President’s October 2022 Column


It has been a hundred years, a hundred identities, and a hundred generations. There are Centennials all around us today. Some people are fortunate to have grandparents or parents who  may be close to this three-digit age. Around town we hear of other organizations that are also celebrating one hundred years since their founding. While we celebrate all those that survive to such a laudable age, let’s also focus our attention on how to maintain our “good health”.

There is infrastructure and inner-structure that allows a Temple to stand. Both these legs are required for a firm step forward. By infrastructure we mean everything from the building structure itself, to ensuring water does not erode foundations. Even the finish on the woodwork is important. To this point we have been rather busy at Temple since the derecho blew through.

We will soon be completing a large water mitigation project including four natural bio-swales to clean and temporarily hold rainwater. This is your Temple doing its share to help avert rapid water release down river while also filtering it naturally. All downspouts now are directed underground to our bio-swales. This will stop the erosion occurring currently on all paved surfaces. You will notice the redesign of our south entrance including comfortable steps for added safety. New outdoor accent/security lighting is being installed. With the help from Rabbi and Tony, we have installed LED lights throughout Temple to save power. Most of the woodwork has been re-stained along with a new poly coat. This last year we repaired and reinforced the sixty-year-old mechanism supporting our vintage Pella wood partition folding doors. A new outdoor sanctuary and sukkah area is almost completed. Eventually we will have a newly repaired parking lot. These things take money and will take a bit more time to fully complete. But more importantly, it took the collective will of individuals to make it all happen. A belief that tikkun olam starts at home.

My grandfather Orrie (OL) was 22 years old when this Temple was founded. At 19 he moved here from Muscatine, leaving his father who hardly spoke English. Orrie’s goal, his passion, was to be a self-made businessman, one grocery store at a time. Everyone who prayed here the last hundred years has their own story where they came from and how they ended up here. Some families later joined our community from Europe’s hell. We welcome our many congregants who are Jews by choice. New Jews arrive in our community every year, but without desired association we never meet them.

Our Temple is the spiritual and community center for us – Traditional and Reform Jews. The very nature of this congregation was to come together, while preserving the distinctive needs of each — Traditional and Reform. This includes keeping two sanctuaries and hiring a Conservative Rabbi or Chazzan for High Holy Day services. Pluralism in practice. And it has worked for a hundred years.

“It’s not like it used to be”, I hear this sentiment a lot. I know the tunes from the guitar may not be what your mother sang. Our crowds are not large, but what organization hasn’t seen a decline? I ask this question for you to ponder, ‘if all the Jews in our town desired a close affiliation with the temple, at the price, that also antisemitism was common – is this a world you would choose?’ With freedom there is complacency.

But yet here we are. A hundred years later and we are still defining what it is to be a modern American Jew in a small midwestern town. We are thankful we live in a tolerant accepting community. We are blessed with the generosity from our legacy. Our annual budget is only possible because of those that are not here today, but rather reside in Eben Israel Cemetery.

We are fortunate to have Rabbi Todd who shares his talents and a Rebbetzin, Sabrina, who cares for the needs of others, as she herself has made great accomplishments. These last few years as President of Temple Judah, it has been my goal, my passion, to preserve what we have. From our infrastructure to our capital. We cannot sit back and only accept what we have — rather we must do our part to help pass it on to those who come after.

A hundred years … and a hundred identities. We, each of us, have more than one identity. We are Americans, we are Cedar Rapidians, we are Hawks or Cyclones, you are a Jew or name your religion. Often, we define ourselves most by the very thing that is most difficult. A gay living in a straight world. A Jew living where antisemitism is ever-present. Thankfully, today in the local environment, this feeling of being different or despised is not the case. Our world has made great progress. Who can honestly say they would trade today’s problems for those that our grandparents faced?

Which leaves one item remaining on the preservation list, that of inner-structure. By this I mean all that is not physical. That which is spiritual for some, a reason to associate, that which is ‘experienced’ by you. What we have and what we preserve is done in effect, for an inner sense of need, though often we fail to see it this way. Without the utilitarian value of a religious center the preservation of the inner-structure is meaningless. It is often in times of great emotion we connect most with our spiritual identity: bringing new life into the world, reaching mitzvah age, maybe a wedding, although more often, a funeral. How do we help preserve this — your feelings, the “need index”?

I am an engineer and not a doctor nor rabbi. To bolster one’s inner-structure is not my role or strength. I suggest we each contemplate this with our new year approaching. As we look to our history for some guidance, we might want to keep in mind the hundred generations who lived before. You are here only due to the slim chance that each generation who preceded you, came to maturity had a family, and eventually created you! A hundred generations take us back (which scholars believe) to when our Torah (or sections of) were first codified. So this concept and the adopted rituals along the way, come to you because this chain of events has not been broken.

We each stand at the bottom of one’s tree of life. As you ascend this proverbial tree you see your parents and further up you can imagine, a hundred times up, each couple who lived their life and passed on genes and culture to you. What you decide to do with it, preserve, or break the chain is your free will.

I wish you all a happy and healthy New Year and may the sound of the shofar this year allow you to link to the rich literature, customs, and culture of our shared heritage.

Robert Becker
Temple Judah President