April 19, 2024 -

State of the Synagogue by Fairmount Temple President Jim Levine

These remarks were shared on Rosh Hashanah by our temple President Jim Levine, an annual High Holy Day tradition of hearing about the “state of the synagogue” from our lay leadership at the beginning of the Jewish New Year. We encourage you to read Jim’s report carefully, and respond with any questions below on the interactive portion of the blog, or to share an email with Jim directly at president@fairmounttemple.org. Look for an update from Jim in the forthcoming temple president column in the November temple bulletin which will update us with specific details about Rabbi Caruso’s upcoming sabbatical and other important initiatives in temple life.

Many of my colleagues agree. One of the curses of being a President is that no sooner do you deliver the annual Rosh Hashanah “State of the Synagogue” speech and a week later you are already shvitzing about what you’re going to say next year.

Yet you listened carefully to my plea last year regarding the financial challenges our congregation has been facing, and came through with such generosity and support, for our annual Friends of Fairmount appeal, that I know I can begin by saying: Thank You! Our Annual Campaign last year far surpassed the support we had received in previous years. Moreover, we increased the number of givers to the Campaign. It is this fact that speaks loudest of all because it communicates your increasing confidence in this institution and in its leaders.

When I began my term as President I said with the addition of Senior Rabbi Rob Nosanchuk, and Executive Director Steve Borstein, the three of us starting within months of each other, that I envisioned a new era, a time filled with mutual trust, open dialogue, and staff congeniality; a period where an increasing band of committed congregants would once again bond together with our lay leaders, our magnificent clergy, our inspired staff and teachers. And that ladies and gentleman is exactly what has happened.  My dad, Sam Levine, Zikhrono Livracha, a blessed memory, always said “facts speak louder than words” so let me briefly share with you a few defining moments that brought us renewed attention as a leading Reform congregation in Cleveland, and within the Union for Reform Judaism, and which has inspired many new members to join us.

  • It is now fifteen months since our congregation’s burning desire for Tikkun Olam led to the founding of the GCC, Greater Cleveland Congregations, and hundreds of you have participated in interfaith initiatives in the past year; to reform education in Cleveland, to pass a vital health and human services levy, to help hundreds of local citizens evaluate candidates for county prosecutor in a forum hosted here at our temple, and to register thousands of new voters.
  • During Chanukah of this past year, our congregation drew together in song, as Cantor Sager, our adult and youth choirs and many families spent a beautifully inspiring weekend with artist-in-residence, Jewish musician, Julie Silver. At Shabbat worship, during a community concert with hundreds of local attendees, and throughout our annual mitzvah day, members were united through Julie’s songs of tradition and Jewish spirit.
  • In the spring of this year, our congregation released an entirely reimagined website, awakened a temple presence on Facebook, and established “If Not Now, When?” an interactive web blog for dialogue and shared teachings between our congregants, clergy, educators and movement leaders.
  • In recent weeks our clergy have worked closely with an energetic new group of young adults who have founded Fairmount Young Professionals. This group will celebrate the second night of Rosh Hashanah with an outdoor holiday celebration. Fairmount Young Professionals promises to be an exciting connection point for young adults in their twenties and thirties.
  • A few weeks ago there was our fabulous Summer Fun Day celebration.  Created by a huge committee of volunteers, ably led by Susan Shapiro and Esther Spott, this awesome event attracted some 400 members and guests for a day of fun, ice cream and activities for all ages.

Successes abound but challenges continue. Communal studies tell us that all of you insist on being Jewish and desire to relate to your Judaism in your own personal and unique way.  The clergy, staff and leadership meet continuously, eye to eye, on many issues to address the task to create an atmosphere where congregants can find comfort, camaraderie and companionship within our congregation, where both thenovice and the learned can come together to understand their Jewishness.  That’s a tall order given the broad spectrum of individuality that exists in this building tonight.

We seek many different things from our temple. Some of us are in this building 3 times a day seeking to understand our Jewish heritage, identity, increase our education, observance and spirituality. Others of us are here 3 times a year. Some can read, write and speak Hebrew fluently others not a word. Some of us are Jews whose lives revolve around our affinity for Judaism while others feel challenged to relate to Jewish teachings, and in fact, may be asking why I am here tonight? And others in our congregation….are not Jewish. Our leadership has put out an all-inclusive welcoming mat, our arms wide open to greet you to provide a hospitable tent to accommodate all who wish to join us.  I assert that our greatest challenge is to solicit our ever increasing unaffiliated neighbors in the Greater Cleveland Community.

So in many respects, it’s all about connections, connections to the Jewish people, connections to a Jewish Community, to our beloved temple, our Reform Movement, and to Eretz Yisrael – the Land of Israel.  Our job as a synagogue is to help you and others make these connections. Here at the synagogue, our job is to make the wonderful Community we have here at Fairmount Temple your Community, one where you feel comfortable, welcome and important.

As you can imagine, this is a daunting, but worthy challenge, but we have all the ingredients:

  • A building that triggers inspiring memories in our lives since Rabbi Brickner first led us here nearly sixty years ago. Passing through those beautiful doors, as I enter this sanctuary, I decompress. I find myself at peace. There is no sanctuary like this one.
  • There is no clergy team as accepting, as accessible, and as visionary as ours. They are always here for us and here for our families. I could not imagine a life cycle event without them. Could you? We are so blessed to have our Rabbis’ Nosanchuk, Caruso and Cantor Sager.
  • This January, when Rabbi Caruso begins a winter and spring sabbatical from his duties, he will be studying trends in American Jewish life so that he can return to our pulpit inspired and renewed and ready for many more years of service ahead.
  • And we are so blessed to have you, our congregants, who have steadfast been the backbone of our Reform Jewish community. I can assure you our ancestors, going back as far as those first 30 families, who met on February 28, 1842, and decided 170 years ago to create our congregation, those families who struggled to pave the way would be proud of our perseverance, our commitment to keep the faith, our ability to pull together during tough times, our ability to keep the doors open, L’dor Vador, generation after generation.

We are the oldest Reform Congregation in Cleveland and our future is as bright as ever.

This is your synagogue.  This is your community.  Fairmount Temple can be a dynamic place when energized people want to make things happen.  I encourage all of you, to step forward to become more involved, even if it’s only one more thing than you did last year. And of course I encourage you to support this year’s Friends of Fairmount campaign.  If each of us gave……gave just a little more than last year our financial stability as a congregation would increase exponentially.

My term expires July 1st. At that time, with the approval of the Executive Committee and our Board, I will transfer my responsibilities to our First, First Vice President Steve Schlein. We created the First VP position to provide a longer lead time for the President-elect to get familiar with the tasks at hand. Steve is a wonderful guy.  A life board member and former officer Steve’s heart and soul are intertwined with this congregation. There is no doubt he will do a great job as President.

Since this is the last opportunity I’ll have to address the entire congregation, I want to publicly thank all of you for the opportunity you have given me, to serve as your president.  The personal reward and satisfaction it has given me has been beyond what I could have ever imagined. What I have enjoyed the most is the warmth and genuine friendship from so many of you, young and old alike.  From the moment I took office you have made me feel very special.

You may recall, it was during my inaugural speech that I shared with you that I assumed this prestigious position as much to honor the legacy of my father, Samuel C. Levine, your beloved cantorial soloist and member of our magnificent choir for over 60 years. Since that time you have regaled my family and I with stories about dad both on and off the pulpit. Thank you again for your kind words. Though my days as President are winding down I continue to look forward to the wonderful opportunity you have given me to help make Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple the very best synagogue we can be.

On behalf of the Board of Directors, and my fellow officers, Steve Schlein, Amy Garnitz. Don Posner, Michael Penzner, and Michael Kleinman and on behalf of my wife, Jennifer, my son Jake, who just had his Bar Mitzvah here in June, and my daughters Sarah and Eva, may the year 5773 be a year of greater peace and security in Israel, throughout the Middle East, and the world over;

And for all of us, our families, and for the Jewish people everywhere, a very happy, healthy and sweet new year.