Psalm 87

“All my roots are in You.” (87:7)

When the Zohar or Hasidic mystical literature speak of returning to one’s roots, we need to imagine an inverted tree rooted in the supernal world above. The energy source that powers the sun, that sustains the world, comes from the infinite God and streams into our world in an ever-flowing channel. When we engage in mitzvot and acts of gemilut hasadim (loving-kindness), we widen the channel. When we engage in selfish non-loving behavior or sin, we narrow the channels. The result of love is an energy-filled, loving world. The result of hate is a cold, listless, fearful world.

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Psalm 84

“How lovely is Your dwelling-place!” (84:2)

What makes a home beautiful is subjective. It may be stunning architecture, lavish furnishings, engaging art on the walls, a lived in look with pictures of family on every surface, a collection of interesting knick-knacks on the coffee table, or the presence of children and toys strewn about everywhere. Any home can be cold and sterile, and any home can be lovely. It is the people in the home, by their welcoming embrace or their cold demeanor, that make the crucial different between a lovely home and a depressing home.

Psalm 70

“As for me, I am afflicted and poor.” (70:6)

This verse reminds me of the teaching of Rabbi Simha of Bunem, that a person should carry a slip of paper in his left pocket reading, “You are dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27); and in his right pocket reading, “For my sake, the world was created” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5). No matter how materially blessed we may (or may not) be, we should remember and identify with those less fortunate than ourselves. Even those who are supported by communal tzedakah funds have the obligation to give tzedakah.

Divre Harav – November, 2015

Stuart Rapaport has given me permission to reprint the words he shared about our Endowment Campaign on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Since then, we have received additional gifts and promises so I have edited his remarks accordingly.

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How blessed our congregation has been in the over 125 years we have been in existence.  From a small group of 15 families we became a two orthodox congregation city. In 1936, under the leadership of rabbi Benjamin Emdin, Beth Israel and Ahavas Achim became Ahavas Israel. We moved into the post world war II years and moved to Conservative Judaism, built two synagogue buildings.  This facility is the culmination of the effort put into Ahavas Israel by so many of our past leaders and congregants.

We turn to you, our family and friends, for further consideration.  Our biggest problem today is that of operating funds.  We know that our membership is smaller, that we have very few business owners and we struggle to keep the financial ship upright.

We are asking you to consider a proposal that will help the future of Ahavas Israel in Grand Rapids. We are asking you to consider remembering the shul in your wills and estates.  By leaving a small percentage of your estate, you are helping to keep Judaism, Conservative Judaism, alive and healthy in Grand Rapids.

We have had many people remember ahavas israel through their wills.  My grandfather, Philip Rapaport, who was not religious but rather a member of the socialist arbeter ring, the workmans circle, realized the importance of our congregation to future generations. He never came to Shul with the exception of his grandchildren’s b’nai mitzvah. Yet, when he died in 1963 he left $10,000 to the congregation for this building.  Think about how much that would be in today’s dollars. According to google, figuring 4% inflation, that would be over $77,000 today.  Believe me, my grandfather was far from a wealthy man.  He was a blue collar wood turner who worked for John Widdicomb furniture.

Or, how about our largest bequest to date.  That of Francis Rayden. That money came to us because of a good deed done for her by a member of Ahavas Israel. Abe Wolfson, member, promised Mrs. Rayden to recite kaddish for her parents and she said she would remember the shul.  He recited kaddish for the family for over three decades and just after Abe died, Francis Rayden died and left a bequest of $650,000 to our congregation. That money continues to keep our congregation in the black.

But we need to create a true endowment.  One that can be sustained and grow while still giving financial help to our beloved Ahavas Israel. Rabbi and I have been meeting with congregants to tell them of our ideas. Leon Ash has come forward and has pledged $2,000,000 through his estate. $2,000,000! He challenged us to match the $2 million.

Through our meetings with congregants, we have been promised $310,000 in gifts and estimated pledges based on current values.  This by seven families. Plus an additional five families who have pledged unspecified amounts.

Consider a percentage bequest.  A small percentage.  No matter how large or how small your estate will be, even a 5% gift would be a generous gift to the future of Ahavas Israel while leaving 95% to your family and charities you wish to help.

Obviously, we are not standing like the grim reaper, rubbing our palms in hopes of getting this money right away.  Our hope is that all of us live a long, happy and healthy life.  We just ask for your consideration to join the ranks of our congregation whose financial support span the past, continue today, as well as bringing Ahavas Israel into the future with financial strength to be able to continue serving our community.

If you have been contacted but not responded, we would love to hear from you and to speak to you.  Please understand that all information shared with us is private and will remain private.

Your participation will help insure a successful future for the Jewish people in Grand Rapids.

Divre Harav/Words from the Rabbi – Summer, 2015

In the almost 125 year history of Congregation Ahavas Israel, many individuals and families have been generous in their financial support of our synagogue. Approximately 25 years ago, Frances Rayden made a significant, unrestricted endowment gift to the synagogue. Recently, Leon Ash has generously offered to match future unrestricted endowment gifts or bequests up to $2 million. We are looking for the next individuals, couples, or families to contribute the next set of gifts to the congregation that will assure our future for the next 125 years. I am grateful to Leon for offering this gift, as well as his wisdom and support as we launch a major endowment campaign this summer.

A synagogue budget covers normal yearly expenses. A synagogue endowment both supports the operating budget (underwriting building, program, and staff expenses) and goes beyond the budget to cover long term support of the building and grounds of the congregation.

Ahavas Israel currently has unrestricted endowment funds totalling approximately $675,000. Our goal over the next ten years is to raise $2 million in endowment funds, matched by Leon Ash’s $2 million, and increase our endowment to $5 million.

Stuart Rapaport and I will be meeting with synagogue members to talk about endowment gifts and planning giving. If you would like to talk about a establishing a fund in memory or in honor of a loved one. Here’s how endowment giving will strengthen Ahavas Israel:

A gift of $1,000,000 could support the Building and Grounds committee, ensuring the long term upkeep of our sacred space. Half of the gift could help fund the maintenance portion of the annual budget, which covers the normal, expected day to day needs of the building and its property. The other half could be used for emergencies or saved for planned major projects.

This gift would strengthen the Ahavas Israel community by:

  • Funding capital improvements and repairs, such as maintaining the parking lot and replacing the roof.

A gift of $1,000,000 could support the Membership and Religious Life Programming committees, enhancing and expanding our community-building programming. Most of the approximately $50,000 income per year could reduce our dependence of membership dues within the annual budget, thus reducing the cost of membership and making affiliation with Ahavas Israel more affordable. A portion of the income could be given to the Membership Programming Committee and the Religious Life Committee to help build community relationships.

The Membership Programming Committee could strengthen the Ahavas Israel community by:

  • Arranging for bus trips for Passover Shopping or cultural events in Detroit or Chicago.
  • Enhancing annual meetings with dinners programs.
  • Planning annual dinner/dances with entertainment.

The Religious Life Committee could strengthen the Ahavas Israel community by:

  • Arranging for an extended Kiddush and lunch every week, sitting at tables and extending Shabbat afternoon together.
  • Offering a small honorarium to authors, rabbis, cantors, and other scholars coming from outside of Grand Rapids for our Shabbat speaker series, expanding the pool of engaging speakers.
  • Offering a stipend to the GVSU Hillel for them to send students to join our Shabbat morning community to lead junior congregation, help with Shabbat preparation, or just enjoy Shabbat morning services.
  • Hiring a student rabbi for the summer to run extra programs and study groups and classes.

A gift of $1,000,000 could help to ensure that the congregation enjoys a professionally trained rabbi. The $50,000 a year income would underwrite approximately half of a typical full-time rabbinic package.

This gift would strengthen the Ahavas Israel community by:

  • Ensuring religious guidance and clergy duties being filled by a Rabbi who knows the needs of the community.

A gift of $500,000 could ensure the long term stability of our Educational Program. The $25,000 annual income would support the United Jewish School, junior congregation, pay salaries for the adult education program, and fully subsidize the expenses for youth group retreats.

A gift of $1,000,000 would also allow us to subsidize or reimburse young families for tuition to the United Jewish School, thus making affiliation with Ahavas Israel more affordable.

This gift would strengthen the Ahavas Israel community by:

  • Creating and sustaining educational and social opportunities for our young Jewish community members.
  • Providing financial stability to run the United Jewish School.

A gift of $400,000 could ensure that the congregation can hire a professional cantor for High Holidays and selected other special occasions. The $20,000 annual income would cover the cost of a High Holiday cantor and B’nai mitzvah tutors with a little bit left over for a special music program every couple of years.

This gift would strengthen the Ahavas Israel community by:

  • Ensuring clergy-led services for large holiday religious events.
  • Providing performance opportunities that could be open to the Grand Rapids public.