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President's Message

Arthur Frankel,

President

Dear Fellow Congregants,

As I address you for the third and final time on the holiest of days I would like to collectively thank you for the honor you have bestowed upon me. I truly love Beth Sholom Congregation and feel privileged that you have allowed me to serve as its president.

 

I am always astounded by those things I remember from my childhood. For example, I vividly remember seeing Hubert Humphrey, Vice-President of the United States, speak at my high school on May 23, 1966, the day before my 14th birthday. I was very fortunate to get a ticket for this event and remember sitting in the balcony of the auditorium of Central High School to hear a speech delivered by the man who was one heartbeat away from being the most powerful man in the free world. Frankly, and sadly, I don’t remember a word that Humphrey said that afternoon. Funny that the story I am about to tell you I first heard around the same time. What does it say about me that I forget every detail of the speech of an important politician but remember a story told by a comedian? Please don’t answer that question. The comedian was Flip Wilson and in the 60’s he was hot. He was a frequent guest on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In and many television talk shows. His humor avoided political issues during a very tumultuous time in our nation’s history. A few years later he had his own variety show on television which quickly shot up to number 1. His most famous character was Geraldine. Her trademark quips - ''The devil made me do it'' and ''What you see is what you get'' - became national catch phrases. Another of his famous characters was Reverend Leroy of the Church of What’s Happening Now. And 50 years later here is the story he told about the Reverend and exactly as he told it.

 

The Reverend opened the service by passing the plate. The plate shot around the room, came back, nothing in it. Reverend said, “Y’all there’s nothing in the plate”. He said, “I lost money coming down here. So I’m gonna send the plate back out there again and give y’all a chance to clean this up.” Plate shot around the room, came back, nothing again. Reverend said, “Now brothers and sisters we can’t make it like this. So now I’m sure that everybody here wants this church to progress. If this church is to progress, first it has to crawl. This church has got to crawl.” And the congregation yelled, “Let it crawl Rev, let it crawl.” Rev said, “And after this church has crawled it’s got to stand up and walk.” And the members yelled, “Make it walk Rev, make it walk.” Rev said, “And after this church has walked it’s got to run. This church has got to run.” And the members yelled, “Make it run Rev, make it run.” Rev said, “For this church to run its goin to take money.” And the members yelled, “Let it crawl Rev, let it crawl.”

 

A few weeks ago, I informed you that a documentary about Jewish Houses of Worship was being produced and that the sole American synagogue in this documentary was Beth Sholom. Of the structures filmed for this project I had previously visited two - The Doheny in Budapest and the Kotel in Jerusalem. Just a few weeks ago I saw two of the other synagogues - one in Toledo and the other in Cordoba. Of course these Spanish synagogues no longer function as Jewish houses of worship. After the Spanish inquisition Jews as well as Muslims were forced to convert or leave Spain. Most of the houses of worship were converted to churches or abandoned. Those edifices that still exist are monuments or museums.

 

What happened to the Jews in Spain was not an isolated occurrence. Beginning with the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem the peace and safety of our people has been largely determined by others. Since recorded history we have been able to live peacefully among Christians and Muslims for periods of time. But ultimately, we were forced out of our homes in those lands or, worse yet, murdered. There have been more examples of pogroms, persecutions, and expulsions of our people during the last 2000 years then I care to recount. And the last, most devastating assault to our people, the Holocaust, occurred less than 80 years ago. Can any of these things happen here? Has the Jewish community in the United States become content because of years of relative peace and stability? George Santayana said it best, ‘those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ That is why, fellow congregants, now is not the time for the Jewish community to become complacent. Anti-semitic attacks in the US have been on the rise. Locally we have seen the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues. A demonstration this past August on the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville over the removal of a Confederate statue was laced with anti-semitic rhetoric and banners. Protesters representing the Ku Klux Klan, White Supremacists, and Neo-Nazis were chanting ‘Jews will not replace us’ as though we were foreign interlopers who need to be expunged. During that rally swastikas were ever present as well as shirts emblazoned with quotes of Adolf Hitler.

 

How do we combat this? My answer is simple and straightforward - we do it by supporting Jewish institutions every available opportunity we have. It is common knowledge that Jewish philanthropy in the United States to secular organizations is unequaled. We support the arts, hospitals and health care related charities, UNICEF, the United Way and the American Red Cross, just to name a few. These charitable choices I consider discretionary, they are optional. But supporting Jewish organizations and the State of Israel is not optional. It is our obligation. I will say that again. Our obligation!! For example, this year you can support the initiative of the Old York Road Kehillah to purchase an ambulance for Israel. You can contribute to our local Jewish Federation. You can purchase Israel bonds. You can contribute to the local Jewish day schools or the OROT program. But tonight you have the opportunity to meet another obligation - and that is to support Beth Sholom Congregation. Beth Sholom is where we gather together and pray together. It is where we find a minyan so we can say Kaddish for our deceased loved ones. It is where we celebrate our holidays and Shabbat. It is where we pass on our tradition to the next generation. It is where we form lasting friendships with people with whom we share so much in common. Synagogues are the glue that holds Jewish communities together. You will not find strong Jewish communities where synagogues no longer exist. That was the lesson I learned in Toledo, Seville, Granada, and Cordoba. That is why your generosity to this high holiday appeal is so important. This spring we usher in our 100th year. Your support sends a message to those who believe we don’t belong here. Your support sends a message loud and clear that we are here to stay. Now like the Reverend Leroy, I will pass the proverbial plate around one more time. Thank you for your generosity. Thank you for understanding the importance of a strong Beth Sholom Congregation.

 

G’mar chatimah tova. May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life.

Fri, November 24 2017 6 Kislev 5778