A very powerful question, isn’t it?
Prior to the start of this year’s high holidays an old buddy of mine and I connected as we always do during this of year to catch up and wish each other L'Shana Tova.
My friend knows how involved I have been with Temple Beth Ami and during the conversation he mentioned that he wanted his son, a new university student, to utilize Hillel on his campus since we was new to the school and so far away from home. My friend told me that he was a bit sad because his son thought he was forcing him to be religious. My friend let me know that he told his son in no uncertain terms, "I can't make you do anything. At the end of the day, you have a choice. It's there if you need it. You have a choice." My friend then revealed how jealous of me he was. That statement took me a bit off guard. Jealous, of me, why is that I asked him? He said that he was jealous of me because I was so involved in my congregation - he said I was so much more "Jewish" than he was at this stage of our lives. He admitted that he never goes to his shul for social events and only goes on high holidays or bar or bat mitzvah; that was about it. My friend had made a choice. You need to know, when it comes to being Jewish, my friend is more Jewish than I have ever been or ever will be. He knows the prayers better than I do, he can read Hebrew better than I can and he knows our history more than I do so I was very surprised at his statement, but then, in a flash, it made perfect sense to me. You see, my friend belongs to one of those Beverly Hills "thousand member" congregations with 2 rabbis, 2 cantors, a facility that fills a city block and filled with congregants he and his family did not know. You get the picture. At that very moment the conversation paused. It was not an awkward pause, but a instant moment of reflection, for both of us. I could hear it in the silence, just like that we went from young men in our 20's, with our entire lives ahead of us, to middle aged men with families, businesses and responsibilities. The only big difference between us, to tell you the truth, is that I made a choice long ago to be more involved in my congregation.
Had someone told to me, earlier in my life, that sometime later in my life I would carry the torah during high holidays, make a trip and travel to Israel with my family, climb Masada and travel into Jordan to view one of the seven wonders of the world with my Rabbi and family, be on the board of trustees and hold a leadership position in my congregation and be here, speaking to you today, I would have said, "you're nuts".
Leadership is about making decisions – often tough decisions under difficult circumstances. Only those that have walked in these shoes understand the stress of the President’s job. One bad year could undermine all of the hard that has been accomplished since TBA’s inception long ago. One of my many responsibilities is to assure that the path of sustained relevance and viability for Temple Beth Ami is not hindered nor blocked by movable obstacles
Debt will eventually cause the gears of any organization to grind to halt. Servicing unproductive debt, restricts cash flow and cash flow, as you may know, is the life blood of any viable organization. I am committed to making difficult decisions, if needed, but they can be avoided. You see, sometimes the cure may seem much worse than the disease, but we cannot rid ourselves of the disease without taking our medicine. We are at a critical time in Temple Beth Ami's history. We must take a stand now in order to avoid extremely difficult decisions in the very near future.
A bit of history here will provide the background. Many years ago the board of trustees had little choice but to take on debt to service the Pre-School, a program that we had all hoped would serve our congregation in many ways. After throwing many life rafts to the program we did the responsible thing, made a tough decision and closed the program. The program did not survive, but the debt did.
I need you to trust me. Trust me when I say my commitment is to the entire congregation and not just to a single member nor program. Trust me when I say we need more money. Trust me to guide the board in doing the right thing with the money that you give. This is another appeal for you to dig deep, face your fear of giving, confront it and don’t flee from it. Rest easy, you are not alone. Many people share of fear of giving or donating. Trust me when I say we will not fail you. Not on my watch.
It is not reasonable to ask you to donate money to solve a lingering issue without giving you a concrete plan to avoid it again in the future. I am asking you to trust me, I am asking you to make a donation to TBA and in turn I make this pledge to you: I am going to ask and urge the board during our October 2013 board meeting to agree to amend our bylaws in a manner that will limit and prohibit the ability of future boards to borrow money without the specific approval of the majority of the congregation.
Wilshire Boulevard Temple has recently raised $118,000,000. Yes, they have raised 118 million dollars not only for facility restoration, but for community outreach and other needed programs.
Why can't we raise just .1% of what the "big boys" can raise? Oh, we can say they have more affluent members; they have more money than we do. Maybe they do, maybe they don't. But does it really matter? At the end of the day, it’s not about them, it’s about us and we need to free up cash flow by retiring debt.
Our beloved friend and fellow congregant Al Ponce who most of you know recently passed away, was generous enough to leave Temple Beth Ami $15,000. His gift provides additional support that we need. As I asked during High Holidays, how many of you will admit to buying a fancy cup of coffee, or two, or if you are like our Immediate Past President Daniel Levine, 5 or 6, every day? How much does that cost you? $5 a day, more? Drink your coffee at home. Give up buying it from an outside vendor for a year. 365 x $5 = $1825. Give TBA that money. Surely, TBA needs the money more than the coffee corporation? In all fairness to my friend Dan, he would be the first to admit he spends way too much on coffee.
In fact, Dan and his family, like me and mine, were among the first to support the Chai campaign when we kicked it off two years ago with a sizable donation! Many of the former Presidents have stepped up the plate and made considerable donations to assist us move this obstacle. I share this not to brag. Nor do I share this to embarrass anyone. Like me, our past presidents are private people who go about their business and do not need pats on the back. We all know that leadership requires us to set the example from the front.
Will you step up and follow our lead?
What if each and every person in the room during Yom Kippur wrote TBA a check for $250 or even $1,000. Will you miss the money that much? Will it make that much of a difference to your everyday lives?
Do you know when a city put up a stop sign? Well, it's generally not when its citizens ask for one, it is when someone gets hit by a car and that someone is usually a child.
How many shuls have closed after the High Holidays because the President failed to include in his appeal that immediate action was required? I will not make that mistake.
Since I have been a member of TBA, so many of you have told me that you love Temple Beth Ami. You have told me it means so much to you and your family. You have told me that Rabbi Blazer is simply the best and you have told me that there is no better Cantor than Cantor Kenny. The time for words is over. Please don't tell me anymore, it's now time to show me.
Annual budgets are fluid. Things happen and things change. For members of TBA, your membership dues are not enough to cover our annual expenses and for non-members who are joined us for high holidays, the price of your ticket does not defer the many costs and expenses we have in running TBA.
Temple Beth Ami is our shul. We are all partners in it success. We have a solemn obligation to support it, to keep it in business......to be a viable and relevant organization of faith long after we have all gone. Let us, right here, right now, do what needs to be done to make this happen. Let "retiring unproductive debt" never be a topic of discussion again. This obstacle needs to be moved to clear our path of forward progress.
What a shame it would be, if in 10, 20 or even 30 years our kids or even our grandkids were saying, do you remember Temple Beth Ami, remember what great things people said about it? What happened to it, where did it go?
As mention during Rosh Hashanah, we are doing good things at TBA, but we can do more. Let us set the example for all small congregations everywhere. Yes, we have challenges and yes some people might be tempted to give up in the face of this challenge, but long ago I quickly learned "never give up; never give in."
Failure is not an option.
Our lights are currently still on….History will be our judge.