Posted on November 13, 2020 by Leigh Miller
Over the summer, I was struck by the timeliness of a teaching from parsha Ki Teitzei in the Book of Deuteronomy. I was intrigued by how relevant the first three verses of Chapter 22 seemed to be in our current circumstances:
(1) If you see your fellow’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to him;
(2) If your fellow does not live near you or you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home until your fellow claims it; then you shall give it back to him;
(3) You shall do the same with his garment; and with anything your fellow loses and you find: you must not remain indifferent.
To me, this simply means we are all responsible for one another.
As the pandemic grew in March, so did fear and uncertainty. Still, when temple leadership decided to shut down temple activities beginning March 14, we were hopeful this would be over by Memorial Day.
But we also knew we had a lot of work to do. Our religious school needed to shift to all-virtual instruction – and we restarted classes on March 29. Religious services also had to become virtual, and we held our first Zoom service on March 20. We created an outreach program called Helping Hands to connect with our congregants.
All this amazing work happened within two weeks – thanks to seven incredibly dedicated professional staff and clergy – and a small army of wonderful volunteers who knew we needed to continue serving our community.
While this was happening, my family experienced the loss of my beloved mother-in-law, who passed away on Saturday, March 21. Because of the governor’s stay-at-home order, we were limited on what we could do in-person, including sitting shivah. But in little more than a day, our temple staff figured out how to create the temple’s first virtual shivah minyan and notified the community. Thanks to their commitment, more than 75 families joined us virtually that first Sunday evening.
Even under the most dire, challenging and uncertain circumstances, Temple Beth-El was not indifferent to our needs, ensuring we had the critical support of friends and family in our time of loss. Those days validated for me that Temple Beth-El and the TBE community truly understood that we ARE all responsible for each other.
During the weekend of March 21, we were also concluding our search for a new cantor. Amidst the growing COVID crisis and impending shutdown of the state, our Selection Committee decided to hold a hybrid live and virtual final audition, with a few socially distant participants in the sanctuary and the rest of us online. Cantor Wallach convinced us that day that she was a wonderful talent, and could also handle any situation thrown at her with a great deal of poise. Over the last several months, Cantor Wallach has certainly demonstrated what an excellent choice she is for us.
Whether it is over the last six months or the last 67 years since our temple’s inception, I hope the staff and community of Temple Beth-El have supported you as they have me and my family. On many levels, our connections to each other have grown stronger through this crisis. At the same time, our community’s relationship to the temple is a symbiotic one, and right now, your temple is in need of care as well, because the current crisis is causing its financial health to deteriorate.
Earlier this spring, at our town hall and congregational meeting, we discussed our financial situation. To recap, with the closure of our building, we’ve lost our ability to rent our facility to outside parties, and our fundraising activities have all been cancelled or postponed. So we are currently operating without two important sources of income, which will likely continue well into next year.
When we first outlined our Chazon or Vision Campaign in the town halls, we asked for two things from our community – a Sustenance Campaign of increased annual giving to help us maintain a balanced budget, and a Restoration Campaign to help us recover the capital reserves depleted by the financial losses we are now experiencing. It is the Restoration Campaign I would like to focus on here.
Our Restoration Campaign seeks to raise an additional $250,000. For every dollar contributed by each of you, we have received commitments from generous donors to match that dollar with two additional dollars. About a dozen families have already committed to sponsor this double-match challenge grant. If we succeed in raising this amount from the congregation, which the double match would bring to $750,000, we would both replenish diminished capital and also help preserve Temple Beth-El’s place in our community with a much longer-lasting We could maintain all our programming, education, impact. social and faith offerings that we’ve come to know and love from our temple clergy, educators and staff. Because of our broad offerings, we would remain attractive to new members interested in a vibrant, dynamic Reform Jewish And looking down the road a bit, being on solid experience. financial footing ensures we can attract future generations of world-class clergy, educators and staff.
To some, the timing of this campaign, amidst all the on-going uncertainty, will seem a bit curious. We understand some of our members will not be able to participate, and as has always been our practice, we ask that you donate to the Restoration Campaign only if you are comfortable doing so. But in times of need, Judaism has a longstanding tradition that those who can contribute step forward and support the community as a whole, to help ensure our beloved temple remains on stable financial footing.
Let me underscore that this IS our High Holiday Appeal for the year. There won’t be any separate ask for High Holiday donations. So whatever you decide to give, be sure to include what you would have donated for the High Holidays.
Likewise, we will not hold any fundraising events for the foreseeable future. So if you would have normally attended the gala we were supposed to have last May, or the gala we won’t have in May 2021, or would have attended a cantorial concert, Purim carnival, 4-H fair or miniature golf fundraiser, please consider contributing that money to the Restoration Campaign, too.
No donation is too small – and of course, no amount is too big. And remember that through the double matching grant, every dollar you contribute becomes three.
During last year’s High Holidays, I suggested we all needed to get closer to one another, continue to build relationships inside and outside of our community and to treat our beloved institutions with that same care. During those remarks, we all stood up and gave each other big hugs, which felt great. Ultimately, that moment was really just a metaphor for how we need to regard Temple Beth-El. We cannot afford to treat our temple with indifference, so in this time of need, I beg you not to cover your eyes.
If the COVID crisis has demonstrated anything, it is that we are all connected and that our actions have consequences for others. In so many ways, we are all truly responsible for each other, and your temple needs you now more than ever, so please help preserve the future of Temple Beth-El. Give as you are able, and in such a way that you’ll feel proud for having contributed to this important effort.
In the year 5781, consider how you can embrace your temple home, but this time, let’s be sure the embrace lasts for more than a wonderful moment. Let’s be sure to never let go.
Thank you and Shana Tova.
Originally published in the November-December 2020 issue of the Shofar. For more issues of the Shofar, visit the Shofar archives.