Please join us this Friday evening at 6:30 as we install the GRS Board of Trustees. The service will be followed by an Oneg Shabbat.
Every year prior to Yom Kippur I am asked questions about fasting by those for whom doing so might be injurious to their health. My response, as to the question of the performance of any commandment which might be comprising, is always that our rabbinic sages have well instructed that the "mitzvot"- commandments – were created to live by, not to die by. So important is human life to Judaism that all means must be done to save a single soul. As the Talmud expresses, "To save a single life is as though the entire world has been saved."
In accordance with such a principle, the government of Israel has been attempting, for years, to bring to safety captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. During our recent visit to Israel, throughout the country there were visible efforts being made by Israel for the release of its prisoner who has been held captive for five years by Hamas. As we know, yesterday Sgt. Shalit, who was a mere nineteen years of age when captured, was released to Israel in exchange for over one thousand prisoners held by Israel, most of whom were charged with murder. Sadly, as the busloads of those set free by Israel entered into Palestinian territory, there were chants heard for the capture of "another Gilad" so that more terrorists would be set free.
Again and again, Israel finds itself to be in a most compromising situation. Let us pray, that Sgt. Shalit and our Israeli soldiers remain in safety, and may the Jewish value of human life be an ideal embraced by all humanity.
Rabbi Andrew R. Sklarz, MA, MSW, RJE
In honor of Sgt. Shalit's return, GRS is planting a tree through the Jewish National Fund. For those who wish to support Sgt. Shalit and the forestation of Israel, a free tree can be planted through Sunday, October 23 by calling 800-542-TREE or on the JNF website https://secure2.convio.net/jnf/site/Ecommerce/1087108861?VIEW_PRODUCT=true&product_id=2941&store_id=6861&JServSessionIdr004=7oz83aujc1.app225a.
Good morning! I Hope everyone is having an easy fast on this Yom Kippur morning.
By now, you all have seen the playing field construction now underway by the Stanwich School, and no doubt have questions about what this means for GRS:
First, a little history: The Torah tells us that the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years before finding the promised land. Well, we haven't yet arrived at the promised land, but we're not in the desert either. GRS had its first home at Diamond Hill Church, then St. Paul's in Riverside, and arrived here in 1993, transforming the former Greenwich Catholic School gymnasium into the sanctuary you see today. In 1998, we began renting space to Stanwich School, and in 2003 began discussions regarding sale of our property to Stanwich. A plan for a campus which included both Stanwich School and GRS was approved by the town of Greenwich in 2009, and the ensuing lawsuit, filed by the neighbors, was dropped in 2010. This summer, Stanwich School began building a regulation-size playing field with artificial turf and is installing a state-approved waste water treatment facility.
Although GRS has the greatest respect and appreciation for our long-time relationship with the Stanwich School, our foremost responsibility is to YOU, our members. The role and responsibility of the GRS board is to ensure the long-term health of the congregation. In that regard, I have an important update and some good news regarding the building of our future synagogue.
As you already know, we have been in negotiations with Stanwich School for the sale of some of our property for quite some time. Recently, it became increasingly unclear to us when we would have a synagogue and whether it would be economically viable in a deal with Stanwich. As a result, we began to investigate alternatives.
Today, I am happy to announce to you that due to the hard work of our members, committees, and notably the creativity of Louis Van Leeuwen, we indeed found an alternative to the sale to Stanwich which would both speed the timing of the building of our new synagogue and result in far superior value to our congregation—economic value that would ensure our ability to grow and thrive as a Reform synagogue.
Out of consideration for Stanwich, as a long-standing, good tenant and neighbor, recently we entered into discussions with their board to see if we could structure an agreement which would put them in a similar economic neighborhood and timing to our alternative, providing them, in fact, with some discount as well. Unfortunately, despite hard work by our committee members and temple stakeholders over the last couple months, Stanwich did not approach the value of our alternative plan or even provide a level of financial consideration which would have ensured the future viability of GRS, let alone provide certainty on the timing of our synagogue. As a result, after considered thought, GRS respectfully called off discussions this week with Stanwich in order to solely focus on our exciting alternative.
So, our plan, which LVL and team came up with, is to develop either all or a part of our property with townhomes which would also have an affordable housing component. Affordable housing refers to homes for people such as firemen, police officers, and teachers. This plan would permit GRS to either stay here and build our synagogue or to relocate should we find a better location to build more quickly or more economically. The project has been vetted by board members and key stakeholders of GRS as well as professionals. There is excitement about the plan and we see little issue with any approvals and we have been advised by town professionals that it actually helps the Town of Greenwich with their affordable housing requirements. The result is an expected value to GRS of approximately $14 million to $18 million or more, depending on whether we build our synagogue here or build elsewhere, and it would speed up the completion of our synagogue to within 2.5 years or quicker. Compared to the proposed Stanwich sale which our congregants conditionally approved years ago, we see this as an increase of $4M-$8M in cash and likely having a synagogue 2-3 years sooner. Most importantly, it works financially for GRS, enabling us to pursue our own ambitious plans and to thrive.
We are very excited about finally moving forward with this plan and believe this project will attract new members, provide us with space for membership growth, a new preschool, and help us re-emerge as a truly outstanding congregation of which we can all be proud. I sincerely thank all of our committee members who worked so hard on the project and helped GRS turn the page to a new exciting chapter in the story of our success. In light of the holiday, the Rabbi has requested that we refrain from a dialogue on this topic, so I would ask you to hold your questions for now, and we will schedule a discussion to go over particulars of our plan and answer any questions; we will email the congregation as soon as the date and time are set.
President, Greenwich Reform Synagogue Board of Trustees
How wonderful it was to have shared the High Holidays together. While the Yamim HaNo’raim – the Days of Awe, are indeed a spiritual time for all of us, the opportunity to greet old friends, and meet new ones after the services, is a special pleasure for me.
A rabbi’s work continually calls for the changing of gears and, between our adult oriented services of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, I was re-energized with our Young Family services. Leading services for our younger members and families holds a special place in my heart.
This coming Shabbat, and the next, will indeed be oriented for the young at heart of all ages.
This coming Shabbat, Friday, October 14, join us as we celebrate Sukkot – with our ever famous GRS Sukkah on the bimah and, of course, for October birthday blessings (and thanks to the generous donation of an anonymous GRS family, gifts for all children celebrating birthdays). B’nai Shir our youth choir will be participating as well.
Next Shabbat, Friday, October 21, please join us as we celebrate Simchat Torah followed by family oriented dinner, graciously hosted by the GRS Education Committee. Our service will celebrate the continual cycle of Torah, with a special guided tour of the unrolled scroll, the consecration of our newest students, as well as our lively GRS House band.
Come join us for these spirited events – we are certain, as always, to a have a wonderful time!
Rabbi Andrew R. Sklarz, MA, MSW, RJE
Thank you Rabbi Sklarz, Cantor Lipton, David Johnson and the choir for making our High Holy Day services so special. Our rabbi leads us in prayer, opening our hearts, and the beautiful music of our cantor and choir lift those prayers from our hearts up to heaven.
During this sacred time, we have a responsibility to ensure the strength and future of our congregation, and for that reason, I bring you a word from our sponsor, the GRS Annual Circle of Giving. A friend of mine used to talk about “BFOs” – no worries, I’m not going to swear on the bemah – a BFO is a blinding flash of the obvious. Unlike the Ten Commandments which our Lions of Judah hold so proudly on our historic ark, I have only five BFOs to share with you tonight:
- The Circle of Giving is the un-dinner dance: GRS started the Circle of Giving almost ten years ago, as an alternative to our earlier hodge-podge of fund-raising efforts, ranging from high holy day appeals and fair share donations to a smorgasbord of events, including dinner dances, journals, auctions, and more. It was confusing and costly; with the Circle of Giving, 100% of every dollar you give goes to help GRS provide the services and programs you want, unlike an auction, journal, or dinner dance, where over 50% of every dollar goes to pay for the event itself. The Circle of Giving also enables us to offer educational and social events throughout the year on an affordable, break-even basis.
- No coin left behind: The GRS staff and board does an amazing job of stretching every dollar as far as it can go – our careful no-waste, blood, sweat and tears budgeting process provides the fullest range of services at the least expense. The money you give, both in dues and Circle of Giving donations is invested in high quality staff and programs. If only the stock market provided such excellent, guaranteed return on investment (ROI)!
- The Circle of Giving is also the circle of receiving: The regular GRS membership dues are subsidized by about $1000 per family; not surprisingly, in this economy, many members cannot afford full dues – and tzedakah makes it the duty and responsibility of more affluent members to help those needing assistance.
- The need is greater than ever before: To ensure the health of GRS, we need to expand our membership, and increase enrollment in our religious school. If each member brought in one new member, our budget would be transformed; encouraging new families to experience GRS is another wonderful way for all to support the Circle of Giving.
- Time is money: Some us can afford to give financially, others offer their time as volunteers, and best of all, some are able to support GRS with both time and money. No matter what your schedule or area of interest, we need you! Feel free to use your Circle of Giving pledge card to note your area of interest as a volunteer, check the new GRS website (www.grs.org) or call the office for details.
So, if you have not already done so, please take one of the pledge cards you’ll find in your pew or prayer book, and make a generous pledge of money and time to help keep your synagogue strong. If you have already pledged, and can find it in your hearts and wallets to increase that pledge, we’ll be even more appreciative.
Helen Stark and I, co-chairs of the Annual Circle of Giving, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your generosity and wish you the happiest and healthiest of New Year’s.
Shonah Tovah Tikateivu.
Co-chairs, Annual Circle of Giving
My dear friends, we have all experienced certain moments: those personal, those professional & those of national significance that forever remain etched in our memories. Though we may be years – even decades – away from a particular event, the emotions we felt: joy – fear – sadness or exultation – stay fresh, often with visceral responses. As we discussed last night, the imprint of 9/11 will be with us forever – with reactions, for some, as acute as they were 10 years ago. But, this morning I would like to begin by focusing our attention to those moments when we were witness to a watershed event, or perhaps played a role in shaping or developing an important outcome that had a positive impact upon others.
I will always vividly remember that moment in 1999 seated amongst hundreds of my colleagues in the grand sanctuary of Rodef Shalom in Pittsburgh as we voted in favor of a new platform for our movement – the Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism. From its inception in Europe 200 years ago, Reform Judaism has continually evolved, wedding the essential teachings – the ethics of our religion – with the developments, concerns, and challenges facing the modern world. Indeed, the passionate plea for social justice for all humanity has underscored every platform of Reform Judaism. Yet, going a step further, this new document calls for true inclusion and the celebration of diversity in Jewish life.
As written: “We embrace religious & cultural pluralism as an expression of the vitality of Jewish communal life…We pledge to fulfill Reform Judaism’s historic commitment to the complete equality of women & men. We are an inclusive community, opening doors to people of all ages to varied kinds of families, to all, regardless of their sexual orientation…the intermarried or those who have converted to Judaism who strive to create a Jewish home…”
As showcased by our Outreach efforts here at Greenwich Reform Synagogue, we well understand that Judaism has something meaningful to offer everyone – whether Jewish or not. And the greater our diversity and the more willing we are to embrace all who enter our doors, the greater our ability to affect positive social change. Indeed, the spirit of inclusion has led the Reform Movement, particularly in recent decades to truly flourish on the American shores. And from its earliest beginnings, our movement was on vanguard for social change in Europe.
With the near obliteration of European Jewry and the demise of the Reform Movement on much of the continent, a progressive approach to Judaism was primarily limited to North America. While small Reform communities have sprouted in various parts of the globe, it is ironic that in Israel, where the greatest concentration of Jews is found, until very recently, a modern approach to Jewish life as championed by the Reform movement, has been virtually non-existent. While Israel on so many levels is as advanced, if not more so than any land – for a host of reasons – on the religious front, primarily a traditional approach to Judaism has prevailed, thus resulting in the vast majority of Israeli Jews identifying or defining themselves as secular. The proverbial line which expresses the average Israeli’s connection with religious observance translates as: “the synagogue I don’t attend is Orthodox.” This expression that I first heard when a college student in Israel was truly driven home – a year ago – on the opening day of religious school here at GRS.
As I do every Sunday morning when school is in session, I stood on the top of the hill to greet our students and parents. Amongst those walking towards the building was one whose face appeared too old to be one of our teens, but too young to be a parent. Warmly greeting this stranger, I was startled by an Israeli accent, but I quickly realized that this was our new “shaliach” – Israeli emissary – who had just arrived in Greenwich. Extending my hand, I met Aner Shofty. As surprised as I was to hear an Israeli accent – Aner’s shock – as I introduced myself as “Rabbi” was just as palpable. Of course, this was understandable; while American Jews know rabbis in all varieties, the immediate image the average Israeli has of a rabbi is strikingly different than the one with whom Aner was shaking hands. In line with the mantra “the synagogue I don’t attend is Orthodox,” upon hearing the word “rabbi,” most Israelis envision a bearded man dressed in black with a dark kippah upon his head. And certainly this rabbi surely doesn’t fit that description. Only as rabbis of a different appearance and, moreover, of a progressive ideology have emerged, has preaching of a religion steeped in social action and challenging the traditional religious status quo begun to be felt in Israel. But for those many Israelis passionate about their country, yet disconnected to traditional Judaism, a sense of Jewish identity is a very distant concept. Indeed, this was the case with Aner.
While one might expect Israelis to fully embrace Judaism, the reality is that the majority just don’t have a spiritual connection. An Israeli identity? Absolutely, but the idea that Judaism informs modern life is quite alien. While Israelis identify themselves as Jews and through the public educational system are quite well versed in Torah, Jewish history and practice without membership to a congregation – a relationship with a rabbi – or an attachment to an ideology – a genuine Jewish connection and a sense of spirituality has been non-existent for most in the Jewish homeland.
This void was certainly evident with Aner as with previous Israeli emissaries and, moreover, as with so many individuals with whom I have worked, desperately hungry for a spiritual connection but not at all consciously aware of such a need.
However, for Aner, his lack of Jewish connection was even deeper than his unfamiliarity with a modern approach to Judaism. Rather, it was a result of a wound that occurred early on in his life. When Aner entered 7th grade, his male friends began their preparation to become Bar Mitzvah, of course within a synagogue they did otherwise not attend. However, Aner had a profound antipathy towards religion stemming from a deep sense of a perceived betrayal by God. So many times I have witnessed these emotions when a catastrophic event has taken place in one’s life. Indeed, this was the case for Aner, for at age 10, he watched his beloved father succumb to Leukemia. Two years later, Aner met with the rabbi of the “synagogue he did not attend,” a rabbi unwilling to look into the boy’s heart and sense his pain. This 12-year-old responded by wanting nothing to do with Judaism. With anger at a religious system that did not speak to him, Aner felt disenfranchised from Judaism and thus made a definite statement by choosing not to become a Bar Mitzvah.
Some six years later in Greenwich, Aner encountered a Judaism brand new to him. Through our work together at GRS and at home over the dining room table with my family, I came to know a wonderful young man – so proud of being Israeli, but so turned off to Judaism. Was it that Aner had abandoned Judaism, or rather, had Judaism abandoned Aner ?
It was not until he came to our community and was introduced to an entirely new Judaism: one devoted to the spirit of inclusiveness – the embracing of the believer – the agnostic – the interfaith – equally valuing men and women – straight or gay – devoted to social action and the pursuit of justice for all peoples – and dispelling the theology that had hurt him the most – that the wicked are punished and the righteous rewarded – that Aner recognized how much he thirsted for spirituality in his life. Indeed through this experience, Aner came to embrace the Reform ideology that expresses, that are in many ways, leading a meaningful Jewish existence.
My rabbinic heart was truly warmed as I observed Aner’s sense of Jewish identity grow and his sense of spirituality blossom. And this was most evident the day he approached me with the request to become a Bar Mitzvah. Working with Aner and witnessing his spiritual development, it was not a surprise when he expressed his desire, his need, to publically proclaim his Jewish identity. Only the year before, our Israeli emissary, Or Geisinger, who through her experience at GRS, the Greenwich Jewish community, and to a Judaism she had also never known existed, approached me with the very same request. How wonderful it was when Or became the first female in her family to read from Torah and be a full participant in worship.
Life is indeed filled with all sorts of interesting if not ironic twists. I cannot help but wonder if in these situations the Divine Hand is at work. The Torah portion corresponding to the week in which Aner chose to become a Bar Mitzvah was girded in the very concept of Divine reward and retribution, as the text expressed that those who follow God would be blessed, whereas those who stray would be cursed. Was this to suggest that Aner’s father
was deserving of such a fate, not to mention Aner, his mother, and his siblings? Was the date in which Aner was to become a Bar Mitzvah with its corresponding Torah portion mere happen stance? Indeed my friends, I have come to believe that there is no such thing in life as a coincidence. Rather, it seems that Aner was destined to read this portion and confront his very personal issues. So our formal work with the text began and in his most sensitive d’var Torah – his explanation of the Torah portion – Aner commented, “After the experiences and lessons I have learned in the community, I have begun to develop my own sense of theology…I have learned that there are many ways of understanding Judaism and individual ways to interpret Torah.”
My friends, a Reform rabbi couldn’t express it any better!
It was certainly a most meaningful experience for me to study with Aner, to guide him as he wrestled with the text as he looked deep inside himself grappling with personal issues and theological questions. Through this process, Aner developed a greater sense of self, and as he encountered God – if you will – embraced genuine feelings of self acceptance.
As many of you know, in the summer of 2010, Susan and I took our children to see the once flourishing Jewish worlds of Budapest, Prague, and Berlin. Our plan was that during the summer of 2011, we would travel to Israel, for their first experience of what has been often called “the miracle on the Mediterranean”.
Though a family trip, I also arranged a number of meetings with rabbis of the Israeli Movement for Progressive Judaism, and as a family, each Shabbat, we spent time in a different Reform community. In my meetings with colleagues and our Shabbat experiences, I saw first hand how the face of Reform Judaism is putting itself on the map of Israel. The outstanding work for religious equality and social justice undertaken by the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism has been dramatic since I began rabbinical studies at the Jerusalem campus of the Hebrew Union College.
Only several years earlier, when Susan and I spent a college year at Tel Aviv University, we would attend services at the Kedem Synagogue – then the only Reform congregation in Greater Tel Aviv. Within a basement level of an old apartment building, we sat on folding chairs of this make-shift sanctuary. But today… there are 34 thriving Reform congregations in Israel replete with all sorts of dynamic and important programs.
The cramped space that held the Kedem Synagogue has now given birth to the flourishing Beit Daniel Center of Tel Aviv. This flagship congregation of the Israeli Progressive movement is truly a model of inclusion. While the walls of the sanctuary are arrayed with vibrant colors, what touched me the most was the diversity of those in the pews. The faces and accents boasted of a host of cultures and ethnicities from all over the globe – truly a sign of Reform Judaism at its best.
In meeting with Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Director of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, I learned of the important work in the political and social action spheres undertaken by our movement in Israel. But as a fellow rabbi, I must admit that I was moved when he commented that “there is a growing hunger for spirituality in Israel which Reform Judaism has to offer”.
In other words, as I so often express, there is a spiritual yearning, a dimension within all human beings that longs to be nurtured, but too often is neglected. Certainly Aner is not the only person to have ever felt hurt or abandoned by Judaism or any religion —- far from it.
In my pastoral work, I have encountered so very many, Jew & non-Jew alike, from so many walks of life, who like Aner, have felt alienated by a religious theology that they found to be judgmental, unforgiving, or punitive. Judaism – as all religions – preaches morality, but the goal cannot be to put us in shackles or conform to standards that are not in sync with modern living. Rather, the intent – God’s desire, if you will – is for us to open our hearts, extending acceptance and love both to ourselves and to all human beings.
The Yamim haNo’raim – the Days of Awe – this most sacred period on the Jewish calendar calls upon us to look inward, to well examine our deeds of the past and to purge ourselves of that which is hurtful or, moreover, harmful and destructive to ourselves and to others.
In 1999, with the passage of the Reform Statement of Principles, that pivotal moment when I voted with my colleagues in Pittsburgh, our movement declared that a Judaism for the 21rst century must extend itself as never before and be welcoming, accepting and inclusive. But for this to occur on the communal level, we must begin with ourselves. As we review our dealings of the past, let us also embrace the uniqueness within each one of us, and thus, seek to find and embrace the uniqueness in others.
My friends, we are indeed in CHALLENING TIMES – the SOCIAL, POLITICAL, and ECONOMIC climate in which we live is precarious and raises far too many questions and uncertainties. While Judaism cannot advise us on the stock market or predict the advent of acts of terrorism, our connection to others can make for a more meaningful life and propel to more purposeful actions.
As we enter into the year ahead, may we strive to hear your voice O God, as we search for insight into ourselves and this magnificent, but oh so confusing world. In such a way, may we open ourselves to You and thus seek for the creation of a more peaceful, compassionate, and healthy world for all of your children.
Shana Tova u’M’tukah – May 5,772 herald a year in which our spirits, dear God, & Yours will be at one.
It is my privilege to be president of your Board of Trustees again this year.
It is at the beginning of each year, when seeing and greeting so many GRS members and friends at high holy day services, that I feel incredibly alive and happy. It seems that the buildings themselves reflect the joy of friends greeting friends after a summer out of school and away on vacation. Seeing and hearing our young students happily gathering at the synagogue again on Sundays and Wednesdays cannot help but lift one's spirits.
I look forward to a wonderful year for our synagogue and its members.
L'shanah tovah from my family to yours,
- June 21, 2013 6:30 pmShabbat Service
- June 21, 2013 6:45 pmAnniversary Blessings
- June 23, 2013 9:30 amSummer Lecture Series
- June 24, 2013 7:00 pmKnit & Knosh