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.
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Stuck in a Rut? Pesah Tells You to Get Unstuck!

Divre Harav, Words from the Rabbi – Bulletin article, March, 2010

I am grateful to the leadership of Congregation Ahavas Israel for giving me a three month Sabbatical.  The time away from active rabbinic work was renewing and refreshing, but it is very good to be back at the synagogue.

While away, I visited with a number of pastors to learn about the creation of a sermon from a fresh angle.  Within Protestant churches, the sermon is the focus of the service much the same way that the Torah reading is the focal point of a traditional Jewish Shabbat morning service.  We devote about 1/3 of the service time to the Torah reading, and about 1/2 of our time on Shabbat morning is devoted to the Torah service, adding in the Haftarah and the sermon.  In the churches I visited, the pastors devoted an equivalent amount of time within their service to the sermon.  Because their sermon functions as the main vehicle for hearing sacred Scripture, they tend to be longer and more carefully structured than most synagogue sermons.  They also tend to use Biblical verses to appeal to the emotional and moral sense of the congregation, often teaching a specific belief or theological approach to God, while most synagogue sermons tend to appeal to the intellect and teach a specific Jewish practice or behavior.

I don’t believe that one style is inherently better than the other.  What I learned from the project is that it is easy to get into a rut, preaching and teaching in the same style and appealing to the same part of the brain week after week, just because it is familiar and comfortable.  The work I did as a graduate coach in a Dale Carnegie program reinforced the same message — that most of us are stuck in a rut, doing the same things over and over again, repeating the same habits and the same mistakes, because we are afraid of trying something new.

This is a good lesson to be reminded of in conjunction with the celebration of Pesah.  The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim, a word that connotes narrow places  (probably taking its name from the fact that the fertile part of Egypt is a narrow strip of land on either side of the Nile).  In a metaphorical sense, when we are stuck in Mitzrayim, we are living our lives in a constricted place. We are stuck inside a narrow box.  Pesah is the time to look at the narrow box in which we are living, look at those behaviors which keep us stuck in a rut, and free ourselves.