At our annual meeting on March 18, I gave the following report to the congregation:
Temple Emanuel Denver
Rabbi Joseph R. Black
March 18, 2011
In the Jewish mystical tradition, numbers have important significance. The ancient practice of Gematria involves taking the numerical value of words and phrases and finding hidden meaning in these numbers. Since tonight is the 136th annual meeting of Temple Emanuel, I thought I would try to find some significance in the number 136. Looking into the torah, I discovered that the Hebrew word, KOL added up to 136. Kol means "voice."
So tonight, in my remarks, I want to talk how, during the past 9 months that I have been your Senior Rabbi, I have come to appreciate and celebrate the myriad of diverse voices that make up our kehillah kedosha - our holy community.
Kol Avodah – the Voice of Prayer
Our congregation is very diverse. This diversity is reflected in the many opportunities and modalities for prayer that we offer. From "traditional" Friday night services, to celebrating b'nai mitzvah, to Tot Shabbat, Shabbat Unplugged, Youth and Family services, lay-led Erev Shabbat, Shwayder High Holiday Experiences, Minyan on the Mountain, "Just Shabbat Together" with The Hineneni project, Shabbat morning services and torah study – and so many more, there are many pathways to spiritual exploration that our members and community can travel.
Very soon, we will be exploring new territory as we introduce our movement's new prayer book, Mishkan Tefillah into the regular rubric of our services. I know that some people are very excited about this change, others, are not sure. That's ok. Any change is difficult. We will be introducing Mishkan Tefillah gradually into the pews. It is our hope that after the High Holidays, it will be fully in place. Over the course of the next few months we will be offering opportunities to learn about our new prayer book and we will have a variety of forums – both in person and online – to help with the transition.
Working with my Clergy Partners, Cantor Regina Heit and Rabbi Mitchell Delcau is a joy. We share a common vision for finding new modalities for spiritual growth as we savor and add to Kol Tefillah – the voice of prayer at Temple Emanuel.
Kol Torah – the Voice of Learning.
One of the most important Mitzvot that we can perform as Jews is becoming life-long learners. Our Education program, under the leadership of Ron Leff and his staff, is dedicated to providing an excellent Jewish education for our young people. Every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening, our building is humming with the sound of students celebrating being Jewish and learning about our traditions and heritage- as well as gaining essential skills for living fulfilled Jewish lives. Our Preschool continues to offer one of the best programs in the city. Cindy Wolfe, our preschool director and her staff, are dedicated to creating a nurturing and stimulating environment that is filled with Jewish content and state of the art curriculum. We are very proud of the fact that we have achieved a Qualstar rating of three stars and are well on our way to a four-star rating. Our Network program, under the leadership of Jodi Glater, offers stimulating and exciting programs every month. Kathy Steinberg, our librarian, keeps our library humming with the latest in Jewish books, DVD's and other periodicals. We also offer a variety of Adult Education classes - from Rabbi Cook's torah study on Shabbat morning, to Cantor Heit's Mishnah classes, to the many mini-courses offered by our staff, Clergy and volunteers on Shabbat mornings – including Meditation, Hebrew Poetry, Mishnah, Art History, Jewish Responsa and too many more to list here. Our Informal Education program, under the inspired leadership of Heather Feinberg, and our amazing Shwayder Camp – led by Zim Zimmerman is among the best in the country.
While our program is extensive, there is always room to improve. In that light, we have engaged the services of Rabbi Samuel Joseph, an internationally renowned expert on Jewish Education. Rabbi Joseph will guide us over the course of the next several months as we explore the values and mission that guide our educational program. He will also help us to learn about cutting edge programming that is taking place around the country and help us to formulate a new vision for Life Long Learning at Temple Emanuel. You will be hearing a lot more about this process in the weeks to come.
Kol G'millut Chasadim – the Voice of Loving-kindness.
During my 1st 9 months in Denver, I have been impressed with the deserved reputation that our congregation has earned as a center for social justice and community activism. We are still the "Tuna Fish congregation." Our 8th grade Gesher program teaches our students through text study and community involvement. Our Youth Groups, under the leadership of Heather Feinberg and her staff, do multiple social action projects throughout the year. Mitzvah Day continues to be a central part of our yearly calendar. K'vod Catering continues to feed the hungry every other week – cooking meals in our kitchen and serving them to the homeless. Our sisterhood and brotherhood work for Tikkun Olam on a regular basis. There are many other projects and acts of G'milut Chasadim that strengthen the voice of our congregation in the community as well.
Rabbi Foster's legacy of community activism is legendary. More and more I have come to respect and admire his pioneering actions of speaking out on issues of fairness, equality and justice for all. I share his passion and have begun to lend my voice to important issues as well. I look forward to more opportunities to represent my own beliefs and those of the Jewish community in the years to come. In addition, it is my hope that we, as a congregation might find more ways to be active together in the community – serving those in need and being a KOL – a voice for the silent as well as fulfilling the dictates of our prophetic tradition that instructs us that we cannot be silent. We are doing a lot – but we always can do more.
Kol Hadracha – The Voice of Leadership
We have been blessed to have had the leadership of our outgoing president, Jim Cohen, for the past three years. I first met Jim through the interview process. Knowing that he would be my first president was very comforting to me. His has not been an easy presidency. He has presided over a Rabbinic transition and a great deal of uncertainty in the community. Throughout it all, Jim has led out congregation with vision, wisdom, calmness and a unique sense of humor. I feel blessed to have been able to work with him as both partner and friend.
I am looking forward to partnering with Connell Saltzman, our incoming president. I've known Connell longer than almost anyone else at Temple. His parents were members of my former congregation - Temple Israel of Minneapolis, MN. I actually officiated at the "2nd bar mitzvah" of his father, Connell Saltzman Sr. z"l (of blessed memory) when he turned 83. Connell and I got to know each other very well during the Rabbinic search process. I trust his judgment – he, his co-chair Susie Moss and their committee picked me….what more could you ask for?
Our Board of Trustees guides our congregation and ensures that the vision of Temple Emanuel is implemented. Our board meetings are never dull. We study together and envision the future of our community in a way that is respectful and stimulating. To our outgoing board members – thank you for your service. To our continuing trustees: I look forward to continuing our sacred work together.
Kol Kley Kodesh – The voice of our Staff
Finally, a word about the incredible staff here at Temple Emanuel. I am overwhelmed by the talent, dedication and partnership that I see in the men and women with whom I am blessed to be able to work every day.
Rabbi Foster has become a good friend, a trusted colleague and an important mentor. His commitment to my success means the world to me. I continue to be humbled and honored to be able to follow in his footsteps.
Cantor Regina Heit's beautiful voice is only matched by her beautiful soul. Her boundless energy and enthusiasm never cease to amaze me.
Rabbi Mitchell Delcau's passion for Torah and text coupled with his absolute dedication to this congregation are a blessing.
Ron Leff, our Director of Education, is a wealth of knowledge. He is committed to creating the best possible educational environment for our students. He is a true partner and for that, I am very appreciative.
Susie Sigman is an invaluable resource. Her creativity, positive attitude and willingness to work hard to ensure that every program is a success is a gift.
Heather Feinberg, our Youth Director, combines her passion for Youth, her empathy and creativity with a deep sense of spiritual depth that is the perfect combination for our Youth Program.
Zim Zimmerman – our Camp Shwayder Director is a veritable "Pied Piper" of camping. Zim embodies all that is magical about camp. He and his assistant Director, Jody Abrams, mold their staff into emissaries of Jewish life that resonate far beyond the two week experience in the mountains that our campers experience.
Cindy Wolfe and the entire Preschool staff ensure that our youngest and most precious students are nurtured and exposed to a wonderful learning environment
Julie Lucas, our bookkeeper, keeps us all in line with her laughter and enthusiasm.
Rita Dahlke, our religious school coordinator, does a wonderful job making sure that everything is in place in our school programs.
Pam Stroman keeps me sane – arranges my life and makes me look good. I don't know what I, or the other Clergy would do with out her.
Kathleen Gregory in the Religious School office keeps track of every student and every program. In addition, she keeps us on our toes in multiple ways.
Sura Veta, our receptionist, is the voice of Temple Emanuel – her warm welcome makes everyone feel at home the minute they call or step through our doors.
Cairo Lopez and the rest of the maintenance staff do an incredible job of keeping our building spotless and making sure that every service and program is set up.
Finally – a word about my co-CEO, Janet Bronitsky. Janet is amazing. Her ability to teach me and partner with me in creating a shared vision for Temple Emanuel is beyond description. As many of you know, Janet never minces her words. She speaks her mind and lets you know what she is thinking – no matter what. I so appreciate that. She has helped me learn about this congregation in almost every arena – from finances and budgets, to personalities and potential mine-fields. We are so fortunate to have her as our Executive Director. I truly believe that she is the best in her field – bar none. Thank you Janet.
To my family: to Sue, Elana and Ethan. Thank you for making this journey with me. I know it hasn't always been easy. Thank you for keeping me sane and humble. I love you very much.
In conclusion: As we conclude our 136th year as a congregation, we are strong. We are growing. We are in transition. May the KOL – the voice of Temple Emanuel continue to resonate in our lives, in our community and in our hearts.
Ken Yehi Ratson – May it be God's will.