Monday, August 21, 2017

Elul and the Eclipse: The Four Weeks of Elul. Week 1 - Our communal Selves

Image result for eclipse

My Dear Friends,

The first day of the Hebrew month of Elul arrived concurrently with a total solar eclipse - the first in 37 years over the contiguous United States.  Ironically, this is a perfect introduction to the sacred tasks that lay before us as we prepare to enter into the Yamim Noraim – the High Holy Days.  Many of us donned our protective glasses and sat outside with our heads tilted skywards and watched as the sun gradually disappeared into the moon’s shadow.  Here in Denver, we were not able to see the sun become completely blocked, but the effect of watching the sudden darkness that passed over us was powerful nonetheless.

In scientific terms, the moment of “totality” – when the eclipse is complete and only the sun’s corona is visible – provides a rare glimpse into the mysteries of the brilliant orb around which our planet revolves.  For a brief moment, scientists are able to directly measure the intensity of the sun’s energy and huge amounts of data are gathered and analyzed so that we can learn more about our solar system.

In many ways, the month of Elul resembles an eclipse – albeit on a more regular and sustained basis.  For four weeks, our tradition teaches, we are given an opportunity to strip away the filters and biases that conceal us from our true selves and focus on the sacred work of cheshbon hanefesh – ‘taking an inventory of our souls.’ During this sacred season, we look closely at our relationships, thoughts, deeds, fears, and dreams. We do this so that we can enter into the Yamim Noraim – the Days of Awe – spiritually and personally renewed and prepared for the process of teshuvah (repentance/returning). Our tradition teaches that the month of Elul is when we ask those around us whom we have wronged to forgive us for our actions. We are also commanded to forgive those who ask us as well.

As we reflect back over the past year, it is important that we put every aspect of our lives into perspective. As in previous years, during the month of Elul I will be sending out weekly lists of seven questions (one for each day of the week) to members of our community and to all who wish to receive them. These questions are designed to help us examine our lives in all of the varied aspects and arenas in which we live: Communal, Spiritual, Physical, and Interpersonal. Hopefully, by answering these questions we will be better prepared to enter into the New Year. The purpose of these questions is not to make us feel bad or unworthy, but rather to “nudge” us into looking at these vitally important aspects of our lives. There will be seven questions in each list – one to consider each day of the week.

I welcome your comments and suggestions for additional questions and formats that we can use.   If answering these questions causes you to want to speak to one of the Temple clergy, Rabbi Immerman, Cantor Sacks and I would welcome the opportunity.  Note that all of these materials will also be available in hard copy at the Temple Office.  They also will be posted on my blog and linked to both the Temple website and Facebook page. If you know of anyone else who might want to receive these mailings – whether or not they are members of the congregation - please contact the Temple office and we will be happy to send them.

Week One: Our Communal Selves
Being part of a synagogue means that we are committed to the concept of building a strong community. Together at Temple Emanuel we study, pray, socialize, commit to social justice, celebrate joyous occasions, and find comfort during times of difficulty. Building and sustaining our kehila kedosha (sacred community) is not always easy.  It requires that we work together to create and sustain multiple portals of entry so that every member finds a place where they feel fulfilled and useful.
The following are a few questions designed to help us explore our communal selves as we begin the process of cheshbon hanefesh:
  1. Have I taken advantage of the many opportunities for learning, prayer, social action, and culture that my congregation and community have to offer?
  2. Have I taken my own comfort for granted and “looked the other way” when I saw poverty or despair in my community?
  3. Have I allowed the current political divisions to damage my perspective on our common values?
  4. When I am at synagogue, have I done all that I can to make others feel welcomed in the same way that I want to feel welcome?
  5. When asked to help support the important institutions in my community, have I given as much as I could or should?
  6. Regardless of political perspective, have I been vocal in my support of the State of Israel?
  7. When confronted with change, have I been open to new possibilities and opportunities?

These questions are in no way complete.  They are designed to help all of us to begin the process of looking deep within ourselves and our souls as we enter into the month of Elul. Again, we want to hear from you. If you have thoughts, questions, or comments about anything we encourage you to let us know.

Like a solar eclipse, this sacred time provides us with a rare opportunity to see ourselves in a new light. May we utilize these and all of our questions to help us to gain a better understanding of our communal selves.

L’Shanah Tovah,

Rabbi Joseph R. Black

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Banality of Evil: Why We Must Respond Forcefully to Racism

Watching the reports of violence, hatred, hypocrisy and political turmoil in the wake of the  Neo-Nazi, racist riots on the streets of Charlottesville, VA is especially poignant as I am writing from Jerusalem- where Sue and I have just finished leading a congregational Israel trip. We are staying in Israel for a couple more days to visit family before we return home. News of the riots reached us soon after we visited Yad Vashem - the Israeli Institution dedicated to teaching about, commemorating and researching the Shoah. As we walked through the exhibits that painstakingly traced the evolution of the Nazi genocide, I was overcome by the realization that, as many times as I have taken groups through this sacred place dedicated to teaching the world about the impact of evil, racism is still a disease that impacts us today.

In her seminal work, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, historian Hannah Arendt taught us how easy it was for an entire society to reject its humanity and watch as the unthinkable took place beneath their noses. Hitler would never have succeeded in his War Against the Jews if ordinary citizens had not remained silent and complacent. The recent news reports from Charlottesville that detailed Neo-Nazi hooligans marching with torches, displaying the Swastika and shouting anti-Semitic slogans brought to mind the artifacts, testimonials and photographs that graphically documented the step by step progression of Hitler's war against the Jews.  While we can take comfort in the unequivocal denunciations and condemnations that have been posted by many elected officials (including both of our Senators from Colorado) the public pronouncements from the White House have been both vague and troubling.  When the President of the United States speaks of the hatred, bigotry and violence of "...both sides..." that contributed to the violent and murderous outcome of the demonstration, I cannot help but to be appalled that he is using the language of moral equivalency. Adding to this, the fact that he used this opportunity to speak to our nation to tout his administration's achievements adds insult to injury.  Using the language of moral equivalence to contrast White Supremacists with political opposition is inexcusable. We look to our leaders to rise above politics and self-aggrandizement in times of crisis.

My mother, Sophie Black (z"l), died two months ago.  She and her parents left Germany shortly after November 9, 1938 - Kristalnacht - the "Night of Broken Glass" that heralded the beginning of the end for European Jewry. She was a young girl when she fled Germany, but she lived her 91 years in fear as a result of the violence she witnessed.  Although I miss her terribly, I feel a sense of relief that she did not live to see the torch-bearing marchers of Charlottesville.
Our task, as we confront the rise in extremist rhetoric and action that is taking place in our nation is to let our voices be heard in the face of evil. This is not a political statement. Politics should not be conflated with morality.  In Deuteronomy 22:3 we find the commandment:

"לא תוכלו להתאלם - You shall not remain indifferent..."

As Jews, as caring citizens of our nation - regardless of political affiliation - we must stand firm against racism and persecution - wherever and whenever we find it.  Now is the time to thank our elected officials for their strong statements of denunciation.  We also must speak out and demand that our president lead us with dignity and purpose in a manner befitting his office.

I look forward to seeing you all upon my return later this week.

שלום מישראל. - Shalom from Israel

Rabbi Joseph R. Black

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Eulogy for my mother, Sophie K. Black

June 6, 2017
Beth Emet The Free Synagogue – Evanston, IL
Rabbi Joseph R. Black
My mother, Sophie Black at her 91st birthday party, February 20, 2017

The truth is, I really didn’t want to speak this morning.  I spoke at my Father’s service because I knew it would give my mother joy. And she spoke at her mother’s funeral because she felt compelled to do so - and, I believe, she wanted to model what children are supposed to do for their parents when they die… so here I am - I have no choice.

This is hard.  It’s hard because I loved my mother very much.  It’s hard because there is so much to say.  It’s hard because words, for Sophie, were everything:  She lived for and loved words.  She chose them very carefully – her grammar was always perfect and precise - God forbid one should dangle a participle or end a sentence with a preposition; or use “me” instead of “I;” or misspell their or there or they’re…. Or, Chas V’Chalila use the phrase “…each and every…”  - I shudder to think about it…..

It’s not that she was critical (although she could be, at times….) It was because she savored each letter, syllable, consonant and vowel and hated to see them misused or abused.  She labored over her writing.  Those of you who were fortunate enough to receive her annual, year-end letters, or attend a class she taught, or be present when she stood on this pulpit and eulogized a beloved member of this community who was taken away from her ever-shrinking circle of friends, or if you were ever part of a Torah Study in which she participated, or listened to her speak on Krystallnacht, or heard her book reviews – you know exactly what I’m talking about.  (By the way – I can hear her voice telling me that the sentence I just read was too long….)

To this day, I have to hold myself back from correcting the grammar of perfect strangers who might find themselves misappropriating a cardinal grammatical principle in my presence…..some habits are hard to break…but I digress.  I am Sophie’s son.

Sophie Black was a force of nature.  She meant so much to so many.  Her story will be told and retold – not only because of its power, but because of the necessity to learn from and both celebrate her life and dedicate our lives to ensuring that the sequence of events that propelled her parents 1st to leave Soviet Russia, and then Nazi Germany  - the forces that are real, ever-present and continue to threaten the values for which she lived and combated every one of her 91 years – will not be tolerated and will be fought everywhere they rear their ugly heads.  In many ways, I’m relieved that these last few months of political obscenity were not in the forefront of her consciousness as she suffered the consequences of the stroke that robbed her of so much on the day after her 91st birthday party.

But I am not here to tell her story this morning – I leave that to others.  I am here to acknowledge and give thanks for the many gifts she has bequeathed to all of us who knew her and loved her.  And, as much as I’d like to selfishly hold on to the idea that her love was reserved only for family: for her beloved Sidney, for Nina and me, and our spouses and our children and grandchildren – I know that it just isn’t true.  Each of you here knew and loved my mother in your own way – and all of you have been impacted by her remarkable presence. Her intensity and integrity were both magnetic and irresistible.  Her gravitas was more than simply the result of her intellect- it was gravitational:  she drew you in. She made you feel special when she came into your orbit – and when you were pulled into hers you had no choice but to hang on and enjoy the ride.  So many people have shared stories with Nina and me and our families over the past days, weeks and months of how our mother was such an important part of their lives:  how she reached out to you and gave you what you needed when you needed it; how she knew, instinctively when to hold your hand, or give you advice, or just be in your presence – providing comfort, wisdom and stability.

And the most amazing thing of all was that she was always surprised when others shared how much she meant to them.  The truth is, my mother was, deep down, an introvert.  She had to learn how to be center stage. Hers was not an easy childhood.  She was always an outsider: In Germany, as the child of Eastern Europeans, she was looked down upon by German Jews and Anti-semites alike.  That experience of not quite fitting in never left her.  She and her parents came to America as refugees – dependent on the kindness of others while working hard to rebuild their lives in a foreign land. She was an only child who spent a great deal of time alone and who had to learn how to make friends, while mastering a new language that was both inviting and intimidating. She was a brilliant student, but, as a woman, her options were limited. Her parents had very high expectations of her. She had no choice but to excel in everything she did – and she succeeded – still harboring doubts and anxieties that plagued her until, just recently, on her 91st birthday, she suffered a stroke that wiped away her fears and left her in peace.  As painful as her decline was, her liberation from anxiety was an incredible gift for us all.

I do want to take a moment and reflect on how blessed our family was that Sophie and Sidney were given the gift of being able to live out their last days surrounded by Nina, Avery and the entire Black-Hart clan.  It wasn’t easy to share a household, provide care and comfort and create a multi-generational home where Judaism was celebrated with a tolerance for diversity and where everyone was welcomed.  They made it seem easy.  It wasn’t.  Nina – I love you and can never thank you enough for the gift you have given to me and all of us.

This week’s parasha, B’ha-alotecha, begins with God telling Moses to light the lamps of the Menorah in a very specific way:  each of the seven lights must project outward – in front of the lampstand.  The menorah lit the paths upon which the priests performed their sacred service.

In a very real sense, our mother, our Sophie was like the Menorah.  Hers was a life that shined brightly – showing all of us the way to live.  It burned with the brightness of Torah, compassion, activism, leadership, learning and above all,  love. 

We are all blessed to have been able to bask in her light.

Zichronah Livracha – may her memory be for a blessing.  AMEN

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

In response to the expected “Religious Liberty” Presidential Executive Order restricting LGBTQ rights:

This is a letter I submitted to the Denver Interfaith Alliance to show my support of the efforts to combat the expected Presidential order on "Religious Liberty" that is a thinly-veiled attack on LGBTQ rights:

For far too long, the loudest voice from the religious community in regards to LGBTQ men and women has been that of condemnation and denunciation. 

This needs to change.

For far too long, men and women who identify as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, transgender or questioning have been ostracized, targeted and subject to discrimination and violence because of who they love and how they love.

This needs to change as well.

In my congregation, in my community, in my family there are many Gay and Lesbian couples who are in long-term, healthy relationships.  I know many men and women who are raising wonderful, well-adjusted children in homes where there are either two mothers or two fathers.  That they have recently been able to legally recognize and sanctify their relationships under the covenant of marriage is an important right that cannot be taken away.

As a Rabbi – as a person of faith - I believe that the most important verse in the Bible can be found in Genesis 1:27.  There we find it written that God created Humanity in the Divine Image.
  •          We are the image of God. 
  •          We are all holy creatures. 
  •          God created us. 
  •          God loves us.
I believe that it is essential for religious communities to become involved in the struggle for LGBTQ rights.  For if we stand idly by and do nothing when basic human rights are denied: 
  • The right to legal protection for families
  • The right to job security. 
  • The right to housing;
  • The right to live free from fear. 
  • The right to ensure that we can carry out the wishes of our spouses and partners when they become incapacitated;
  • The right to visit our loved ones when they are in the hospital;
  • the right to insurance;
  • and so many others…..
...then we are denying the holiness implanted not only within our brothers and sisters – but within ourselves as well.  Silence is complicity.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Trans Jews Belong Here - May/June Bulletin Article

Dear Friends,

In Song of Songs  2:10-12 we read the following: 

“Rise up, my love, my fair one and come away. For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.”

This beautiful passage reminds us of how love, rebirth and the beauty of springtime are all intertwined.  After a long winter, we are filled with hope.  We marvel at the incredible diversity of God’s creation.  We revel in the freedoms and possibilities that lie before us as the earth shows off its grandeur and mystery.

And yet, even during this time of infinite possibility, we need to recognize that there are those for whom the ability to celebrate their uniqueness is stifled.  Try to imagine, if you will, how it must feel for someone to be unable to fully express themselves for fear of being excluded, ridiculed, bullied or even physically threatened because of who they are and how they were created.

Society can be cruel.  It was not all that long ago that laws were on the books in parts of our country that forbade whites and people of color from getting married.  We like to think that we have progressed beyond those dark times – and in many ways we have –yet there are still members of our community who are persecuted on a daily basis because of the way that they were created by God.

In particular, I want to call our attention to the treacherous path that non-gender-conforming men and women must walk on a daily basis.  Transgender youth are particularly vulnerable.  Studies have shown that transgendered adolescents are nine times more likely to attempt suicide then their cis-gendered classmates (someone whose gender corresponds to their assigned sex).  These vulnerable and holy children face discrimination and abuse at home, in school, in public and even in sacred places like synagogues.

Temple Emanuel is committed to being a safe place for all people - regardless of gender identity, who they love, or how they love.  As such, we are proud to be a partner with Keshet – a national organization that works for full LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life.  We open our doors to all who wish to be a part of our sacred community.  You may have noticed signs around the Temple with the words:  “Trans Jews Belong Here.”  It is on the door of my office and on many other public spaces in our building.  This is more than a hashtag or a slogan.  It is part and parcel of our moral and spiritual fiber.  We welcome and embrace all of our children and adults who are part of the vast and mysterious tapestry of God’s creation.  This means that we will continuously strive to be a safe and open place for all – especially for our young people who struggle on a daily basis to find their place in an increasingly complex and all too often unfriendly world.  In addition, in the coming months we look forward to offering programs and resources that will help us to be a more welcoming place.  We will not tolerate discrimination or oppression of any kind. Our religious school, youth group, Shwayder Camp and every place where students come together will be a safe space for all people – created in God’s image

In the Yotzer Or prayer we find the following:
  מָה רַבּוּ מַעֲשֶֽׂיךָ יְיָ, כֻּלָּם בְּחָכְמָה עָשִֽׂיתָ
Ma rabu ma’asecha Adonai, kulam b’hochma asita
How great are Your works, O, God, You made them all in wisdom

At this wonderful time of year, as we embrace the beauty of spring, let us also strive to find the beauty in all of God’s creation.

Ken Yehi Ratzon – may it be God’s will.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Opening Prayer for the CO State House - Seeing Godliness in the Midst of Debate

Opening Prayer for the Colorado House of Representatives
April 20, 2017
Rabbi Joseph R. Black – Temple Emanuel, Denver, CO

Our God and God of all Humanity:
God of the rich and God of the poor;
God of the young and God of the Old;
God of the haves and God of the have-nots
God of those who have no God.

We come together this morning in this sacred chamber to acknowledge a sense of urgency.  This legislative session will soon be over.  In less than three weeks, the messy business of crafting, fine tuning and negotiating the laws that will govern our state will come to an end and these legislators will return home to take advantage of some well-deserved rest.

Tensions run high when deadlines loom.  Passions are inflamed – here in this place and outside these walls.

In the heat of debate words have been said, aspersions have been cast and alliances have been both forged and broken.

And yet, despite differences that pit men and women on either side of the political divide, the awareness of the fact that what happens in this building is unique and unlike any other endeavor in our great State of Colorado cannot help but forge a bond between the legislators, clerks, bailiffs, lobbyists, aides and all the men and women who labor to ensure that the tasks for which our representatives are elected are completed in accordance with our State Constitution. I’ve seen it – so have you.

That all of us have been privileged to participate in this process links us together in a bond that surpasses politics and propaganda and forces us to see one another through the unique lenses of shared experience.

Our faith traditions all teach that we are created in the image of a beneficent Creator with whom we partner as we go about our lives.

In these last waning days of debate, let us look at one another cognizant of the holiness implanted within our souls.  Help us, O God to see the faces of the Men, Women and Children in our communities who will be affected by the outcomes of the deliberations within these walls.

And when we return home – let us do so with a feeling that every argument and disagreement that occurred was for the sake of heaven.  Then and only then will we be worthy of the great responsibilities bestowed upon us.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Matzah Crunches - April16, 2017

Here's a new ditty about matzah. Enjoy!
Matzah Crunches
April16, 2017
Rabbi Joe Black.

Open up a box, tear away the cellophane
Set it on the table, tell the story once again
Take out a piece of matzah, break it up and then divide it
Watch it very closely, 'cause someone's gonna hide it

You gotta crunch it when you munch it
With the herbs that are so bitter
Then you mix it with Charoset to taste and then consider
How our ancestors built bricks and were slaves to mean pharaoh
We remember it like yesterday though it was long ago.
(Mitzrayim is a Hebrew word that means a place that's narrow)

Four questions
Four sons
Four cups of wine we drink
For something's very special when we take the time to think
About the many ways we celebrate the freedom that God gave us
And all the times we needed a new miracle to save us.

Crunch some matzah:  we were slaves but now we're free
Crunch some matzah: it's quite a simple recipe
Just take some flour and water - make a simple batter
Bake it quick before it rises, keep it flat- then make it flatter

Some people eat it for 7 days or 8
No matter how you break it there'll be crumbs left on your plate
It reminds us of our freedom, but there's a contradiction
Cause the Torah teaches us that it's the bread of our affliction.

Open up a box, tear away the cellophane
Set it on the table, tell the story once again
Take out a piece of matzah, break it up and then divide it
Watch it very closely, 'cause someone's gonna hide it

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Opening Prayer for the Colorado State House Before Passover

Opening Prayer For the Colorado House of Representatives
April 6, 2017
Rabbi Joseph R. Black – Temple Emanuel.  Denver, CO

In just a few days, Jews around the world will be celebrating the festival of Passover.  On the first and second nights, we will gather around festive tables and retell the ancient story of our redemption at a special meal called a seder.  With song, prayers, special foods and ancient symbols we will heed the call to relive the experience of liberation from Egyptian bondage. 

For seven days we will refrain from eating foods that are leavened - no bread, no pastries, nothing that contains yeast - in order to remember the haste with which our ancestors had to flee Egypt.

Passover is a joyous festival.  As we tell and retell our ancient story of deliverance, we literally taste the bitterness of slavery and the sweetness of freedom.  We drink 4 cups of wine to remember the 4 divine promises of salvation.

And yet, as we look around the world today, we see that there are many people for whom the Passover message of freedom and redemption is out of reach.  In too many dark corners of our world,  violence and desolation reign supreme. Slavery still casts a dark shadow.  Freedom is stifled.  Repression is rampant. 

Even in our beautiful state of Colorado, there are those outside these walls who are enslaved to lives of violence, poverty, drugs, alcohol, homelessness and abuse. Immigrants live in fear of deportation. The suffering in our streets and the cries of the downtrodden call upon us to build bridges of hope and understanding while tearing down walls of separation and degradation.

But we need not look outside of ourselves to find the urgent message of Passover.  It echoes within us all.  How many of us are enslaved to enmity and strife?  How often – in this very chamber - do we refrain from reaching out in compromise and retreat to partisanship?

On this day of hope and promise, O God, we ask Your blessing on this august body.  May these legislators, officials, clerks and dedicated public servants find new hope in the process of governing.  May any arguments that arise in the course of deliberation and debate be catalysts for communion with You and one another. 

O God – You have bequeathed to us a world filled with beauty and endless possibility.  Help us to find the eternal messages of liberation and self-determination that echo within this sacred chamber and in our hearts.  May the message of Passover stir within us all a burning desire to bring hope and freedom to all.  And Let us say, AMEN

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Annual Report to the Congregation - March 31, 2017

Rabbi Joseph R. Black
Annual Report to the Congregation
Temple Emanuel, Denver CO
March 31, 2017

Dear Friends,

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.  For the past 21 years I have utilized Gematria as I have compiled my report to the congregation at our annual meeting – finding meaning in the numerical value of the number of years we have been in existence. Since tonight is the 142st annual meeting of Temple Emanuel, I thought I would try to find some significance in the number 142.  Looking into the Torah, I discovered that the Hebrew word, נִצָּב (Nitzav) adds up to 142.  נִצָּב   means standing at attention. The plural of נִצָּב is נִצָּבִים (Nitzavim). On Yom Kippur morning, in the Reform tradition, we read from the book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 29, verse 9:

אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם לִפְנֵי יְהוָֹה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶם
Ahtem Nitzavim, kulchem, lifnei Adonai Eloheychem
You are standing this day, all of you, before Adonai, Your God

This text reflects on a seminal moment in our ancient history when we, as a people united, gathered together to remember and affirm the sacred covenant between God and the People of Israel.  But נִצָּב  does not merely mean “Stand.”  It means to stand at attention:  prepared to act; anticipating a momentous and life-changing event that will impact everything we do and how we see the world.

  • When we are about to embark on a new adventure – we stand – נִצָּבִים(Nitzavim)
  • When we anticipate a major change in our lives – we stand נִצָּבִים
  • When we become aware of God’s presence – we stand נִצָּבִים
The act of standing at attention does not mean that we refrain from moving ahead – it implies a willingness to look at ourselves and explore not only where we are going, but also taking stock in ourselves and measuring how far we have come along on our collective journey.
During the High Holy Days and throughout the course of the past year, we have stood together and focused on a key principle – that of
Honoring our past and celebrating our future.
We have had many opportunities these past 12 months to both look back and ahead as we build upon the solid foundations of those who have come before us while simultaneously planning for our future.  What follows are some key highlights of a year of growth and renewal.

Staff Transition and Reorganization

While I will address each member of our professional team individually below, I want to begin with the acknowledgement of the fact that every member of our Senior Team has come on board during my tenure at Temple. This is an important statement because it means that the vision that I brought to Temple Emanuel when I was hired to be your new Sr. Rabbi is now being implemented by individuals who were all hired under the auspices of that vision. Everyone is on board and enthusiastic about the direction we are taking. While we all understand, cherish and celebrate the pathways that were forged that have allowed us to get where we are, we also are not beholden to them.  We are free to evaluate and, when appropriate, to make changes to the ways things have been in the past.  The phrase:  “But we’ve always done it that way….” which can sometimes lead to stagnation and lack of growth, is no longer an impediment to cautious, visionary and serious reflective thinking and implementation.

In addition, the format that we implemented last year of reorganizing into three distinct Staff Teams:  Clergy, Learning and Engagement and Operations has been very powerful and effective.  We have increased both our efficiency and accountability while opening new avenues for communication and cooperation.

This past summer we held a retreat for all the members of our staff teams.  We analyzed our Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) and set forth ambitious but manageable goals for this year.  I am happy to report that not only is each team well on the way to meeting these goals, but the process of accomplishing them has been very healthy and inspiring.

New Additions and Programs At Temple Emanuel

Mishkan Ha Nefesh High Holy Day Prayerbooks
These past High Holy Days we successfully introduced our new Machzor (High Holy Day Prayerbook), Mishkan Ha Nefesh.  Prior to its introduction, we spent several months working with a lay and professional task force where we explored the book together and experimented with different modalities of prayer.  From all accounts received, the roll out of our new book went very well.

B’nai Mitzvah
We have been blessed with a significant increase in the number of B’nai Mitzvah that will be celebrated in the very near future.  Our numbers are rising so quickly that we will very soon be in the position of having more B’nai Mitzvah to celebrate than Shabbat mornings that can accommodate them.  As such, we put together a task force to explore options for service timing.  We came up with the decision to have two services on Shabbat mornings – one at 9:00 AM and the other at 11:30.   In addition, we also decided to offer a community Israel Trip that is primarily (but not exclusively) aimed at B’nai mitzvah families.  This summer, during the first two weeks of August, Cantor Sacks, Sue and I will be co-leading our first of what we expect will be a biennial Israel pilgrimage.  We have 41 individuals signed up for the trip – during which we will celebrate 5 children who are becoming B’nai Mitzvah.

Family Promise
During the High Holy Days last Fall, I introduced Family Promise – a program where our congregation actively partners with other religious institutions in the community and the Family Promise staff to house and feed a small group of homeless families who are in transition from homelessness to stability.  Under the capable leadership of Suzie Moss, Deb Herman and Sherry Stark, we gathered over 300 volunteers who wanted to help with the program.  Our first group of guests arrived the week of February 12-19.  By all accounts, it was a smashing success.  Suzie, Deb and Sherry led an amazing corps of volunteers who did everything from helping to transform classrooms into bedrooms, schlepping beds and cooking meals, to sleeping overnight at Temple with our guests.  I am very excited about the many possibilities for engagement, social justice and Tikkun Olam that this national program affords us.  Special Kudos go out to our volunteers and leaders – Suzie, Deb and Sherry.  Thank you for making my dream a reality!

Racial Justice Programming
Rabbi Immerman has been leading a group of congregants as they discuss issues of racial justice in our community.  In the wake of his Rosh Hashanah sermon, we gathered together on Yom Kippur afternoon for a special program on the important topic of racial inequality.  The South Social Hall was overflowing with people who wanted to learn more about this topic and continue a dialogue with the African American Community.  Following this program, a Racial Justice Task-force was formed. This group continues to meet and we look forward to exciting new developments on this in the near future.

Shwayder Campaign
We are very excited about the progress that is being made at Shwayder Camp.  Last summer, we installed two new cabins and we look forward to all of the camper’s cabins being in place before the beginning of this year’s camp season.  Fundraising for all of our new facilities continues apace and we will soon unveil the final portion of this important campaign to maintain Shwayder Camp and ensure that the “Shwayder Magic” will live on for many more years to come.
Rabbi Steven Foster Early Learning Center
Foster Early Learning Center
After a long period of visioning and planning for the future, we are re-imagining our Early Childhood Center.  Under the capable leadership of Susan Wartchow and her team, there are many exciting changes in the works.  In addition to looking at curricula and program offerings, we also have changed the name of our program to the Rabbi Steven Foster Early Learning Center.   This is a fitting tribute to the vision of Rabbi Foster who understood how important it was for our congregation to meet the needs of families with young children and the vital importance of Earl;y Childhood Education in creating a sense of connection to the Jewish People.   We have created a new logo with the tagline:  “Where Discovery Meets Community.”  In addition to our remodeled foyer that was designed to be a place where ECC parents can gather together and celebrate community (see below), we also have added programming for students as young as 12 months old.  There are many more exciting changes in the works.

New Lobby Decor
Our president, Ellen Abrams, and Board member, Kelly Pfaff worked with Steve Stark, the ECC Leadership team and a design firm to spruce up our Forest Street Lobby.  They wanted it to be brighter, family friendly and more conducive to gathering and schmoozing.  New couches, tables and chairs were installed – as well as installing a welcome window for the Foster Early Learning Center.  We also built a new welcome area for the front desk of the Temple Office.

Hospitality and Security
As part of our ongoing effort to create an atmosphere of “Audacious Hospitality,” a task force was created to explore signage and security at Temple.  Many visible (and some not so visible) changes were made and more are in the works.  We re-striped the parking lot and installed security cameras around the building.  We also engaged the services of a security firm and we will have security guards in place this spring.

Hineini Project
Rabbi Immerman continues to work closely with this important group of young adults in our community.  In addition to monthly “Brews and Jews” programs that take place in local taverns around the city, Hineini Project members have become involved in many important areas of congregational life including Mitzvah Day, Family Promise, Shabbat and holiday worship and other educational and social events.  They have engaged over 300 individuals over the course of the year.

Nashir Songleader Training
Working closely with the URJ and NFTY, Cantor Sacks and Steve Brodsky have been meeting with 7 Junior High and High School students to train them to be songleaders in our religious school and throughout the community.  This is an exciting new program that we strongly believe will be an important part of building leadership and musical resources for years to come.

Programming for Multiple Demographics
A key goal that was identified over the course of this past summer at our team retreat was trying to create opportunities for multiple Demographics to become engaged at Temple.  One example of this was our programming for Purim.  We created opportunities for every age-group and demographic to become involved – from the youngest Early Learning Center students to adults who participated in a raucous cabaret featuring Temple members.

Artists and Scholars in Residence
We hosted many artists and scholars in residence this past year.  Some highlights were:
·         Penina Schram
·         Billy Jonas
·         Josh Feigelson
·         David Broza
·         Alan Goodis
·         Joanie Leeds
·         Admiral Herman Shelanski

Task Forces and Listening Campaigns
 In order to discover best practices in engagement and program, we instituted multiple task forces to explore ways that we might improve our offerings to the community.  These included:
·         High Holiday Prayerbook Task Force
·         Security and Hospitality Task Force
·         B’nai Mitzvah Task Force
·         Erev Shabbat Task Force
·         Dues and Financial Sustainability Task Force
·         Racial Justice Task Force
·         Religious School 20/20 Vision Task Force
The work that these dedicated volunteers have invested and will continue to invest in our congregation will be seen in the months and years to come as we continually strive to achieve excellence.

Ongoing Clergy Responsibilities
Life Cycle
As your Rabbi – I, along with my clergy partners, am privileged and sometimes burdened with the task of helping facilitate important transitions in the life of our congregation.  We have celebrated new life and helped families cope with the loss of loved ones.  We have stood under the Chuppah together and celebrated B’nai Mitzvah.  We have worked with many eager students of Judaism who wanted to become Jews by Choice and celebrated conversion ceremonies together.  The opportunity to share with you in these moments of transition continues to be one of the greatest joys of my rabbinate.

In addition to weekly torah and Talmud study, all member of the clergy team participate in Confirmation, Meals and Mitzvah, Religious School and ECC programming. We have taught about Israel and a myriad of topics throughout the course of the year.  We work with every b’nai mitzvah family:  with Cantor Sacks and Steve Brodsky working closely to prepare our students to lead the congregation in prayer and chant torah, while Rabbi Immerman and I work with students on preparing their Divrei Torah (Torah Interpretations) for the service.  We also work extensively with Conversion Candidates.

Pastoral Counseling:
We have met with many members of the community who are struggling with issues of spiritual growth.  We work with couples preparing to get married.  We provide a sounding board for adults and children who need help dealing with difficult situations and crises – guiding them to get the help that they need.

National and Regional Communal Involvement:
I was involved in the community in the following areas:
·         RMRC (Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council).  I am now the immediate Past President and serve on the Vaad (Executive Committee).
·         House Chaplain – I continue to serve in the Colorado State House of Representatives – delivering a prayer every Thursday morning during the legislative session.
·         Faith Spokesperson – I work with the Colorado Interfaith Alliance as a spokesperson for social justice.
·         I serve on the Board of Jewish Colorado
·         I serve on Governor Hickenlooper’s Clergy Advisory Council
·         I serve on the ADL Board
·         I continue to Teach for RMRC’s community-wide Introduction to Judaism program.
·         Both Steve Brodsky and I continue to participate in the annual “Jews Do Jews” concert at Swallow Hill
·         I participated in a Religious Pluralism Panel at Iliff Theological Seminary
·         I performed a benefit concert for Habitat For Humanity Interfaith Alliance
·         I continue to serve on Governor’s Hickenlooper’s Interfaith Clergy Advisory Panel
·         I sit on the AIPAC National Council
·         I served as scholar and artist in resident for the Woman of Reform Judaism’s Southwest Conference
·         Two of my children’s books:  Boker Tov and The Afikoman Mambo (both based on my original music and lyrics) continue to be part of the PJ Library rotation.  This coming year, Boker Tov will be my first international PJ Library book as they expand into Britain and other English speaking countries around the world.
Lay Leadership Partners:
Ellen Abrams, our outgoing president has finishes her three year term next month.  Ellen has been a true partner to me and the rest of our team.  She cares deeply about Temple Emanuel and was very involved in many areas of our congregation.  She oversaw and co-coordinated the badly-needed renewal of our Forest street foyer – working closely with Steve, Stark, Kelly Pfaff and the design team to create a warm and welcoming reception area.  She was very involved in our annual fundraising concert and Shwayder campaign.  Her attention to detail and ability to see the “big picture” have been invaluable traits that have enhanced our congregation and the greater Denver Jewish community.  Ellen’s passionate dedication to our congregation has truly been a blessing.

I look forward to working with Mark Idelberg, our incoming president over the next 3 years.  Mark is not only a dear friend, but he brings a tremendous amount of experience as past president of Hillel, our Temple Brotherhood and a keen insight into organizational dynamics that is coupled with a deep love of Judaism.

Our Board of Trustees continues to impress me with their overall dedication to our congregation.  Their willingness to learn, grow and champion new and innovation initiatives – all the while celebrating the important traditions of Temple Emanuel – is a vital part of our continued growth and success.

Professional Team
As I mentioned above, the vast majority of our professional team have come on board during my tenure at Temple.  I truly feel blessed to be able to partner with them on a daily basis.  Together, we stand, נִצָּבִים – poised and ready to move ahead to even greater heights in the future.

Rabbi Steven Foster is a gift to me and our congregation.  As Rabbi Emeritus, he is a constant source of support and encouragement.  I appreciate his friendship, encouragement and partnership.

Steve Stark, my co-CEO and our Executive Director – brings a wealth of experience and dedication to his position.  He shares our vision for a congregation that is not satisfied with being “ordinary” – he wants us all to rise up and find new avenues of excellence.  He makes sure that all of us have the tools we need to serve our community while also ensuring that we are fiscally responsible.  Steve’s warmth and mentshlichkeit are genuine and a wonderful reflection of our congregation’s values. 

Sr. Cantor Elizabeth Sacks brings so many invaluable skills to Temple Emanuel that I am not able to enumerate them all due to lack of space and time.  Not only does she possess and beautiful voice, but her overall knowledge of Torah, Rabbinics, Liturgy, Educational Philosophy and corporate management is invaluable to me and our entire team.  Liz is a thoughtful and comprehensive teacher, a visionary in every aspect of our congregation and a true partner.  We are so very fortunate to have her as an integral part of our team.

Rabbi Brian Immerman has continued to grow and flourish this past year.  He continues to “tweak” our 10th grade Confirmation Curriculum – combining issues of Jewish Values and current events in a way that continues to challenge our students while providing them with a strong basis for making Jewish decisions in the future.  As noted above, the Hineini project continues to grow and become more and more integral to our congregation.  He has facilitated many listening projects – especially in our Religious School where we are now poised to move ahead with plans.  His work for social justice – here in the congregation and out in the community is an important part of our overall vision for Tikkun Olam – repairing the world.

Steve Brodsky, our Cantoral Soloist and Music Director, has had a steep learning curve this past year.  While he is no stranger to Temple (He has been a part of our congregation for the better part of the last 30+ years in various capacities), the experience of serving as a full time member of our clergy team has been new for him.  I’m so thankful that he has not only taken his new role so seriously, but he has grown tremendously in the process.  Together with Cantor Sacks, Steve has brought incredible energy into our worship and educational programs.  The B’nai Mitzvah classes that the two of them teach are joyous, intense and filled to the brim. Our Nashir songleading training for youth will be a vital resource – not only for our congregation, but the community at large.  Of course, Shabbat Unplugged, Rosh Hashanah Unplugged and Shema Koleynu are a testimony to Steve’s musical vision, but he works tireless behind the scenes making sure that every event has the equipment, sound and staging that we need. Steve’s genuine warmth and incredible work ethic enhance every part of our congregational life.

Zachary Rolf – Our Director of Learning and Engagement, is completing his first year at Temple.  It’s hard to believe that he arrived last summer.  He has become an integral part of our Sr. Staff Team.  His warmth, charisma, hard work and energy have been a blessing to all of us.  He has transformed our Religious School into a caring and exciting center of Educational Excellence.  I am so excited about seeing what comes next!

Jodie Abrams – our Director of Shwayder Camp – continues to impress everyone she meets.  Her ability to juggle managing camp while, at the same time, overseeing the installation of new cabins and facilities at Shwayder is truly spectacular. She has built a national reputation for herself and for Shwayder that is second to none.  Her ability both hire and retain a superb camp staff is yet another example of her love to Shwayder and Temple Emanuel and her overall excellence.

Susan Wartchow – our ECC Director continues to weave her magic.  The Rabbi Steven Foster Early Learning Center is an incredible place – full of energy and caring, learning and development.  Her absolute dedication to the healthy growth of every child – along with parents and siblings – while earning the respect and devotion of her staff, families and the greater Denver ECC community is a blessing.  In addition, Susan has shared her expertise in human development and educational philosophy with many other programs at Temple.  She and her amazing team did an incredible job with the role-out and rededication of the ELC and we look forward to many exciting new developments in the near future.

Francie Miran, our Development Manager, continues to raise the bar for our fundraising efforts.  With our Shwayder Campaign well under way, she and her committee of committed volunteers broke all records with our annual fundraising concert with Israeli superstar David Broza.  She also coordinates our “Live On” Endowment campaign and many other projects.  She is a loyal and long-time member of our congregation who gives of her time to lead our 5:30 service, chant Torah and lead in many other areas.

Sarah Brown, our Director of Adult Engagement, has more energy than anyone I’ve ever met!  She works closely with many members of our professional team and lay leadership – helping to ensure that every program and event that involves membership is successful.  Sarah was an integral part of the success of our first week of Family Promise hosting.  She helped smooth out the rough edges as we learned the ins and outs of a new program and its implications on our facilities.  She greets every new member with a smile and is a wonderful ambassador of our congregation to the community.  Sarah also continues to teach in our 9th grade Confirmation program and has forged wonderful relationships with our students.

Julie Lucas, our bookkeeper, keeps us all in line with her laughter and enthusiasm.  Her love for Temple and everyone involved in our congregation is a blessing for us all – and we love her in return.

Rita Dahlke, our religious school Assistant Principal and Librarian does a wonderful job making sure that everything is in place in our school programs.  She and Zach have developed a wonderful working relationship and are busy planning for the future of our Religious School.  Stay tuned!

Patricia Lackner, my administrative assistant has the unenviable task of managing my crazy schedule – as well as that of Rabbi Immerman and other members of the Senior Team - and keeping me organized.  Her patience, persistence, professionalism and sense of humor mean the world to me.

Rayna Wandel, our Educational Assistant, keeps the religious school humming.  She also is our Bulletin Editor – an often thankless task that involves chasing down errant clergy to hand in their articles on time….Her energy, enthusiasm and joy are truly a blessing.

Kathleen Holt serves as Steve Stark’s personal assistant and is a wonderful addition to our team.  She works very hard and, in just a short time has become an integral part of everything we do.

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.

Fond Farewells
Simi Adler, Assistant Director of Shwayder Camp, is moving on this summer.  We will miss his hard work, integrity, love of Judaism, devotion to Shwayder and the Jewish people and strange sense of humor.  We wish Simi only the best in all of his future endeavors.

Robyn Kaplan, Director of Youth Engagement, is also leaving us at the end of the year.  Robyn has developed wonderful relationships with our young people.  Her approachability, compassion, professionalism and joy have been an important part of our team.  We will miss her and we wish her well as she moves on to new opportunities.

As we continue to Celebrate our Past and Move Into the Future, I am thankful for the opportunity to serve this holy community.  Sue and I are truly blessed to be able to partner with all of you.  Tonight we all stand – נִצָּבִים

- poised to enter into new opportunities for growth and renewal.  Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of something so remarkable.  Shabbat Shalom.