Seeing the Possibilities

Posted on November 1, 2016 by Robin Osman, TBE President, 2015-2017

It was wonderful to see you during the Holy Days. Many people told me the words I shared on Yom Kippur were inspiring. My remarks are excerpted below. I wish you all a wonderful couple of months with much to be grateful for on Thanksgiving, a bright and joyous Chanukah and a happy and healthy New Year!


I was 14 years old, and it was that long-awaited day. I was finally getting my ears pierced. With great anticipation, I entered the Piercing Pagoda, and they shot those gold balls right through my ears. Then, my mom’s frantic voice, “Hank! Catch her!!!”

It was the first of many faints for me. Having a bone set, getting a blood test, even going with my husband for his blood test was enough to take me down.

Understandably, I was afraid to donate blood. Surely, I would faint. Recently, I gave it a try. And, lo and behold, I did not faint. It was mind over matter, and supportive friends cheering me on. I was delighted to learn that my blood type was the same as my outlook on life: B+ (Be positive)!

Today I will speak about seeing the possibilities in our own lives and together as a community. While preparing this speech, I spoke with some people who faced devastating losses, yet managed to find their way forward with grace. A few years ago, Jack and Nora lost their 18-year-old daughter to a heroin overdose. Today, they are funding programs to help teens make better choices.

I asked, “How were you able to create something positive in the face of such tragedy?” Nora told me they decided never to say “if only…” “If only we had seen the signs. If only we knew she was on drugs. If only we had paid more attention.” Heartbreaking. They knew that nothing positive would come from that line of thinking.

Bradley Snyder was blinded by an explosion while serving in Afghanistan. Exactly one year from losing his vision, he won a gold medal in the Paralympics for swimming. Bradley believes in the power of asking, “What if…What if I can succeed? What if I could become a Paralympian? What if I could win a gold medal?” What if?

Being a blind swimmer wasn’t easy. Bradley crashed into the wall several times. And who doesn’t crash into walls in our own lives from time to time? Bradley says, “It’s what you do after you crash into the wall that matters.” I think that’s sage advice.

In a well-known Torah story Moses sent 12 spies to the Promised Land. They came back with a giant cluster of grapes, so big it took eight men to carry them! Ten scouts came back defeated. “You see the size of these grapes? You should see the size of the people who eat them! They’re giants! And we must look like grasshoppers.”

Joshua and Caleb reported that they saw a fine land, and that they could conquer the Canaanites. And, indeed, it was a bountiful land. God had put those grapes there as a sign they would flourish in the new land.

The Israelites listened to the ten scouts, and decided to return to Egypt. Because of their lack of faith, God decreed that they would wander the desert for forty years. All the men died, except Joshua and Caleb, who eventually entered the Promised Land.

Twelve scouts observed the same thing. How was it that ten came back defeated, while two returned optimistic? I think the ten scouts were plagued with “if only” thinking. “If only we were bigger. If only we were stronger. If only we had more weapons.”

And it seems to me that Joshua and Caleb had a “what if?” mindset. “What if all the food there is so big? What if the people there are weak? What if we’re stronger than we think we are?”

On Rosh Hashanah the shofar blast awakens us and gives us the opportunity to reimagine ourselves. “What kind of person do I want to be? How can I reach my potential? What kind of legacy do I hope to leave?” Now is the time for seeing possibilities in our lives, and daring to ask ourselves, “what if…?”

In 1953, a group of dreamers gathered and asked, “what if?” I had the pleasure of speaking with temple founders, Dorothy and Irving Vogel and Goldie Taub. They spoke of ten families who met in living rooms with the vision of creating a warm, friendly Reform congregation. Together they painted, laid floor and housed student rabbis. Today, when they see all that Temple Beth-El has become, they say it’s everything they had hoped for, yet beyond their imagination at the time. As founders, they feel responsible for ensuring that TBE remains vibrant for future generations.

Over the years, we have proven to be dreamers and positive thinkers who see new possibilities, even in challenging times. When we found ourselves in a precarious financial position, we didn’t close up our tent. We envisioned the L’Dor VaDor campaign, which eradicated debt, stabilized finances, and enabled Temple Beth-El to remain vibrant, making Jewish life accessible to all.

Recently, we participated in the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution, which began with congregants envisioning b’nei mitzvah as a process, rather than a singular moment. Today that dream is reality, as nearly all students continue chanting Torah beyond their b’nei mitzvah.

We strive for excellence in education and high levels of teen engagement. A much higher percentage of our students attend Confirmation Academy than the 50% nationwide average, and we have over forty students in our Post Confirmation class.

Last year we set out to create affinity groups to deepen relationships among congregants. Today 12 groups are forming: from gourmet foodies to cyclists, and over fifty people have expressed interest.

These are a few examples that demonstrate that when we open ourselves up to possibilities, and embark on the journey, we often go farther than imagined.

The New Year is a great time to see new possibilities for Jewish growth. We have an exceptional lineup of guest speakers and adult education opportunities. If each of us could find a way to help this community grow by volunteering, making a donation and/or leaving a legacy gift, we would be a stronger and more vibrant Temple Beth-El.

On Rosh Hashanah Jay Lavroff spoke about our High Holy Day Appeal. Thanks to all who have already contributed, and if you have not yet done so, please consider making a donation. Your commitment is a true mitzvah, a gift that helps ensure our future.

This is the last time I will stand before all of you as president of this wonderful community. Thank you for trusting me to carry Temple Beth-El’s torch for a short while. I am grateful for this opportunity. May this be a good and sweet year for all of us, and may we see the possibilities in our own lives, and together as a community.

May we dream big, ask “what if,” and may we go from strength to strength!


Robin Osman

Temple President, 2016-2018