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Thoughts on Charlottesville

I was a senior in High School when neo-Nazis attempted to march through Skokie, Illinois, home to a large Jewish population, many of whom were survivors of the Holocaust.  Though the march eventually happened instead in Chicago, an Illinois Appeals Court ruled that it could in fact be held in Skokie.  In their decision the judges said that although the march was clearly a provocation, it was “protected speech” because Skokie’s attorneys did not prove that the Nazi symbols, uniforms or literature would incite violence.  I wonder how that court would rule today.

The tragedy in Charlottesville was horrific on many levels, first and foremost being the loss of life.  We mourn with the family of Heather Heyer, a victim of hate and terrorism, and we mourn with the families of the two officers who died while protecting the ideals of our country.

I’m sure that you have been following the events and the statements about the events since Friday.  I was struck by the fact that the focus of the virulent alt-right hate speech had little to do with the stated purpose of the rally.  Instead, different minority groups were the real targets and we should not have been surprised that the Jews were included.  The rabbi of the small congregation there, Tom Gutthertz, told me that he simply cannot describe what it felt like to stand outside his synagogue with a few members and a security guard, staring at armed alt-right militiamen gathered directly across the street, and listening to uniformed neo-Nazis marching by, chanting “there’s the Temple. Zig heil!”  In the United States.  In 2017.

Yet Rabbi Gutthertz stressed the support he has received from the Charlottesville Clergy Alliance, and from the public at large.  This is a close-knit university town, and almost all of the extremists came from elsewhere to participate.  In the midst of our grief and anger, it’s important to keep in mind that while the alt-right hooligans are loud, hate-filled and dangerous, they are not very big and they are not growing.  We should not panic.  Which is not to say that we should be ignoring what is happening.

The truth is that these people are no more hateful now than they were last year.  The only difference is that they have been emboldened to act publicly.  They have crawled out into the light this year only because they have sensed since early in the presidential primaries that there are a few prominent Americans who will not slap them down.  They stand taller because they see that the President does not want to disavow them, and doesn’t really mean it when he is forced to.  His comments yesterday about “very fine people on both sides” make clear his belief that there is a moral equivalence between the neo-Nazis and those who oppose them.  That is horrifying in itself.

I’m heartened by the nation-wide outpouring of opposition from all parts of the political spectrum, opposition to the hate itself, and to the cowardly refusal of the administration to call it what it is.  The alt-right spews a virulent, disgusting, homophobic, anti-black, anti-Semitic ideology.  It is the same ideology which plunged us into WW II, and which many Americans died fighting valiantly to defeat.  To suggest, as the President did, that those who fight Nazis somehow bear part of the responsibility for the violence is a perversion of history, and an insult to their memories.

I’m heartened by the peaceful gatherings and the candle lit vigils which have sprung up across the country.  These moments reinforce for us the truth that we are not helpless in the face of barbarism.  When communities come together in solidarity we are reminded that the vast majority of Americans hold fast to the ideals which have made this country a welcoming place for Jews as well as many other groups.

This Friday night our Shabbat services will reflect on those ideals. They are already deeply embedded in our tradition, so it does not take much tweaking, but this week it’s important to focus more consciously on that connection.  And it’s important simply to be together.

I need to add one more thought.  Vigils and prayer services are powerful ways for us to reassure ourselves that the fabric of society is still strong.  But by themselves they are not enough to bring about the change we seek.  We can use these gatherings to calm our fears, and then we must use them as a way to galvanize ourselves to act.  The hatred on display in Charlottesville has been a small but persistent thread in our nation’s history; it will not be wiped out overnight.  Change will come riding in on the shoulders of all those willing to do the daily, on-going work required to create a just society.  Our prophets called us to this task, and over the weeks and months ahead I’ll suggest specific ways to heed their call in your own life.

We read in Deuteronomy “you shall not remain indifferent.”  We are blessed to live among millions of Americans who believe that and act upon it. I look forward to continuing to work with you in building the society our tradition envisions, and our children deserve.

L’shalom,

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Why I’m Going to Cheraw, SC and why you should join me!

Rabbi David 11Dear Friends,
Many years ago I was speaking with a friend about his experience at the Million Man March, a call for African-American men of every socio-economic level to come to Washington DC and accept responsibility for their lives. He told me that the most powerful thing about the event for him was being surrounded by so many people who not only looked like him, but shared similar values. It’s something that he did not experience all that often. Here in Tarrytown, he felt he was often looked at askance simply because he was black. I told him that I sometimes had a similar feeling when walking in public wearing my kippah. He replied “Yes, but the difference is that you can remove your kippah whenever you want and blend in. I can’t remove being black.”

 

I have never forgotten that conversation. One of the many things that has allowed Jews to do so well in America is that we look like the majority. We can blend in. The events of the past year – the deaths of unarmed black men, and in particular, the shootings inside the Charleston church – remind me that 50 years after Selma, having black skin can still be a liability in America.

 

In 1965, protesters marched from Selma to Montgomery to highlight racial injustice. Among the marchers were many Jews, including Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, then head of the Reform Jewish movement, and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. As you see in the photo, they marched carrying a Torah in order to emphasize the biblical call for justice and to remind us that all humans are created in the image of God.
Heschel
By the end of 1965 the Voting Rights Act, written in the offices of the Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center, had been signed into law. And yet 50 years later, voting rights are once again under attack, access to education is uneven, and African-American parents have to teach their law-abiding children how to speak to the police to keep from being shot. I, on the other hand, do not need to have that talk with my kids, because I can remove my kippah whenever I want.

 

But I still want to express my anger at the continuing racism, and I still want to clearly show my support – as so many Jews did during the Civil Rights Movement – for the values of justice and equality which are central to Jewish tradition.

 

And that’s why I’m going to Cheraw.

 

This summer the NAACP has organized America’s Journey for Justice, a 40-day march from Selma, Alabama to Washington DC, in order to draw attention to how much still needs to be done to combat racism in America. The Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Reform Jewish Movement are partners in this effort. I am proud to say that I will be one of over 100 rabbis participating in the march. I will be carrying the Torah along the route from Cheraw, SC to Raleigh, NC on Wednesday, September 2. And I plan to attend the Voting Rights Rally in Raleigh on Sept. 3.

 

And I’d like you to join me!

 

My sons are coming with me. A few congregants have already committed to participating with us. The plan is to fly out on the afternoon of Sept. 1, march on Sept. 2, attend the rally and then fly home on Sept. 3. If your plans for the last week of the summer are flexible, I encourage you to join us. If you can’t march that week, you can pick another date to go.

 

Here are some FAQs about participating in the march. If you decide to go, you should sign up here. And of course, please let me know you’re coming! To do that, or just to ask questions, send a note to rabbi@tba-ny.org or give me a call.

 

I was a little too young for the marches in 1965. I’m saddened that another march is needed, but I’m honored to be able to participate. I hope that all who march will feel, as Rabbi Heschel said, that “I was praying with my legs.”

 

Peace and Blessings,
Rabbi David Holtz
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Pledge process update

Herb Face April 2013 Many of you have asked how things are going with the pledge process to support our new donation system, and I am very happy to report that well over half of our members have already pledged.

Not only have a majority of you already submitted your pledges, but the total contribution for these pledges is up over $20,000 from what this same group of members gave last year. In fact, for every 1 member that decided to decrease their level of giving, there were over 5 that increased it. So, a HUGE thanks to everyone who has already pledged. Our confidence in your generosity has definitely been well placed!

Now, we need the rest of you to pledge. It’s really important that we all take an active role in this process. If we don’t hear from you, we will send you a statement in July as we usually do, but we’d much rather hear from you!

If you have not yet submitted your pledge, a personalized reminder letter is being mailed to you. Better yet, why not take a moment out of your day and submit your pledge online, right now, right here.

Also, please let me know how you feel about the process so far. We’d love to hear any suggestions you have for improving what we’re doing or how we’re doing it.

Thanks again.  We are delighted and honored to be on this journey together with you.

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Pledge process update and 2014/2015 Budget Analysis

Herb Face April 2013We are on schedule with the process that we described at the January congregational meeting and letters requesting a pledge of commitment for the 2015-2016 year are being mailed to all current members this week. One of the items we promised was a succinct analysis of the budget for the current year (2014‐2015) so all members understand the significance of their contributions and take ownership in the financial health of our congregation.  Although we are still in the early stages of the budgeting process, we do not expect there to be substantial changes for the upcoming year.


Income

By far, the largest amount of our income comes from what was projected to be contributed as annual membership dues; this includes Mitzvah Circle dues that some members contributed over and above the assessed amount of dues. In order to keep our institution running and moving forward, this amount will need to be replaced by the voluntary contribution we are asking our members to pledge for 2015‐2016. You’ll see, however, that this is only about 2/3 of our revenue, and we will need to continue our fundraising efforts, as well as continue to charge fees for specific items, such as school tuition, High Holy Day seats and B’nei Mitzvah fees. Hopefully, as our endowment grows, our investment income will account for a greater percentage of our overall revenue.

Revenue Source 2014-2015 Budget % of Total Income
Dues (including Mitzvah Circle) $885,000 67.3%
School Tuition $217,000 16.5%
Annual Appeal (Kol Nidre Appeal) $45,000 3.4%
Fundraising $45,000 3.4%
Investment Income $40,000 3.0%
Temple Donations $30,000 2.3%
B’nei Mitzvah Fees $25,000 1.9%
High Holy Day Seats $15,000 1.1%
House Rental (Including Children Garden Center) $11,900 0.9%
Bulletin Advertising $2,000 0.2%
Total Income $1,315,900

Income Pie Chart

 

 

 

 


Expenses

Our expenses are broken out by functional area. Each of these functional areas (with the exception of Special Programs) contains both salaries for staff and non-labor expenses. For example, the functional area “House” includes the labor expenses for our custodial staff, but also includes non-labor expenses for heating oil, snow removal and many other items. Approximately 75% of our overall budget goes to the people who we employ to help us fulfill our mission, from the Rabbi and the Cantor, to our office staff, our educational staff, teachers, tutors, custodial staff, musical accompanists and service leaders. There is one item that you will not see here: You will find no payments to service debt because TBA has no debt. We are proud of our long-standing practice of responsibly living within our means.

Functional Area 2014-2015 Budget % of Total Expense
Ritual (includes salaries for Clergy, Clergy Coordinator, Musical Accompanists, Service Leaders and BBM Tutors) $554,569 42.1%
Religious School (includes salaries for Director of Education, Education and Program Coordinator and Teachers) $298,850 22.7%
Administration (includes salaries for Director of Temple Operations, Bookkeeper and Office Assistant) $238,131 18.1%
House (includes salaries for Facilities Supervisor and Assistant Facilities Coordinator) $194,800 14.8%
Special Programs (includes Tikkun Olam, Membership Committee, TBA Cares, Israel Committee and other programming) $15,100 1.1%
Youth Group (includes salary for Youth Group Director) $14,450 1.1%
Total Expenses $1,315,900

Expense Pie Chart

 

 

 

 


Questions or Comments?

Have any questions or would like further information about how your contributions help us fulfill our mission? Just drop me a note at president@tba-ny.org!

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President’s Message Regarding the Special Congregational meeting held on January 6, 2015

Herb Face April 2013Thank you to everyone who made it to last week’s congregational meeting. Despite the light snow in the morning, and the cold temperatures in the evening, we had an excellent turnout of congregants who gathered to consider and discuss changing the system by which we financially support our synagogue. With the goal of encouraging generosity and eliminating any barriers for membership, we voted overwhelmingly to adopt a new policy of giving at Temple Beth Abraham and move from a system of assessed dues according to various membership categories for congregants to a system where members make voluntary contributions to support our operations. There will be guidance for voluntary contributions based upon a “Sustaining Amount” determined by our Finance Committee.

No family will be required to give more than they are currently giving in our new system. Every family will be asked to be as generous as they can to support TBA.

As Allison Fine succinctly put it, we are now “Jews without dues,” however, we are not Jews without financial needs. In the coming weeks, hopefully before the end of February, current members will receive a Pledge letter with material including:

1. information about the Temple’s operational expenses,
2. the Sustainable Contribution amount recommended by the Finance Committee, and
3. the amount they contributed this year in dues (both assessed dues and voluntary Mitzvah Circle dues).

Every family will be asked to make a Pledge to support temple operations for the 2015-2016 fiscal year that begins in July. The first donation towards the pledge will be due in July just as in our current system.

This is an important milestone for Temple Beth Abraham. As Rabbi Holtz pointed out at the meeting, the financial model sustaining synagogues has always changed after a few generations – selling aliyahs, selling pews, assessing dues – each has had their moment of addressing problems with the prior system. 2015 is the year for Temple Beth Abraham to make the change and to be at the vanguard as synagogues nationwide are reassessing the long-term viability of the dues model. We want to make the change while our balance sheet is strong and while our membership base is stable as it has been in the last couple of years, and not out of fear or diminishment. We anticipate a great advantage to being the first synagogue to have the courage of our convictions to rely on the generosity of our members outside of a dues system in Westchester County.

I do not expect that the change will be without its challenges, but I do believe that we have collectively taken the right action to ensure that Temple Beth Abraham will be a thriving center of Liberal Judaism in the Rivertowns and the surrounding areas for generations to come.
Regards,

Herb Baer
President

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Meet Our Board Members – Kimberly Marcus

Kimberly Marcus Kimberly Marcus has been a member of TBA for eight years. She has been on the Board for three years, first as a Trustee and now as a Tikkum Olam Committee co-chair. She became involved at TBA by volunteering in her son’s classroom and then by slowly joining committees.  Kimberly helped to spearhead TBA’s Spiritual Walk with Rabbi Holtz.  She became an adult Bat Mitzvah at TBA in 2009.

She is also a co-VP, 8th grade in Sleepy Hollow Middle School’s PTA and a member of the Steering Committee of SCBWI’s Metro NY Region.  Through TBA, she is involved with The Community Food Pantry of Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow and the Community Coalition (C2).

Kimberly is married to Jonathan Gleit, a Civil Rights Attorney and member of Shekelvestors, the Israel Investment Club at TBA. He has also played guitar on different occasions at TBA, most recently at Beatles Shabbat.

Kimberly and Jonathan have two children. Kira became a Bat Mitzvah in April at TBA and their son Caleb was confirmed in June, 2014.  Kimberly was a professional photographer, elementary school teacher, and is currently managing her spouse’s law office.  She is also a children’s book writer.  Kimberly and her family live in Tarrytown and have a dog, cat, and a fish.

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Shabbat Greetings from Rabbi David Holtz – June 27, 2014

Rabbi David 11On Sunday I’m headed to Poland, to participate in the bar mitzvah I wrote about in the June bulletin. I’ll be in Warsaw, Bialystock, Zamosc (site of ceremony) and Krakow. I’m hoping we’ll have a chance to stop in Chelm (between Zamosc and Krakow) just to take a picture. If you’re not familiar with the Wise Men of Chelm, look them up.
My plan is to post thoughts and photos each day. I’ll put them on the TBA Facebook page, and, technology permitting, on a blog created just for this trip, http://tbainpoland.blogspot.com/. I invite you to follow along. I’ll spend next Shabbat in Krakow with the Reform congregation. I’m looking forward to telling you all about it!

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Shabbat Greetings from Stuart Skolnick – June 20, 2014

Stuart SkolnickChange is in the air. This is true literally as you read this on Friday, 20 June. It’s the longest day of the year and with tomorrow’s summer solstice we’ll have the “official” start of summer.

It’s been easy to follow the lengthening of days by watching Friday night candle lighting times. Tonight is the latest lighting time of the year. Going forward, lighting times will start to get earlier.

There are other changes taking place as well. This past Tuesday evening TBA held its Annual Congregational Meeting. An annual Agenda item is the Slate of Officers and Trustees and after the vote was taken the Temple has a new group of Officers and Trustees. Plan to attend services this evening at 7:30pm and watch as this new group is officially installed. I would also ask you to give them your support and constructive suggestions throughout the year so they have the benefit of your thoughts and input. Watch for the announcement of the monthly Board meetings and plan to attend one (or more!). These meetings are open to the congregation and any member is welcome to attend. Take an active part in the running of your Temple by volunteering to help out with an event or project or serve on a committee. There is something for everyone’s interest and new ideas and energy are always welcome. Take a moment to speak to one of the incoming officers or trustees and find out how you can participate. Everyone will be glad that you did.

Shabbat Shalom!

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Shabbat Greetings from Cantor Margot Goldberg – June 13,2014

Cantor-MargotShabbat Shalom!  It is a pleasure to welcome Tamara Reps Freeman, Benjy Povman, and Caleb Gleit to join Rabbi Holtz and myself on the bima this evening in music and prayer.  Rabbi Holtz and I have worked together, along with the Ritual Committee, to explore what prayer at TBA might sound like.  We have used our screens for a hands free service so that we can connect with those in attendance in a different way.  We have tried services with fewer spoken words to see how music touches our souls and lifts our spirits.  We tried a service where we set the prayers to Beatles’ melodies to see if the words might strike us in a different way if the melodies were different yet familiar.  Tonight we welcome these talented musicians to enhance our familiar melodies and introduce us to new ones via violins and drums.

Tamara Reps Freeman, Jen Povman’s sister, is a talented violinist with a specialty in Holocaust music and education.  She has been at TBA before as part of our Adult Education lectures and I know that this evening will be equally interesting, entertaining, and inspiring.

On another note, next Friday I look forward to welcoming Amanda Berkson, Olivia Berkson, and Hannah Monack to join Rabbi and myself on the bima as we thank our outgoing, and install our incoming, Board of Trustees.  These talented pre-b’nei mitzvah students will add harmony throughout our service . It has been a wonderful year of music, prayer, and inclusion and I want to thank all who worked so hard to learn new music, share their talents with the congregation, and lift our spirits.

Shabbat Shalom, Margot

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Shabbat Greetings from Rabbi David Holtz – May 31, 2014

Rabbi David 11“Noah,” one of several “biblical blockbusters” to come out this year, has several things in common with Cecil B. DeMille’s classic of the genre, “The Ten Commandments.”  Both use cutting-edge special effects, both add a completely invented love story to the narrative, and both demonstrate a surprising familiarity with rabbinic interpretation and midrash. But where “The Ten Commandments” is generally content to illustrate the drama and the lessons present in the biblical text, “Noah” develops some themes that are only hinted at, or even absent from, the original, such as environmentalism and the question of humanity’s place in the world.  In addition, unlike the story of the Exodus, in the Noah story there is no speaking in the biblical text, other than God’s command to Noah to build the ark.  So the screenwriter of “Noah” had the problem – and the freedom – of completely inventing the entire dialogue.  And fascinatingly, in this movie, God is the only one who does not get a speaking part.  I hope you’ll join me tonight at services for a longer discussion of the movie, its backstory, and its contribution to the already large body of commentary on the story of the Flood.

Shalom u’vracha!

(Peace & Blessings!)

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