Meliora – For the Pursuit of the Better

This post on If Not Now, When?, the interactive blog of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, was shared by Todd Silverman, President, at our Rosh Hashanah Congregational Service.

Shana Tova Fairmount Temple.  I’m Todd Silverman and it is my honor and privilege to address you as President for the third and final time on this Rosh Hashanah.  I desperately wished we would all be together in person, but as I look around the Sanctuary, I can feel your spirit and support here with us. Empty seats, full hearts.

Albert Einstein famously wrote: “Science without religion is lame; Religion without science is blind.”  Friends, we have had to rely on Science to make the difficult decision to go virtual, but we know it is the right decision in the long-run for the health and well-being of all of us. The threat of the DELTA variant and its rising levels of transmissibility were too great a risk to everyone in our temple on these holidays when we typically have large gatherings.

Honestly, this time last year I was concerned about what the impact of this unprecedented pandemic would have on our beloved temple.  But I am not anymore.  YOU have risen above it, YOU remain engaged, and OUR community is united.  With determination you supported Anshe Chesed through worship, education, and financially.  We should take great comfort in how we have remained together, unified by our love for each other and our shared love for congregational living.

  • The Days of Awe.  This is a time for introspection, for reflection, for forgiveness and for redemption.  Right now, we should take an accounting of the soul, both personal and communal.  We should evaluate what qualities to celebrate and which challenges to meet.  This is how a congregation and its individuals take stock of our spiritual health.  I welcome taking this journey alongside each of you!  We are not perfect, but we strive for spiritual awakening, fulfillment, and the promise of a caring community.
  • For me this time has been heightened by my wife and I taking our youngest child off to start college just two weeks ago.  Talk about a time to reflect!  Her University’s motto, in Latin, is “Meliora”, which means “Ever better” or “for the pursuit of the better.” I can very easily transcribe this phrase to our synagogue.  As Anshe Chesed has pivoted, as we have adapted it continues to be for the pursuit of the better.
  • I had been thinking about this on our quiet four-hour ride back home, when, coincidentally, I tuned in to a conference call with Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism.  This was not how my wife envisioned our transition trip to empty nesting!  Rabbi Jacobs recommended a book to me “Think Again” by Adam Grant.  In it, he examines the art of rethinking: learning to challenge your opinions and open the minds of others while growing your own wisdom.  Usually intelligence is seen as the ability to think and learn, however, in a world that shifts constantly there are other skills that might matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn. 
  • In our everyday lives, we tend to favor the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt.  We see disagreement as a threat instead of an opportunity to learn.  We surround ourselves with those who agree with our theories rather than gravitating towards those who challenge our thought process. We are invited to let go of the views that no longer serve us well.  I invite you to do the same!  If we can embrace the possibility of being wrong, perhaps we will grow from it.  We can be EVER BETTER
  • I’ve always said our Board of Directors is a learning board, and I believe our temple to be a learning temple.  We are proactive, we learn, we pivot, we adapt, we advance. Our Clergy team approaches synagogue life from the viewpoint of a SCIENTIST – always running experiments.  This is as true for when Cantor Lapin experiments with a new direction in our B’nai Mitzvah program or our music, as it is when any of our rabbis develops a new initiative in our work of social justice, caring community or lifelong learning. Experimentation is how they solve problems. If you want to make the biggest impact, fall in love with the problem, not YOUR solution.  I truly believe that what sets our Clergy and Leadership apart from others is their intellectual curiosity, openness, and desire to be EVER BETTER.  
  • Examples: Temple has remained extremely active despite COVID.  We formed a Technology Committee, led by Barry Kallmeyer, because we recognize we must present worship, programming, and education beyond in-person only options.  We are updating the Wi-Fi to help temple do a better job reaching out to people through technology. This is innovation, this is adapting and we will continue to lead in this fashion.  We will be EVER BETTER.
  • Temple has created a Branding & Website committee, which includes all of the Clergy.  Thanks to Russell Benghiat, Lisa Danielpor, Andy Isaacs, Andy Klein, and Andrew Kahn for leading us.  The findings are impressive.  We will all be proud of the end result, but I will tell you that personally this has been an enlightening experience for me.  I’ve had a front row seat to capturing what our temple brand is all about, who we are, and who we strive to be.  EVER BETTER.
  • During one of our sessions, the question was asked: “What is the essence of Fairmount Temple?” Rabbi Caruso responded, “Each individual’s life is worth the whole world”. Rabbi Nosanchuk explained that while he was in Rabbinical School he had to answer a similar question: “Judaism must be perpetuated in order to _______ (fill in the blank).” His reply: “Judaism must be perpetuated in order to REPAIR THE WORLD.”  I don’t know about you, but I’m hitching my wagon to their stars!  Ask yourself, how would YOU answer?
  • I have tremendous confidence that one way you and your family will be able to develop insights about why Judaism must be perpetuated is through our new Rabbi, Elle Muhlbaum, appointed as Associate Rabbi on July 1st.  As you know, Rabbi Muhlbaum played an intricate role in the success of our Religious School over the past year and she is a real treasure as she teaches Torah, leads worship and connects with our congregants of all ages.  I look forward to each of you meeting her when you can, including at the upcoming Q & A session we have scheduled on Zoom September 22!
  • I have to take a moment to thank the Clergy, the Board of Directors, my Officers, our Executive Director, our Administrative team.  I am truly grateful for all you’ve done for me.  Much gratitude also goes to Women of FT, Men of FT, Caring Community, and all our teachers who make our synagogue EVER BETTER.
  • In closing, The hallmark of my presidency and the overarching theme relates to one of the most seminal moments I’ve experienced as a Jew when I visited Israel’s Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Memorial.  That is to do everything within our power to keep our Ner Tamid, our Eternal Flame burning at Fairmount Temple for each other and for Jews everywhere.  There are many ways big and small to keep the flame – Temple can help you! 
  • Our flame has burned for 179 straight years, COVID or no COVID!  Our eternal flame represents that: 1) we are still relevant, 2) we are still vibrant, and 3) LIFE itself.  Not just synagogue life, but the livelihood of the Jewish People.  We all have one job to do, keep the flame alive!
  • For we are the GUARDIANS!  The Guardians of this cherished Synagogue, the Guardians of Hope, the Guardians of our future.  I am very optimistic!  I’m not sure about the name for the city’s baseball team, but it seems to fit here with our mission!  Please help me guard this temple so that it might be perpetuated and continue to be a place of fulfillment and connection for us all and for those who will succeed us. So, as we enter 5782 together, we will be EVER BETTER.

Thank you and Shana Tova!