Celebrating Another Year in the Life of a People of Loving Kindness

This post on If Not Now, When?, the interactive blog of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, is the President’s Report shared by Board President Michael Penzner at the Fairmount Temple Annual Meeting on Sunday, May 5, 2019.  

Good morning.  Let me begin my report by once again saying thank you to all of you for the privilege of serving this congregation.  Thank you to our outstanding clergy and staff who serve our congregation so well. And thank you to the many volunteers who by giving their time, caring, personal expertise and or money, help enrich our community and secure our future.

My job at this moment of the meeting is to report on this past year.  Normally I would begin my remarks with a newsreel of the many engaging activities that touched the minds and hearts of congregants, our families and the world around us.  However, the world around us and our response to it motivates me to bring a different report.  Since our last annual meeting, Jews have been murdered worshiping in nearby Squirrel Hill and in Poway, California.  As people of loving kindness, we want our Sanctuary to be a sanctuary.   We want to welcome the stranger. And, we want to be safe and secure.  So, we face a new paradigm.   Secure the building and be true to who we are.

Securing the building has now become the new normal. It’s no longer a project but a part of the every day.  We are constantly reviewing, evaluating, adjusting and training.  We are partners with the Beachwood Police Department and Jewish Federation’s Security Director. We are spending more money on security equipment and security personnel.  This past year was no different.  As we move forward, we will continue to need your vigilance and financial support.  If you see something, say something.  Familiarize yourselves with emergency exits.  During office business hours use the buzzer and be patient.  Do not prop open doors.  Finally, expect more security.

As I reflect on this new normal, the hate we find in the world, the uncivil discourse and our need for security, I find great solace in being a member of this historic and remarkable congregation. Now, let’s look back at this past year and see who we are and what we do. Take the week of October 28.  Life went on.  Religious school began with increased security, we had a Holiday Boutique, cooking in the Community Kitchen and finished the day with a wonderful evening of Jazz.  And that was just Sunday.  That Friday night we opened our doors to the community who joined us in prayer and solidarity.  Saturday morning there was a Bar Mitzvah and Saturday night we danced at Band Together.  A week of study, caring, prayer, community, reflection and unabashed joy.

The themes of that week were not unique.  Throughout the year our Caring Community touched lives inside and outside the congregation in many different ways including Operation Warm-Up, bus pass kits, Ronald McDonald House, and Books for the homeless, in addition to cooking and baking for those who are ill or in mourning.  The Women and The Men of Fairmount Temple built relationships, fund raised, studied and created activities to reach out to generations and the community.  Blood drives, Intergenerational Seder, Grandparents Shabbat, Pottery for Pesach, the coming celebration of 110 years for the Women of FT,  just to name a few.  Our youth joined with the youth of Affinity Baptist Church to meet the homeless. We created a Cantorial search committee to appropriately transition the amazing career of our beloved Cantor Sager.

We could spend the rest of the morning listing events and kvelling.  I’m already in trouble for everything I’ve left out, for example the smash hit of the year, Shabbat Across Fairmount, our Early Childhood Center (I’ll hear from my 4-year-old granddaughter about that one) and the great visit from the other two Chernow Rabbis.  However, I want to use what is left of my time to talk about why it all matters. And to do that I will share part of a piece that I shared with my family on Pesach written by a young Rabbi from another city and I quote: 

“There are so many things in this world of ours that I haven’t wondered about or haven’t approached with an attitude of wonder.  So many things I take for granted or don’t notice. So many times, I breeze through my day, or slog through it, without really seeing what is around me. And yet, there are moments when my attention shifts. I walk down the street and notice the buds beginning to bloom or the way the warm air feels on my skin in the afternoon sun. In these moments, I am filled with wonder at the beauty of nature, the power of the sun, the changing of the seasons. I am filled with gratitude for God’s world and all that is in it.

To wonder is a spiritual practice. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught that ‘awareness of the divine begins with wonder.’ He believed that our goal should be to live life ‘in radical amazement.’ He wrote: ‘Get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.’

At our Seder, we sat and told the story of how God freed us from Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with signs and wonders. The story of our people’s liberation is full of miraculous events and wonders of the kind we are not likely to see in our day.”

Each new spring, each new birth another Passover, each new morning reminds us that wonders still abound. Heschel reminds us that to be spiritual, to be aware of the divine, begins with being amazed and finding wonder in our everyday lives.

With radical amazement and the wonder we find in our daily lives we find the strength to be Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple. We strive to leave the world a little better than we found it.  With that radical amazement and with wonder, through joy and sadness, from birth to death we recall and celebrate another year in the life of a people of loving kindness.