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Temple Beth Am Turns 30: A New Initiative

This is my Bar Mitzvah year as a rabbi, and this is the most exciting article I have written to date. Temple Beth Am is turning 30. Not old by any means but not a youngster either. While our secular culture associates important milestones with parties (and there is nothing wrong with that), our Jewish tradition encourages us to seize the occasion for a deep and sincere reflection. This is not a self-assigned report card in which we give ourselves grades in various aspects of our activities, feel proud about successes and promise to improve the rest. It goes much deeper than that. In this process we took a pause from our everyday activities to look at the big picture and ask ourselves some crucial questions:  

  • Are we appropriately serving God, the Jewish people and the families of TBA?
  • Are we following a clear vision?
  • Are we creating the right model for a Jewish community?
  • Are we ready for the next 30 years?

To do it right, we started the process several years ago. Many of you participated in focus groups, providing us with invaluable information; we consulted with experts in the field, and our professional staff and lay leaders spent many hours answering these questions with brutal honesty. We looked at all aspects of our synagogue (ritual, education and administration) and were able to identify a clear path that would allow us to answer “yes” to all of the above questions. We need to shift from a model of a service providing synagogue to an engaging congregation.  

30 years ago, a small group of people (among them are Jeanne & Brud Tarsches and Gloria & Leon Schwartz) got together in order to start a synagogue in Jupiter. It was a work of love and they did everything from renting a storefront for Services, buying land and building a building, running the office and hiring part-time clergy. It was a collective effort with a clear goal when all the members felt ownership. With the growth of the town and the congregation, more professional staff was hired and the amount of our activities and programs grew dramatically. Without noticing, we started to rely more on staff (and full-time volunteers) and less on our families. The unwritten understanding between the leadership and the rest of the congregation was, “You run the synagogue and provide the services and we will pay dues and contribute when asked”. This model works on many levels, but this is not what a real Jewish community is all about and it is definitely not the spirit of Temple Beth Am.  

Elie Wiesel once said that what makes a synagogue a community and a real family is “when people come together to share in each other's lives and in the life of Jewish People, past, present and future”. This is the essence of TBA, this is our ultimate vision and this is the only way to ensure the future of Judaism. In the past decades, synagogues placed programs at their center and we were no different, but now we plan to shift it back to our authentic core – relationships and a culture of acts of kindness.  

Normally, I am a big proponent of incremental and slow change, but there is a time when a drastic move is more appropriate. As you read the rest of the Scribe, you will learn about one initiative, the shift from our Temple’s current dues system to voluntary commitment. But this is only one component. As for the rest, we invite you to join us in town-hall meetings, to hear from us and give us the feedback we need. It is no longer “we build it and they will come”.  Now we have the wisdom and the spirit to build it together. as we come together.  

Happy Passover, 
Rabbi Alon Levkovitz 

Fri, December 4 2020 18 Kislev 5781