Reflections on the Past Year

Rabbi Audrey Marcus Berkman

At the June 19th Annual Meeting, I noted that on that day I had officiated at the funeral of a beloved member, Gertrude Goldberg. Her 101 years on this earth exemplified the power and sanctity of relationship and connection – connection to loved ones and connection and commitment to Jewish community and to the broader world. It seemed quite fitting to move from her funeral today into this annual meeting. In that same week, we welcomed three baby girls into the Jewish people and into our community with baby namings and celebratory meals. By the beginning of August, I will have officiated at the weddings of 3 member couples in a span of 7 months. These are all beautiful illustrations of our community’s ongoing growth and vitality.

The highlights of this past year all involve connection – forging stronger bonds between congregants, between our community and the broader community, and between our clergy and congregants. Here is just a sampling of the new initiatives that have been launched over the past year:

We joined the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, and drew from their wisdom about one-to-one relational meetings to empower community members to share their stories with one another. Our “one-to-one campaign” has led to the sharing of stories among members, (including in shorter form during services, when between Passover and Shavuot we chose a conversation prompt and service attendees divided into pairs to share their stories), which has strengthened our community.

We have welcomed the Newton-based havurah, Shir Hadash, into our community as their group explores increased involvement and membership at TOS. I was the Rabbi of Shir Hadash from 2007-2013, and it has been a delight to reconnect with their members and to see the many synergies and shared interests and mind-set that exist among and between our two groups. We have held two very successful and well-attended joint services with Shir Hadash, and their members have attended several other services and programs. I continue to seek out and nurture other opportunities for partnership with Jewish institutions throughout the Boston area, leveraging my 12 years of involvement in the Boston Jewish community.

Because of our prominent location and beautiful building, and because we have worked to increase our visibility in the broader community, we frequently have visitors to our services and programs. We have begun to create new systems for welcoming, including our “TOS Ambassador” program, implementing better systems for tracking membership and potential member interests. We have been drawing on the wisdom of Ron Wolfson’s The Spirituality of Welcoming: How to Transform your Congregation into a Sacred Community and Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community. We need the help of our board and entire community to ensure that we are a welcoming community. Please volunteer to be an ambassador at our services and programs when it is possible for you.

Alongside of becoming more mindful about welcoming, we have worked to launch new initiatives to increase our already-robust security protocols to help everyone feel maximally safe and secure even in the climate of increased anti-Semitism.

I am so grateful to our newly launched Development Committee. Development is, after all, about creating and sustaining relationships, coming to know one another’s stories so that we can best match our members’ passions with our community’s needs. As an historic institution with a bright future, the financial generosity of our membership is a vital part of this exciting chapter.

In addition to welcoming in new members, I have worked to better meet the needs of our current members, including those who were very involved in our community at one time but have wanted more ways to connect and engage. Out of this, the following programs have been developed over the past year:

Shabbat Morning B’Yachad: A morning full of warmth and connection and vibrancy in which all are welcome to come in for coffee and bagels, followed by Torah study for all ages and backgrounds, and then an abbreviated but joyous Shabbat morning service, and then a community kiddush lunch. All are welcome to come and go as they can – whether it is just for the bagels, just for the service, or for the whole morning – we are so delighted to have dozens of people joining us at this monthly communal program.

Rosh Chodesh – a monthly discussion and learning group for women ages 13-113! We have had wonderful turnout for this monthly opportunity to come together as an intergenerational group of women, to discuss and study everything from feminist perspectives on the Purim story, to “Jews and Tattoos.”

We have had meetings of other small groups based on shared interest, and I am invested in helping those groups continue and to create more. This year we gathered in the following groups and are eager to do more of this connecting in small groups to build relationships and strengthen our whole community: Interfaith Families Approaching B’nai Mitzvah; an Evening of Connection and Conversation for those who have not found their way back to strong TOS engagement since their kids completed religious school; Single Parents of TOS; Working Moms of TOS; Parenting through a Jewish Lens – a class sponsored by Hebrew College, bringing together parents of kids ages 0-10; a Taste of Judaism (intro to Judaism class for individuals in the conversion process, or interested in conversion or simply learning).

Re-launching Mitzvah Day, coordinated by Rabbi Schaefer we as a community engaged in dozens of projects and learning opportunities on a Tuesday afternoon. In addition to several drives and fundraisers, this year we also welcomed a Yazidi refugee with open arms into our school, and in Shari Churwin’s words: “We changed his life and he changed ours.”

Expanding the scope and work of Kayla’s Caring Community – now called our Chesed Committee – and assessing the ways in which members could use support from other members, and how to systematize those opportunities for support (such as providing ways for members to sign up to bring meals or have meals delivered to people in need; providing rides to appointments or to services or programs at TOS, etc).

Fortunately our part-time interim assistant rabbi Daniel Schaefer will next month become our full time Assistant Rabbi. Thank you to the board for supporting this change! Our partnership is strong, and I look forward to continue to mentor him as he begins his rabbinic career and I both learn from him and draw from my 12 years of rabbinic experience to help him grow as a rabbi. His installation was a highlight of the year, as was mine!

The seeds have planted this year for a congregational trip to Israel in February, 2021, and we are planning for Israeli superstar David Broza to play a concert in our sanctuary on December 14, 2019. These are just two of many new things we’ll be producing and planning in the year to come, along with the initiatives mentioned above which will be ongoing. We are eager for your support, your perspective, your insight, your skills to make all of it happen, and welcome all of your ideas for helping create even more ways-in to engagement with Jewish life and community as TOS continues to grow in vibrancy and strength in this new chapter of its history.

Speaking of history, and of connection, community, and continuity: As you know, Temple Ohabei Shalom has existed as a community for 176 years. As I shared in a recent dvar torah, I was recently sent a book published on the occasion of the Temple’s 50th anniversary in 1893. The inscription reads “My parents Solomon and Rose, Married in Temple on Warrenton St by Rabbi Vidaver March 15, 1874.” The book is perfectly preserved, and the text within gives both perspective and inspiration. The final paragraph reads:

“Fifty years have thus passed since this congregation was organized. Nearly all of its original founders have since joined a much larger congregation, in another, and, let us hope, a better world; but the seed which they sewed while here has taken deep root, and brought forth a vigorous plant, bearing fruit of kindness and goodwill towards all mankind. It is a blessing to its adherents, and is striving with all its might to be a useful and beneficent institution to the City of Boston and an honor to this God-blessed country.”

Also, I recently came across a hardcover copy of the “New By-Laws” published in 1907. Each day, I work alongside very large binders full of handwritten minutes from board meetings dating back to 1889 (show) in my study. All of these remind me that this moment is but the blink of an eye in the context even of modern history, let alone the three thousand year history of our Jewish people. We are a drop in the ocean, and yet we are fellow travelers in this particular drop, at this particular time. We who show up in and for our TOS community are choosing to look beyond their individual lives and needs, and to prioritize helping to nourish and nurture the bonds that tie us to one another both horizontally (all who are alive today) and vertically (from our ancestors, on to the hands who wrote those board minutes from the 19th century, onward to us and the generations to come.

By your presence in and for our community, you all demonstrate a deep understanding of one of our tradition’s most deeply-held values: That we are here to leave the world better than we found it, that we have work to do, that the arc of history is long and we must work for connection, community, growth and sustenance not just for ourselves but for those who will come after us.