Congregation Beth Israel

From Rabbi Goldstein:
December 2013 | 
 Tevet 5774

During Kol Nidrei services I addressed the community on expanding the definition of what it means to be a “member.” In the modern era, synagogue membership has been defined by financial contribution. This is a completely necessary aspect of maintaining and sustaining synagogue infrastructure, but I think it goes without saying that a synagogue is more than its building and relevant costs.

Synagogue is a Greek word meaning “bring together.” The Hebrew equivalent, Beit Knesset, means House of Gathering. In other words, the synagogue is not the structure at all, but the community which gathers within – a synagogue is not defined by its sanctuary or social hall, but by the relationships made in the pews and over kiddush or meals. In that spirit, the most important element to sustaining a synagogue community is not funds, but engagement. People are needed to make a synagogue. This is not to say money is irrelevant, but it is to say that your personal involvement in the synagogue, your claiming of ownership over its practices, values and mission, will propel your community into the future with more force than any endowment could.

The landscape of religion in America is changing rapidly and the future of religious institutions is unknown. Judaism, an ancient wisdom tradition that spans millennia, will weather this uncertainty just as it has survived the perils of our past. However, what will determine the success of each individual synagogue is a test of flexibility and openness to change.

As I prepare to bid you farewell, I want to not only again thank you for your warmth, kindness, generosity and unique spirit; I want to offer you this parting thought. As I share with all b’nei mitzvah children, our Sages of Blessed Memory taught it is not incumbent upon you to finish the work, neither are you free to desist from it. The future of the Jewish community Bangor is assured as long as individuals remain committed to its sustenance, not solely financial sustenance but to its energetic sustenance. As we close in on the secular New Year, make yourself a resolution – volunteer to help prepare a kiddush, or to teach a class, to learn to lead services or conceive of a community program. There is something for everyone to contribute, no contribution is too small.

A synagogue is not determined by the number of people brought together but, again, by the quality of the relationships those people forge. Even as the future may not see full sanctuaries at every Shabbat or holidays,  as long as you remain committed to maintaining and sustaining the Synagogue with your physical involvement and engagement, then you will have left behind a legacy future generations feel committed to sustaining as well.

The lessons you have taught me, as I have said before, I will carry with me forever. I am indebted to each and every one of you and from the bottom of my heart I say, thank you. Please be in touch.

לשלום ולברכה L’shalom uli’vrakhah Peace and Blessings,
-Rabbi Justin Goldstein