President’s June 2022 Column

Recently Diane and I attended a fund raiser (a rather crowded) gala to support a local non-profit, The Academy for Scholastic Success.  A recent high school graduate from this program, Callie Brown, penned this, “… belonging is an affinity for a place or situation”. Do you have an affinity to this place, Temple Judah? Do you feel a sense of kinship to other Jews?

If one belongs to this Jewish community, does it equal being a member of Temple Judah? Obviously not. I personally know of Jews here in our town that consciously choose not to belong to any synagogue. Can you think of others you have met, now or in the past? How many do you think there are? How would you define such a thing when the world has become rich in marriage diversity? They tell a familiar reason, they are not practicing, they don’t believe, it was important to my parents but not to me, and the like. I admittingly think, are they speaking of themselves or me? Because I feel similar – religiously speaking; nevertheless, hineni – here I am.

We know of Jews in our community that also choose to affiliate with other Jewish communities such as Agudas Achim to Chabad. I would suppose it comes back to belonging, some feel more comfortable belonging with other folks. That’s great, no judgement because it is the very concept of membership. Membership is about being comfortable in the group you decide to associate with. It’s about being accepted also for what you stand for and, likewise, the individual having an affinity to belong to the group. It is as old as tribes are on the planet. We humans seem to have not lost entirely some of our ancient survival techniques.

The student, Callie Brown, then wrote this, “The Academy provided me with a plethora of knowledge – it gave me a chance to feel seen and further develop my black side, which is not always easy to do living in Cedar Rapids”. Each of us has many “sides” as a parent, a caregiver, soccer, biking. Each may have multiple affinity groups. Is it not the same for us – to explore our Jews side, by sharing a congregation? One can learn and participate and, as such, you become more knowledgeable, prouder of who you are, more “seen”.

The students that get accepted into this Academy have to be good students. There are standards, they don’t just accept everyone. Unacceptable behaviors and previous actions could mean you are skipped for placement. They are judged based on merits, not status or being the toughest kid in class. We as a Jewish people also have a standard moral foundation how we are to treat each other. Likewise, we as Temple Judah, have an expectation that with privilege of membership there are shared mutual responsibilities. Just as in the United States much is given through the rights we all share, but these too have limits when it harms others. One does not have the right to falsely scream fire in a crowded theater – even if you think the First Amendment protects your freedom of speech.

To be an identifying Jew today in America is quickly becoming not the norm, as pointed out in the latest Pew Research. There exists more today a conscious choice to associate, and that decision is highly influenced by one’s religious beliefs and one’s desire for this belonging. Being a temple member there also is reciprocity built into the very structure – you help be a responsible temple member and our organization will strive to be responsive to our community.

This year completes the 3rd year of my administration leading the board. I want to thank those board members and committee chairs for raising their hands and respectfully fulfilling their duties. Board members: Treasurer, Michael Heeren, 1st VP, Brian Cohen, Stacy Hein, Amy Heeren, Mary Ritcherson, Nancy Margulis, Jennifer DeSotel, Daniel Diner, Sarah Diner, and Tony Smith. Thank you to Barbara Feller for leading Religious School and teaching Midweek Hebrew, and to our Tikkun Olam Chairperson, Sabrina Thalblum. A special shout out to both Amy Heeren and Nancy Margulis who together co-chair the Ritual Committee and Brian Cohen for chairing this year’s Nominating Committee. We also thank Rabbi Thalblum for his continued talented service to our community. I want to acknowledge that none of this would be possible without the support of the Trust Supervisor Board (TSB) comprised of Ben Dillon, Charlie Litow, Scott Gasway, Nancy Margulis, and myself along with often welcome guest, Michael Heeren. And last, but not at all least, I want to thank Carolyn Simon for all she does to keep us on track. It is this team that allows our Temple to be responsive to this Temple’s needs.

Robert Becker