Could you do this somewhere else? Of course you could. But here is the BIG question - Do you really want to do this somewhere else? I don’t think so. You want to be here. We want to be here.
So, how do I convince you to do, to share, to give? In this year of Presidential campaigning (if we can actually call it that), I could, as they say, go negative. Heck, after the last week or so we are all sure used to that, aren’t we? But you know what? I’ve done that before. The gloom and doom, the sky is falling, the boy who cried wolf. Yup, if you remember many of my previous appeals, this is what I have done to try and influence all of you to give. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it did not.
I’ve walked down these steps and tried to reason with all of you by asking direct questions and really, deeply looking for and wanting you to tell me what we can do. What do you need us to do and what can you do to help keep this place alive.
I have used visuals with Board members holding up numbers, important numbers about membership and about our struggles financially.
I have related stories in my own life of other temples I was part of as a child and how my parents served important positions in some of these places.
I’ve talked about my wife and my children and their connection to Judaism and to this place. Through a Bat Mitzvah, a Bar Mitzvah, parties, programs, concerts, a Sweet 16, and even this past July a wedding. So, my family and I are deeply vested in this place just like so many of you.
I have coined a phrase that many of us use year after year that embodies where we are in these difficult times. That phrase? C’mon, many of you know it. WE’RE STILL HERE! Please, say it like you mean it – WE’RE STILL HERE. And so we are.
But the question still remains – for how long can we continue to be here? Our bills remain and are mounting, yet our membership is shrinking. In the past few months, we have not been able to pay our Pubic Service bill and a quarterly payment on the insurance for the building. One family stepped up to pay those bills amounting to well over $6,000, so the lights could stay on and we had insurance coverage. And unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened. Our obligations to staff and the Rabbi continue, yet our income from dues, programming and a few other areas grows smaller each and every year. Let’s face it; on this night there are less people here than last year and less than the year before and less than the year before that. How long can this downward trend continue until we just can’t stay here anymore? That, my friends, is the ultimate question and a question only you can answer, not me. You can answer positively with your support, your time, your participation and yes, very much so with your money.
Too negative for you? If so, I’m sorry. I prefer to call this simply a dose of reality, not negativity. And in that I’m not going to go negative this year. So, I’ll keep this as positive as I can.
I came across an acrostic recently that was so familiar yet so different in its approach. During this High Holiday period we will all recite what is called the “Viduy” that is, a list of our sins. As we recite them we will pound on our chest – “We have trespassed, we have robbed, we have been stiff-necked, we have....
And two of the last three lines of this acrostic to me spoke volumes about what we all need to do right here, right now. Have you really supported Temple Beth El enough? Have you contributed enough to OUR Jewish family right here on Summit Avenue?
You may have heard or read in the papers of my time as a witness in the trials of two young men who have been charged with not only defacing our Temple but have been accused for the very first time in the history of the State of New Jersey with committing acts of terrorism. This is big news in our State and in our country.
Last week and just the day after I had been grilled by the defense attorney of one of them it dawned on me – we can’t leave this place. We can’t stop praying here. We simply can’t, because if we do, if we walk away from Temple Beth El as a Jewish institution – they and all people like them win. People like that, who wish to do us harm, want us, in one way or another, to be gone. We as Jews and our synagogues and many other Jewish institutions are not welcome in their sick excuse of a world. So let us be defiant in the face of people like that. Let us make sure they know we will not bow to their pressures to see us Staying here, keeping our doors open may be the easiest and most honorable act of defiance I can think of. And if you help us make that possible, I would submit to each and every one of you tonight, my little catchphrase takes on a whole new meaning, doesn’t it? WE’RE STILL HERE says far more than just what we wish for ourselves. WE’RE STILL HERE means we will not break, we will not be bullied, we will not be afraid of demented human beings who think Jewish people need to be erased from this earth. We will not leave. Sorry Anthony Graziano – we’re staying put and you get to stay put in jail for the crimes you have committed and for the guilty verdict bestowed on you by a jury of your peers. Sorry Akash Dalal your time is coming as well and for that – WE’RE STILL HERE!
Ok – so I went a little negative. Again, sorry!
In closing, here’s a story perhaps some of you may have read just a few weeks ago from Rabbi Weiner of the Jewish Community Center of Paramus, the JCCP. In it he retold a tale:
“It is said that President Abraham Lincoln often slipped out of the White House on Wednesday evenings to listen to the sermons of Dr. Phineas Gurley at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.
He generally preferred to come and go unnoticed, so when Dr. Gurley knew the president was coming, he left his study door open. On one of those occasions, the president quietly entered through a side door of the church, took his seat in the minister's study, located just off the sanctuary, and propped the door open just wide enough to hear the preacher.
During the walk home one Wednesday evening, an aide asked Mr. Lincoln his appraisal of the sermon. The president thoughtfully replied, "The content was excellent... he delivered with eloquence... he had put work into the message...."
"Then you thought it was an excellent sermon?" questioned the aide.
"No," Lincoln answered.
"But you said that the content was excellent, it was delivered with eloquence and it showed much work," the aide pressed.
"That's true," Lincoln said. "But Dr. Gurley forgot the most important ingredient. He forgot to ask us to do something great."
So in this Presidential year I have am not forgetting to ask. I am asking it loud and clear - it is time to do something great for this place, your place, my place, our place. And to do something great may be as simple as flipping a tab on that pledge card in the envelope in front of you and writing a check. For some of you it may be committing to simply pay your present dues and the dues you have obligated yourself to pay in previous years but may not have for some time. For those who can’t pledge to pay all of those dues, please commit to paying some of them and pay regularly. Over time that kind of commitment will be great for our Temple and for you because it will let us keep our doors open. It will allow us to continue. It will make us be defiant to those who wish us harm, but in as genteel a way as possible.
Thankfully tonight, I can say with all certainty – WE’RE STILL HERE simply because we are. But my friends, it is up to each and every one of us to make sure we can continue to say that for years and decades to come.
As ushers are ready to collect your pledge cards, please think long and hard about what I have said tonight and so many times before this.
Ask yourself, have you done enough to make sure we’re here next year?
Please remember We have supported.
We have contributed.
Thank you again for allowing me this time to speak to you once again. Thank you for making it possible for us to remain here in Hackensack for over 100 years.
Good evening to each and every one of you tonight. To family and friends, Rabbi Schumeister and Cantor Zablocki, our Board of Directors, congregants and especially to our visitors – welcome!
It is impossible for me to believe this, but I stand before you tonight during this Kol Nidre service for the 12th time and I have to thank you for giving me both your attention and the opportunity to speak to you on basically the same subject every year.
My job tonight, as in the eleven years past, is to convince you to give. To give of yourself, to give us your time, your talents and yes, your money to help us survive. And survival is all I ask, all that we (each and every one of us) need. We are here tonight and during the High Holiday period because we want to be here. For whatever reason you are here, you need us; you need this place, this institution, this sanctuary, these books, these songs and prayers to fulfill your desires as a Jewish man, woman or child.
Mark Zetler, President
Kol Nidre Message