If you build it they will come. Look around and you see what happens when a group of people who feel deeply for our community come together with their expertise, their hearts and their generosity for a common cause. That cause is to make us, the congregation of Sutton Place Synagogue, better and stronger. Last year I ended this appeal with all of us singing Hinay Matov Umanayim together. This year those words, “How Beautiful it is when we sit together”, adorn our sanctuary. In past speeches I asked you to “Please dream with me ”. Our dream has begun to be realized. This is our “Field of Dreams” and you are all a part of it.
Sutton Place Synagogue is a congregation whose values are deeply rooted in the conservative movement. We are committed to the traditions of the past, but we boldly will change if that change means we will be more inclusive and improve our connection to Judaism and each other. The values of Conservative Judaism are integral to who we are as a congregation and to our growth in membership. Our growth is due to an inspirational clergy, outstanding professional team and a committed congregation, you, who participates in our stimulating programs, meaningful services and outstanding schools. We know that people are looking for a Jewish connection and we know that we are a congregation where that connection is available at every age and every stage of life.
Let’s start with the Mahzor you are holding.
The change in our Mahzor to Lev Shalem, mirrors the change we made three years ago when we changed to the Siddur Lev Shalem. This Mahzor will enhance our services and connect us all to the meaning of these holidays. In the Mahzor is a quote by Abraham Joshua Herschel, “It is gratefulness that makes the soul great.”Let us be grateful for all that Sutton Place Synagogue has to offer and all the people who make this congregation the wonderful place it is. A place where we know that whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
It would be impossible for me to talk about the new Mahzor and gratitude and not mention Mark Weiner. Many of you know that Mark Weiner, a past president of this synagogue, passed away this year. Mark was a learned man with true integrity who put others before himself. Through a bequest in his will, we started the Mark Weiner Memorial Mahzor fund. He will forever be in our hearts and minds, and he will be with us as we celebrate the High Holidays. Thank you to all of you who donated to this fund and sponsored a Mahzor for the congregation.
The activities at Sutton Place Synagogue reflect our Jewish life cycle. We celebrate joy and grieve in sadness. Thankfully, there is more joy to celebrate than sadness, but it is nice to know that we all have a Jewish home where we can be comforted through difficult times and join in celebration.
All I need to say is Pittsburgh or Tree of Life Synagogue and we all go right back to that day in October when our world was devastated. We knew the 11 people who died while going to Shabbat morning services because they are all of us. In response, we held an interfaith service. Over 700 people from every religion and color came to Sutton Place Synagogue to pray with us. We learned on that day, that even in the worst of circumstances, we are not alone. From the most horrific modern-day act of antisemitism in the United States came the most beautiful outpouring of love from and towards our community. This also reinforced that security and safety must be paramount and we must do everything we can to keep our members safe. A fact that was further proven to us after the horror in San Diego. I want to reassure you that we have a clear plan for security now and for our future.
The movement “#Show up for Shabbat” was born out of this tragedy, and show up we did! The next two weeks were celebrations of what we do best, B’nai Mitzvah at our synagogue. We saw, first hand, the continuity of our traditions. The horror of Pittsburgh did not lead to fear, it led to determination. This was not the first time our people have been challenged, nor will it be the last. But no one will stop us from practicing our faith, we will not be deterred, we will bind together in celebration and love.
Sutton Place Synagogue has so much to offer, if you chose to participate. From our Purim carnival and Purim shpiel to Passover seders. From women’s league and men’s club Shabbat to teen Shabbat. From a women’s retreat to a trip to Israel. From Young Professionals programs like Pizza in the hut on Sukkot to BoCo movie nights. From community learning programs like #SPS Talks to courses taught by our own congregants on the American Jewish Experience. From Fantasy Football to Bingo. From Short stories aloud to writing your own life story. From our first science symposium to our annual and meaningful Yom Hashoah service. From tot Shabbat to our musical Kabbalat Shabbat to our beautiful weekly Shabbat services and our twice daily minyanim. I hope you all had the chance to look through this year’s amazing program guide that was mailed to our members homes. In it you will see that we strive to have something for everyone who seeks to be a part of our Jewish Community.
A highlight of this year was our first annual Gala in which we honored our beloved Cantor of 36 years, Dov Keren. Many said it was like Dov’s second Bar Mitzvah. We laughed, we cried, we danced, we ate and we were together at a magnificent gala in which we celebrated Dov and his legacy to Sutton Place Synagogue as well as honoring the entire Sutton Place community. If you missed it, you can celebrate with us at our Second Annual Gala on April 2nd. Join us to celebrate our community and our 5 past Presidents, whose devotion to SPS is boundless: Rick Kaminer, Roger Cohen, Mark Weiner of blessed memory, Bob Berend and Phil Sassower.
All of these programs don’t just happen. They happen because of a dedicated Clergy, staff and group of lay leaders to make sure they happen.
I want to publicly thank our Board. They have been extremely busy this year. We had numerous additional meetings as we planned and built this sanctuary. The Board was engaged, creative and supportive, and we are fortunate to have such committed people leading us. I also want to thank my leadership partner, our Executive Vice President, Jeff Jacob who has been with me every step of the way on this journey and will, more than ably, succeed me as President.
The staff that has been working in overdrive to make sure that everything gets done behind the scenes. We had a transition in the office this year and hired a new Executive Director. Hunter Gold has been with us since July. Hunter is smart, dedicated, warm and engaging. I hope you all get a chance to meet him during this High Holiday period.
I am grateful to Harriet Janover and David Frankel who have been instrumental during this transitional period. We are also fortunate to have Lindsay Bennett, Alyssa Schwager, Paige Corbet and Sydnie Henkin who direct our outstanding schools, family center and camp. And a special thank you to Barak Levy who reads Torah with such expertise and patiently teaches our children for their B’nai Mitzvah.
How could I make a speech about our successes as a synagogue and not mention the people who truly lead us, Rabbi Ain and Cantor Keren. Rabbi Ain has been our Rabbi for the past 7 years. With her intellect, vision, values and warmth, she has spearheaded a growth in membership that is practically unheard of in other Conservative synagogues. She created the Young Professionals group, started a program for teenagers called Hebrew High with the Rabbis, teaches a vast array of adult classes on subjects from the talmud, to Israel to the Mussar, and is responsible for overseeing the conversion of at least 10 new Jews a year; exciting these young people with the joys of Judaism. She presides over our life cycle events with boundless energy. Simply put, Rachel Ain is a part of our lives. We are truly blessed to have her as our Rabbi. Of course, another important thing is that she is a true partner with Cantor Dov Keren.
As you all know, this is Dov’s last high holidays with Sutton Place Synagogue as our Cantor. We have been truly honored to have our Shabbat and holidays services made even more beautiful by his voice, his heart and his soul for the past 36 years. 36 years or two times chai-life. He has given us so much of his life and given so much life to Sutton Place Synagogue. It is hard to imagine what the high holidays or Sutton Place Synagogue will be like without him. To say we will miss Dov and his voice is a gross understatement. He is our Shaliach Tzibor, our representative in prayer. We believe that when Dov prays with us and for us that his voice will reach Heaven.
Please stand to honor Dov if:
He has taught you to read Torah or Haftorah
If he has taught your children or grandchildren to read Torah or Haftorah
If he has officiated at a life cycle event in your family
If his voice has touched you in anyway
If he is your Shaliach Tzibor-representative in Prayer.
Dov Keren’s shoes will be hard to fill.
The difficult process for finding Dov’s replacement has begun. We heard from you during the numerous focus groups, and as we fill out the application to the Cantor’s assembly, the search committee, led by Roger Cohen and Josh Liederman, understands what our congregation needs and wants. I hope you all joins us for Shabbat services as we interview cantorial candidates and hear them lead us and pray with us.
We entered this holiday season by dedicating our “sanctuary within a sanctuary” at our meaningful Selichot service where we recognized those who enabled us to be here experiencing this sacred space, on Yom Kippur. A special thank you to the small group of dedicated and generous individuals who made this possible. They are listed in the Capital Project brochure at your seats.
We are thankful to the chairs of the Capital project, Greg Angrist, Herb Lepor and Mark Pochapin who started us on this path and continue as chairs. 2.3 million dollars have been raised through the generosity of a small group which enabled the Master Plan, and the construction of this Sanctuary with in a Sanctuary. Their generosity was led by Gilda Block and her beloved husband of blessed memory, Henry, and an anonymous donor. As you see, we created a sacred space that will allow for more intimate prayer during most of the year but still have the grandeur needed on the high holidays. We are more accessible with live streaming for those who are home bound and by creating a digital loop so that those with digital hearing aids can better hear our services.
We had a dream and a vision and it was made possible because people believed it could happen.
We are not done, we are only beginning. During the process of transforming our sanctuary, we developed a Master Plan. This Master Plan addresses finishing the remainder of the sanctuary, improving the infrastructure of our building, adding programatic and community space and, most importantly, improving the security of this building. Over the next few months we will, again, have focus groups to go over the details of the master plan and listen to your feedback, just as we did last year.
All of us, who have chosen Sutton Place Synagogue to be our Jewish home, are a part of a growing, thriving, stimulating, and loving community. We have learned over and over again that we can only do the good work that we are doing if we join together as a community and participate. We need all of you to participate by going to minyan and services, by attending programs and classes, and by donating to this Yom Kippur appeal. Our day to day operations depend on it.
Think of the power of this community. If a small group of people could get together and make this sanctuary project happen, what could happen if we all get together and commit ourselves? How much better could we be? The possibilities are endless and it is in all of our hands. This year, I would love to see 100% participation in this appeal. Please join me and give generously with all your heart and all you soul and all your might so that we may continue to connect us to Judaism and each other.
I started this talk by quoting the movie, Field of Dreams. I will end with a quote from the movie, Jerry McGuire. No-not,“Show me the money!” Although (lift the card) I certainly would not mind if you showed Sutton Place Synagogue the money! I was thinking of the famous line from that movie “You complete me.” Sutton Place Synagogue is not complete with out all of us joining together as one and saying Heneini! Here I am, I am present and I want to help. Please do so by donating to this Yom Kippur appeal because it is only when we come together as one that we can Build on the Present and Secure our Future.
Gmar Chatima Tova
If you would like to make a donation to the Yom Kippur Appeal, please click here to donate.