President’s High Holy Day Message by Evan Wilkoff

April 1970, ten months after the first two people stepped foot on the moon, NASA launched Apollo 13.  Just two days into the mission, an oxygen tank onboard the spacecraft exploded putting the crew’s lives in jeopardy and set Mission Control on edge to try and figure out how to get the three astronauts safely home.  They were met with unexpected hurdles including a significant loss of oxygen, electrical power, and heat.  Each issue by itself was a serious threat to the crew’s health and safety and posed an unthinkable set of challenges.  In the 1995 movie based on this event, when told that this would be the worst disaster that NASA ever experienced, the lead flight director responded with “With all due respect…I believe this is going to be our finest hour.”  The safe return of the astronauts was a remarkable achievement because every single person at NASA stepped up to make it a success.

When I look around the sanctuary and at the camera for the live streamers, I see an entire congregation – full of people who care about our mission – who care about each other – who individually and collectively made a commitment to success in the face of real challenge.

We have lived the mission and vision of Temple Beth El.

We Learn Together.  From our SPICE learning twice each month, Comparative Religion speaker series coming in January, Senior Sage which will be back next year, to our Practical Judaism courses which include Torah and Talmud study – we taught and learned.  We even had over 30 students step up and convert to Judaism through our classes last year!

We Pray Together.  Last year, our worship committee observed services, talked to members of the congregation about their worship experiences, and suggested changes based on their review.  Although we obviously could not accommodate everyone’s preferences, the result is increased engagement during our First Friday Family Shabbat, and other Shabbat dinner and worship experiences.   Our adult and youth choirs, teen guitarists, and experimentation with new music has elevated the worship experience for many.

We Act Together.  The members of Temple Beth El don’t just talk a big game, we also make a difference.  We are proud of our incredibly successful and soon to be expanded Tribes initiative, our long-term efforts at Sterling Elementary and Freedom Schools, Room In The Inn, as well as our newer racial justice community organizing work that will soon be suggesting new areas of commitment and methods to reach across lines of difference in Charlotte in order to make positive change in our community.   This is action.

We Play Together.  Faced with limited clergy resources and a packed facility, committed members offered to lead our annual Wildacres retreat to ensure an educational and spiritual experience for all.   We not only played together, but we will also laugh, celebrate, and raise some fun together.  If you haven’t done so already, please go on our website and buy your tickets to the November 2nd Paul Reiser comedy night honoring the contributions of Dale and Larry Polsky.  You won’t want to miss this one!

We Care for Each Other.  Over 20 years ago, Wilson Lewith one of Temple Beth El’s dedicated congregants who had a passion for Charlotte, Temple Beth El, and baseball, made an important decision to consider us, the future of his Temple Beth El, worthy of helping.  He and his family stepped up and created a trust which, upon their death, would help provide Temple Beth El long-term financial support.  Although we will formally honor their legacy after the high holidays, I want to announce that a few weeks ago we received their gift of almost 1.2 million dollars which was added to our endowment.  This is another example of how a strong relationship between Temple Beth El and a congregant lasts in perpetuity.  A strong endowment is critical to our long term financial stability and is a gift to those who come after us.

As you heard Rabbi Klass speak about last night, we are also asking everyone to fill out the questionnaire you will receive via email after sundown.  This will help us continue our work to strengthen the social fabric of our caring congregation.

We were Accountable to Each Other.  Just a few months ago, I stood here at our Annual Congregational meeting and had to share the disappointing news that we would have to make significant cuts to our expenses and change our annual giving model.  These changes have been challenging – and I want to take this opportunity to thank our staff, clergy, and lay leaders who have borne the brunt of these challenges.

I’m also proud to report that we stepped-up.  The majority of our membership is giving at a level that enables our congregation to thrive.  As of a few days ago, 930 members have made 25% more in pledges than we collected all of last year.  This is fantastic news and will go a long way towards keeping up with inflation, filling strategic holes in our organization, and keeping our top notch staff and clergy focused on serving, educating, and leading our congregation.  And an extra thank you to our Sustainers, whose generosity helps membership in Temple Beth El remain accessible to everyone – regardless of their ability to pay.

When my family and I moved to Charlotte we were amazed by everything that Temple Beth El meant to the local community.  This didn’t happen by accident.  This happened because the members who came before us stepped up.  Thankfully, we were able to root ourselves, educate our children, and make many impactful friendships.  This is why Kim and I support Temple.  Whether you choose to walk into this building once a year or find yourself engaged and connected to our community many times each week, know that we provide a safe space to pray, learn, play, and connect with others in all stages of life.

We still marvel at the committed team at NASA that brought the Apollo 13 crew home safely.  That was almost 50 years ago.  My wish for this New Year is that 50 years from now, the newest person or family that chooses to walk into Temple Beth El for the first time will find a congregation that is inclusive, dynamic, engaging, fulfilling, and most importantly here.  This will not happen through luck.  It will only happen because we step up to support a community like ours.

Thank you for your support, for making Temple Beth El what it is today, and for the privilege of serving as your President of the Board of Directors.  It is truly an honor.  Kim and I wish you all a happy and healthy 5780.  L’Shanah Tovah Tikateyvu – May you all be inscribed in the book of life.