Reflections on the URJ Biennial

Temple President David Weisberg attended his first URJ Biennial last week. “[It was] unbelievable being with 5500+ fellow Jews from all across North America,” he says.

Weisberg was part of a Temple Emanuel contingent that traveled to Boston, Mass. for the opportunity to learn, share, and help shape the future of the Reform Movement. He shares more about his experience:

Q: What did you think it would be like, and what was it really like?

A: I was hopeful that I would be able to learn and further deepen my understanding of best practices across the Reform Movement. The Biennial was that plus more, including being able to meet with fellow congregational presidents and learn from them.

Q: What stands out for you?

A: The worship experiences at Biennial were like nothing I had ever experienced. For Shabbat services, singing the Sh’ma and having multiple Torahs cycle through the crowd of 5500+ was spectacular. Our prayers — along with the cantors and choirs singing — were uplifting and ultimately touched my soul.

Q: What are some things you learned?

A: Interestingly, I learned that there are a lot of Temple Emanuel (or Emanuel-El) across North America. I met congregants from other Emanuels in Toronto, Montreal, Dallas, New York, San Jose, and Hawaii. On a more serious note, I learned that we at Temple Emanuel have a lot of positives going for us. I also learned that there are steps we can take to build on the great foundation we’ve already established as we move into the future.

The next Biennial is in Chicago, Illinois on December 11-15, 2019. Perhaps you’ll join us?

Our Year of Change Begins

The New Year. Football. Hockey. Baseball.

What a fabulous time of year. Autumn is upon us. Leaves are changing. Cool air is sweeping through Greater Pittsburgh as warm thoughts pass through our heads while we think about the year ahead.

The High Holidays have now passed. The field is open as we plan for what lies ahead this upcoming year. Just as the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates all want for this year to better than last, we all can work hard to make that happen in our own lives. This is true for all aspects – personally, professionally and of course our relationship with Judaism and with Temple Emanuel.

Athletes prepare for their seasons with hard work, discipline and diligence. They practice, focus and perform whenever the ball is kicked off, the first puck is dropped or the first pitch is thrown. Of course, not everything can be controlled in the game, but the key is preparation and determination.

I am proud to say that the Board of Trustees is in that same mindset here at Temple Emanuel. We are motivated. We have taken steps to make this year a great year. Each Officer, Trustee and committee chair has agreed to step up his or her game. Why? To become better. Better individuals, a better synagogue and ultimately a better community. It serves us well not only now but also into the future.

Our planning is in process for a Celebration year. We are honoring both Temple Emanuel and Rabbi Mahler, recognizing all that he has given to us through the years. Please plan to attend the upcoming events as opportunities to honor and commemorate.

We also are in the process of planning our next steps after Rabbi Mahler retires and becomes Rabbi Emeritus beginning July 2018. We have a strong Interim Rabbi Search Committee who will assist in identifying our Interim Rabbi for the July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019 year. The, a year from now, we will have a Settled Rabbi Search Committee who will assist in our next search for a Senior Rabbi who will begin July 1, 2019.   Many of you have participated in the congregational survey that was emailed in September 2017. Thank you. There will be additional opportunities for the congregation to have input as we continue our journey.

The groundwork has been laid for us to succeed. Let’s enjoy our community, have spiritual fulfillment and a grand Jewish experience. Let’s ride the energy as we continue to build those connections and a stronger community. Who knows – maybe it will result in a Super Bowl, Stanley Cup or World Series championship. We all can dare to dream, right?

David Weisberg, President

 

Relating to Abraham

Board member David Rullo gave the following D’var Torah at our November board meeting:

“Go away from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.”

This Torah verse has always been special to me. I’m sure I’m not alone and that Jews across the world feel the same. It’s one of the foundational verses. It speaks to me in a very real way because it is the story of the first convert. As we all know, Abraham was not Jewish when God called him, Abraham wasn’t even his name. Interestingly, there is no mention of why Abram was chosen. We know that Noah “walked with God,” there are no notes about Abram. Instead, we are told his lineage and nothing more. Clearly, at least in my estimation, it is more important to be willing to go away from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that God will show you than to be a part of a particular bloodline or have special qualifications. The story continues…God creates a covenant with Abraham and gives him the responsibility of creating a nation and enacting the first rituals this new nation uses to distinguish itself from the other cultures surrounding it.

I have never given much merit to coincidence or the idea that things happen for a reason. This week though I may have to reconsider my skepticism. It was almost four years to the day that Kim and I attended our first “Taste of Judaism” course at Temple Emanuel on November 5, 2012. Almost four years ago to the day that I started a journey that would radically change my life and the life of my entire family. Almost four years ago to the day that I literally went away from my “land,” “my birthplace,” the home of my father and like Abraham, began the process of converting to Judaism.

Unlike Abraham however, I was fortunate enough to find a supportive community that helped with my journey. From that first Taste of Judaism course until today, Rabbi Mahler has always been available to answer questions and offer advice. Rabbi Locketz was one of the rabbis on my Bet Din and has been happy to answer question when I’ve approached her. I joined Temple’s Torah Study group shortly after that first of Taste of Judaism class and the weekly attendees became a network of friends who were only too happy to assist or teach when I reached out to them. My Jewish identity was established and cemented here at Temple Emanuel and now, because of what I’ve learned and experienced my Jewish identity reaches far beyond Temple and indeed allows me to influence the lives of Jews throughout Pittsburgh.

It is remarkable to me that in just four short years I have not only found a spiritual home but have also been accepted as a member and indeed, when the situation calls for it, a leader. I look around the room and am able to point to three other converts that sit on this diverse board. Temple is surely an open and welcoming place to allow four strangers to come into their community and rise through the ranks of leadership.

I have been incredibly blessed through my association with both Temple Emanuel and the Judaism I now call my own. I serve on this board as a way to say thanks to the spiritual home I found four years ago. My hope is that I can find connections over the next few years that will make Temple even stronger than it was when I tentatively walked through those doors four years ago unsure that this would even be a direction I wanted to pursue.

Rabbi Rick Jacob, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, speaks of Abraham in his weekly “On the Other Hand” podcast. He notes that Abraham is not perfect and makes mistakes. He is simply an ordinary person who had the courage to do what God asked him to do. In the end he hopes we can all, like Abraham, “Go forth and be a blessing.” It is my sincere hope that in my own way I can fulfill his hope here at Temple.

 

 

Need help paying college tuition?

The Central Scholarship and Loan Referral Service (CSLRS) of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh coordinates the efforts of a group of organizations, agencies and scholarship endowment funds that provide scholarships to local Jewish students enrolled in an accredited institution of higher education.

The goal of CSLRS is to provide financial support to as many deserving students in our community as possible. Demonstrated financial need is a primary criterion in evaluating applicants. Financial information is considered along with other pertinent facts such as family size and number of children/siblings in college.

While they generally do not assist students with family incomes in excess of $110,000 or who have investable assets of more than $250,000, exceptions may be made when there are extenuating family circumstances, at the discretion of the CSLRS committee.

DEADLINE FOR FILING AN APPLICATION IS FEBRUARY 9, 2017

For more information, go to: www.centralscholarship.org

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An Israeli view of the American election

Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh scholar Rabbi Dr. Danny Schiff returned to Temple Emanuel Wednesday, October 26. He presented “An Israeli View of the American Election” before a crowd of 70+ audience members from the South Hills.

Rabbi Schiff started out by speaking of his long history with Temple Emanuel. He made mention of the fact that Temple is the very first synagogue in the South Hills he ever spoke at and that he was very anxious to begin this series of Fall/Winter South Hills engagements back at Temple.

He began the lecture by explaining that Israeli Jews are almost the exact opposite of American Jews. According to a Pew study, 55 percent of Israeli Jews consider themselves to be centrist and 37 percent conservatives while just 19 percent of American Jews label themselves conservative.

schiff-3 Although he left opinions to those in attendance, Rabbi Schiff pointed out that “Israelis want to have predictability, certainty and stability in a very unstable part of the world.” He then cited a CNN poll which stated that 42 percent of Israelis support Clinton; 24 percent support Trump and the rest are undecided. This discrepancy, given the strong conservative leanings in Israel, can be attributed to the fact that most don’t see Trump as predictable or stable.

The rabbi spoke for 45 minutes and then took questions from the audience. At the conclusion, Rabbi Mark Mahler thanked Rabbi Schiff for his presentation and said Temple hoped to bring him back in the Spring to discuss the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War.

schiff-and-mahler

The next speaker to visit Temple will be Rabbi Gershom Sizomu as part of the South Hills Torah Weekend, November 18-19. Rabbi Sizomu is from Uganda, where he serves the Abayudava community and is a member of the Ugandan parliament. He will speak at Temple Friday night, Beth El Congregation Saturday morning, The South Hills JCC Saturday night, and will return to both Beth El and Temple for programs at the religious schools as part of the Global Day of Jewish Learning. Rabbi Sizomu is being brought to the South Hills through a grant from South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh.

Three Numbers

by President David Weisberg

Yom Kippur 5777

Three numbers I’d like for you to remember – 14 million, 520 and One. So why are these important? And more importantly, why are they significant to you? Keep these numbers in mind, 14 million, 520 and One, as hopefully I will be able to give you something to think about.

First, let me introduce myself to you. I am David Weisberg. I am proud to be the current President for Temple Emanuel. Some of you may know me as the husband of my beautiful wife Rikki. Others of you may be connected to me as the son-in-law of Suzi and Richard. For those long-time Pittsburghers, my parents are Charles and Gail who, as any proud parent would want to do, are here today to listen to their son. Speaking of parenthood, of all the ways that you may be familiar with me, my highlight is being a father to my kids who are busy having fun and learning in today’s children’s program.

Before my current role on the Board of Trustees, some of you may recognize me from my prior roles these past six plus years. I was in a Treasurer role and then Vice President of Finance. So of course, numbers are something with which I am comfortable.

Professionally I am a banker, specifically a lender. I understand finances. My kids ask me what I do when I go to work. I took them to “Take Your Children to Work” day this past Spring, so as far as they know I eat lollipops and donuts, count paperclips, color on Post It notes and play on the computer all day.

As you would expect, that’s not my typical day at work. I tell my kids that I help people and I help them achieve their dreams. Just as I do with my clients, I look to do so with my efforts here at Temple Emanuel. I want to help all of you achieve your and your family’s dreams and ultimately gain fulfillment here at Temple Emanuel. I want you to be connected to each other, to greater Pittsburgh and to our community both inside and outside of this building.

So why these numbers: 14 million, 520 and One?

14 million – this is the estimated world Jewish population as of 2014. The world’s total population is greater than 7 billion so we as Jews are less than 1%. Of that 14 million Jews in this world, the United States has approximately 6 million, only 2% of the total US population.

So why should this be important to you? It is because we as Jews truly have made an impact both in our country and in the world in a magnitude that is far greater than our actual numbers. We are notable actors and actresses, business professionals, artists, musicians, scientists, inventors, intellectuals, medical professionals, legal scholars, politicians, fashion designers, comedians, just to name a few. Most importantly, we are connected to each other. You’ve heard the expression that all people in the world are connected by six degrees of separation. In the Jewish community, my thinking is that it is far less. We’ve all played “Jewish geography”, right? Why? It’s because we’re all connected.

Of the American Jews who describe themselves as “strongly connected” to Judaism, their active engagement with Judaism ranges from attending daily prayer services on one end of the spectrum to as little as attending Passover Seders or lighting Hanukkah candles on the other. Of those “strongly connected” Jews, just under half belong to a synagogue with the largest percentage being in the Reform movement. We at Temple Emanuel are one of the greater than 800 Reform Jewish congregations in North America. As many congregations are struggling, many have lots of positives. This leads me to my next number.

  1. This is number of member families that we have here at Temple Emanuel. Look around. You are this 520. You are Temple Emanuel. You make Temple Emanuel what it is today as well as tomorrow and the next day. You are the current and the future. Why do you belong to Temple Emanuel? Why is being a member of Temple Emanuel important to you?

We at Temple Emanuel should be proud and have centerpieces from which we can build. We are the largest congregation in the South Hills with 520 member families. We have greater than 150 children in our Torah Center which is the largest Jewish religious school in Greater Pittsburgh outside of Community Day, the Jewish Day School in Squirrel Hill. We have 180 children in our ECDC, the largest of any nursery school in the South Hills of Pittsburgh.

Yes we have things with which we can improve but your generosity and connection are what keep this place going. For that, we thank you. $1.8 million keeps this place running on an annual basis and that does not include necessary improvements that are needed like the parking lot patchwork and roof repairs, which have been funded out of our capital campaign.

520 is the number of member families, but the actual number of people in our congregation is well over 1,000. As an example, my family of four is one member family. All of us together make Temple Emanuel. All of us should be proud. You are the 520. We all are the 520.

The most important number is the final number I told you were going to be discussing. The number One. Why? One is you. One is me. One is each of us. Why is One important? It is important because you are here. You are here today. Maybe you are here in this building for more than just today but you all have a reason for being here. You all have a reason for being a One. You all have a reason for being a part of Temple Emanuel. You all have a connection.

You – the One. You are important. You are valued. Your contribution is key. Your connection is paramount. What else can our Board do to make it more meaningful for you? What can we do to develop greater bonds to each other? We are all in this together. We are One. We are a community, we are Temple Emanuel. We together can continue to build and bring connections to Temple and to each other.

In all deference to Three Dog Night, “One is the loneliest number,” I would beg to differ. One makes connections with another. One can link to another. One and One does indeed make two but One plus One is far greater. It connects. It empowers. It compounds. It multiplies. It helps create dreams. Remember, it all starts with One.

Thank you for being the One. I look forward to what lies ahead here at Temple Emanuel. All of us, each of us as individuals, as Ones, can connect to make this an even better place than it is today.

Thank you. L’Shana Tovah!

20 Days to the Election

We’ve all been inundated with ads, op-eds and Facebook posts about the election.  Now we have the chance to hear a different perspective as Rabbi Dr. Danny Schiff returns to Temple Emanuel for a timely and provocative discussion “An Israeli View on the American Election.”  This is sure to be an interesting evening, so invite your friends and join us on Wednesday, October 26 at 7PM for Rabbi Schiff’s presentation followed by coffee and dessert.

 

First SHIM harvest

Learning has come to life for Melinda Freed’s 7th grade Making Meaning From our Food class. Yesterday, they reaped Temple’s first harvest for SHIM (South Hills Interfaith Movement): A large bag of swiss chard and a smaller bag of kale.

A few years in the making, the garden was the brainchild of Social Action Team chair Marty Altschul, who calls it “a dream come true.” When Freed needed a sub for this particular class, she knew Altschul would be perfect.

“I am so glad we have this garden to tie into my curriculum – the mitzvot of feeding the hungry and caring for the earth, knowing where our food comes from,” says Freed. “[The kids] got a hands-on experience picking the vegetables.”

A huge thanks goes out to everyone who made this garden possible. “Its mission goes beyond SHIM — it educates my students, Temple members, and the people who drive past it on Bower Hill Road,” says Freed. “May it ‘grow and grow.'”

 

Author Dorit Sasson visits Temple

Could you voluntarily sign up for a term in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)? Dorit Sasson left New York City in the early 90s to do just that. She wanted to step out of her comfort zone, escape her fearful mother, and connect more closely with her father’s homeland. Her book, Accidental Soldier, recounts this experience.

postdoritdiscussion

This was the Women of Temple Emanuel’s September book selection. The author — who now lives in Squirrel Hill — was kind enough to attend our discussion. She talked about cultural differences, like the wolf-pack mentality that exists in Israel. As a result, she had to leave the country in order to find her voice and be able to write her memoir.

We all enjoyed meeting her and learning more about her experiences. As Sarah Levinthal says, “I admire her courage to put it all out there and be in such a vulnerable position in a lot of ways. That takes guts!”

WTE Book Club meets again Nov. 17 to discuss Aftertaste. Not only does Pittsburgh play a part in the novel, but it’s written by Temple member Meredith Cohen, who will attend and even prepare some delicious food for us to enjoy.