The referendum puts your feelings about something extraneous ahead of the reason for the solicitation. The investment begins with a recognition of our community and what will enable it to grow with confidence.
I wrote this column because I hope you will read it and consider its message. I also wrote it because I did not want to emphasize fundraising during the High Holy Days. But I will give you just a little nudge about the three actions we affirm make for a brighter future. Opportunities for teshuvah (repentance) and tefillah (prayer) will be provided by Agudas Achim in abundance during Elul and the Days of Awe. Tzedakah (righteous giving) is in your hands alone.
Ann, Jennie, Julia and Max join me in wishing you a sweet and healthy year to come.