Bishop and I had the good fortune to visit Spain this summer. As our tour guide led us through the cobbled streets of the old Jewish quarters, time and time again, she repeated her remarks. “We are entering the Jewish quarter. No Jews live here now.”
In fact, we didn’t see any evidence of Jewish life anywhere.
It turns out there are 50,000 Jews in Spain, most Orthodox who mainly keep to themselves.
But, in Madrid, one small group of Jews is changing the face of Jewish practice in Spain.
They meet in a town hall for Shabbat worship followed by a communal dinner. They are attracting attention from people who want to explore their Jewish origins for the first time. They have created a way to advocate for social justice in Spain as Jews, something not seen before. The Reform Jewish Community of Madrid is rejuvenating what it means to be Jewish in Spain.
Where ever we live, the keys to Jewish life are home and community. And the fundamental building block of the Jewish community is the synagogue.
The Reform Jewish Community of Madrid is realizing the true purpose of a synagogue: to live a purposeful life through Jewish learning, praying, caring, rejoicing and repairing the world.
The success of any synagogue depends on the vitality of its’ congregants. Our congregation remains stable at about 1100 members. Some members move away, but others join. This year we welcomed 79 new families to Temple Beth El. We are a strong, spirited Reform Jewish presence in Charlotte.
I hope you feel the spirit of Temple Beth El during these Days of Awe. It is a joy to see the hugs and handshakes as old and new friends greet each other. It is beautiful to hear the sanctuary fill with song and prayer. For some, this is the version of “us” that defines their temple life. But we have many versions of community here.
Temple Beth El’s identity is shaped by the deep connections we make when we are engaged with each other to live a purposeful life.
When we worship together, study Torah, box yahrzeit candles, share a meal in the Sukkah, engage with our children in Religious School, sit on a Board committee or attend Wildacres, we create the culture that defines the Temple Beth El community.
And when we take action against racism and anti-Semitism, advocate for aging adults, fund the Shalom Park Freedom School, host the Comparative Religion Series, march in the Gay Pride parade or tutor a child at Sterling Elementary School, we share our values with the larger community of Charlotte.
So, if today is the only time I will see you, allow me to extend a personal invitation: Come again! You will experience the same friendly embrace when you come to a Shabbat service, take a class or attend a social event.
If you are a member of this congregation, then you know belonging to temple means making a Sacred Gift. The amount of your gift is each family’s personal decision. We appreciate the value you put in making that decision and we appreciate every contribution. Your annual Sacred Gift funds our operating budget which pays for our wonderful clergy and staff, keeps the lights on and subsidizes the cost of Religious School and other programs.
Our goal over the next few years is to increase our annual Sacred Gift giving overall to a level consistent with other Reform temples our size. If the majority of families would give $200 more than they currently do right now, we would be well on our way toward that goal.
It is a remarkable testament to the strength of our community that we have congregants who give generously to Temple Beth El. This year we have 282 Sustainers, an increase of 35 since last year. We are so thankful for these Sustainers, our angels, who guard and protect Temple Beth El.
In addition to our annual budgetary commitments, it is crucial that we establish a financial model to sustain us into the future. To this end, the Development Committee is committed to working with the entire congregation to increase our endowment from $4.5 million to $10 million through immediate giving and legacy giving.
We have spent much of this past year in transition, as our clergy settled in and staff positions were re-structured. As I said at the annual meeting, we have now laid the foundation upon which we can build a new design for engagement. We are still in transition, but we are moving forward.
In that light, I want to introduce you to a concept known as “audacious hospitality”.
The Torah tells us that when Abraham saw strangers heading toward his tent, he didn’t wait for them to approach, but ran to greet them, with out-stretched arms.
His heart was open as he welcomed the strangers into his tent with food and drink, attending to their every need. Abraham acted with audacious hospitality.
Like Abraham, we can use audacious hospitality to invite everyone into our temple tent.
Audacious hospitality “is not just a temporary act of kindness,” URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs tells us. “It is an ongoing invitation to be part of the community.”
It means getting to know people here that we may not know, or not know well.
It means welcoming new ideas about Temple’s future.
Audacious hospitality means opening our hearts and our minds to expand our version of “us” because our strength is based on how well we honor the diversity of our members.
We are born Jewish, choose to be Jewish, love someone Jewish or simply respect the Jewish faith.
Our roots are world-wide and we are a rainbow of skin color and ethnicity.
We identify ourselves by varying sexual orientation and gender; physical ability, and political affiliation.
We are atheists and God-fearing; staunch Zionists and J-Street supporters; rich and poor; righteous and sinful.
Our family structures are as varied and unique as we are, and we have problems, worries and stress like everyone else in society.
In all, we are a beautiful diverse group of Am Yisrael- the people of Israel, connected by Torah, history and the land of Israel. We share a common bond because we are living Jewish lives. We are a people, a community.
To embark on a journey of audacious hospitality will require some soul searching and bold thinking. It will require us to learn from each other, examine our biases, act with courage and compassion, stay engaged, speak honestly, and let everyone’s voice be heard.
Unfortunately, at times, out of necessity, our doors are locked. It is not the best way to put out the welcome mat. Making concessions to our safety is a reality of life today, but it does not stifle the spirit of community once you are inside.
The High Holy Days are a time to take stock of ourselves, to re-commit ourselves to promises made, and to embark on new possibilities. This is a time for renewing individual goals and community goals.
There is a place at the table for everyone who wants to embark on strengthening the community of Temple Beth El. Let’s go forward together, audacious, with open hearts and open minds.