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               President's High Holiday Message

Jeffrey Gordon,


Rabbi Glanzberg Krainin, Rabbi Merow, Hazzan Weber, fellow congregants,


I have a secret to share with all of you today. And it’s about one of the clergy. I am Rabbi Glanzberg-Krainin’s long lost brother. On a more serious note, I really do have a secret that all of you would find interesting. I initially refused the offer to become your president. However, after a good Manhattan with several former Beth Sholom presidents, who shall rename nameless, my wife Heidi and I were persuaded that I would have enough time be an effective president. After only 2 and half months I can honestly say this is a great job. And I am excited about the upcoming year and beyond.


I would like to begin my remarks today with a personal story. When I was in elementary school, I was frequently asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” As the only child of Holocaust survivors, the question really came down to a binary choice. “Do you want to become a doctor or a lawyer?” One day I came home from school and told my parents that I wanted to become an architect. Without hesitation and with pride in her voice, my mother, Trudy, told me about a famous architect named Frank Lloyd Wright who designed a synagogue. I quickly read between the lines. Becoming an architect would be a good profession for a Jewish boy.


Although I chose a different career path, that story always stayed with me. My mother was very proud of her American citizenship and knowing that a famous non-Jewish architect designed a synagogue was just one reason why she loved this country. When my mother died in 2009 at age 84 after surviving Therezin and Auschwitz, I found it entirely appropriate to be able to honor her memory by saying Kaddish every day in this building which is now a national historic landmark. This building is truly an American treasure.


I learned something even more important during the eleven months when I was saying Kaddish for my mother. Yes, this building is a treasure, but the people inside of this building from the clergy to the congregants to the volunteers to the professional staff are the real treasures that make Beth Sholom a special place, a warm and welcoming institution. In fact, our clergy continue to develop new and innovative ways to serve the community at large. I am proud to announce that Beth Sholom’s Center for Spiritual Well-Being is a 2018 recipient of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Seeds of Innovation Project grant. This grant supports JTS graduates who spearhead groundbreaking initiatives that educate and inspire Jewish communities. The grant will support the Center’s mission of enhancing the spiritual well-being of the local Jewish community. Congratulations to Rabbi Glanzberg-Krainin and Rabbi Merow for their pioneering work. We are also proud of our own Hazzan Jeff Weber who is organizing the second annual Philadelphia Jewish Collegiate A Cappella competition which will be held this November at Beth Sholom.


As we usher in the Jewish New Year of 5779, Beth Sholom will mark its centennial year in 2019. As congregants of Beth Sholom we are not only celebrating 100 years of Conservative Judaism we are also celebrating over 200 years of religious freedom in the United States. Since President George Washington wrote his famous letter in 1790 to the congregants of the Hebrew Congregation Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, American Jews have enjoyed unprecedented religious freedom. A copy of Washington’s famous letter hangs framed in my study at home right next to my father’s signed Declaration of Intention to immigrate to the United States in 1947. My father, Abe, signed his declaration to immigrate almost 3 years after he was liberated from the Dachau concentration camp by American and British forces on May 3rd, 1945.


To celebrate our unprecedented religious freedom in America and Beth Sholom’s centennial, I have asked the Ways and Means Committee to organize a year-long celebration. The committee is planning a number of commemorative and fundraising events throughout the year including the creation of the new Centennial Club which will replace the current President’s Circle. Details will be forthcoming immediately following the High Holidays. To coincide with Beth Sholom’s 100th anniversary and the 60th anniversary of the dedication of this magnificent building, I am pleased to report that the Preservation Society has secured a grant from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage. The grant will fund a year-long installation by Philadelphia artist David Hartt to allow visitors to experience our building in new and innovative ways. I am optimistic that the entire Beth Sholom community will be fully invested in our special centennial celebration.


As we celebrate our past, it is incumbent upon all of us to look ahead to the future in order to secure Beth Sholom for the next generation and beyond. I am proud that our award-winning preschool continues to grow with a vibrant group of parents who are truly the future of Beth Sholom. For the coming year, the Board of Directors has awarded a grant to the preschool PTO to support a number of activities for preschool children and their parents. I am also pleased to report that the newly renamed Congregational Engagement Committee continues to search for innovative ways to recruit and retain members. For example, I am sure that many of you appreciated the personal call you received from Committee volunteers wishing you a Happy New Year. During the next year, the Congregational Engagement Committee is planning to partner with the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism which has a number of resources to help Beth Sholom grow its membership base.


As we focus on the future, we also need to ensure that our congregation remains fiscally sound. Your past support is greatly appreciated and has sustained Beth Sholom over the years. Although our annual dues structure is in line with most synagogues in the greater Philadelphia area, our current dues fall short of the annual cost per family. The synagogue depends on the annual Kol Nidre appeal to make up this financial difference in order keep our synagogue fiscally sound.


This past year, after my mother-in-law passed away on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, Heidi and I were reminded again how much Beth Sholom means to our family. The community was extremely supportive, and we are very grateful for the kindness shown to us. I am sure that each of you has a personal story of how the Beth Sholom community supported you and your family during the years.


On this day of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, please take a moment and ask yourself what is important in your life. We all cherish our families, our loved ones and the vibrant Jewish community that is Beth Sholom. We are grateful to be able to say Yizkor in a few moments for relatives and friends who we miss and remember with affection. By being here today, in this magnificent sanctuary, we are all affirming that Beth Sholom is an important part of our lives. So please consider giving generously to this year’s Kol Nidre appeal to secure the future of Beth Sholom. This year, with a combined service in the main sanctuary with open seating, the procedure for filling out your pledge card is a little different. Please take out your seating card and peel off the label for the Kol Nidre appeal and place the sticker on the blank pledge card on your seat. The ushers in the aisles will collect your pledge cards shortly.


I would like to take this opportunity to thank Rabbi Glanzberg-Krainin, Rabbi Andrea Merow, Hazzan Jeff Weber, Harvey Friedrich and our entire professional staff and all of the volunteers who spend countless hours working on behalf of Beth Sholom to make it the special synagogue that it is.


On behalf of my family, Heidi, Ariel and Avi, Gerri, Erez, Yarden and Lianna we all wish you all a G’Mar Hatimah Tovah.




Tue, May 21 2019 16 Iyyar 5779