Building on a Year of Growth

“For the sake of the Oneness of all Life, I stand here, ready in body and mind, to take upon myself the mitzvah, “You shall love your fellow human being as yourself (Lev. 19), and may I love and be open to all people, beings and the earth itself- and by this merit may I live each day.” (Kavannah introduced by the Kabbalists of Sfat, to be said before formal prayer and adapted by Rabbi Shawn Zevit, 2015)

This year of Strength Through Engagement is moving into the last quarter of our Jewish year. The hit’o’rerut or self-awakening we chant every Friday night as part of the beautiful mystical prayer “Lecha Dodi - welcoming the beloved” has never been more resonant for me as the possibilities of our beginnings of 5777 gave way to the realities of heightened political, social, environmental, racial-socio-economic near-daily upheaval.

As I reflect on the upcoming fourth anniversary this July of my coming to lead and co-create--with Rabbi Yael, our staff, leadership and all of you--the next stage of our shared journey in Jewish communal life, it sometimes feels as if decades have been squeezed into a few years. The revitalization of so many areas of our congregational activities, the ongoing return of former members, new members and the vast array of reflective and song-filled spiritual moments, programs and organizing activities for justice, learning across our various ages and interest areas , artistic and creative explorations across the spectrum, school, teen programs, and many more areas of member activity means I have to check our calendar to keep track of what is happening myself in our community.

As we enter the summer months, I want to thank President Ellen Tichenor, and Vice-President Barry Dornfeld for their leadership and tireless commitment to our community’s thriving, along with our remarkable Board leaders, especially Doron Henkin, who is cycling off the Board after guiding us in a values-based, calm and spiritually centered approach to our financial well-being through many of our most trying years.

New leaders are on their way, as you will vote on at our community meeting, and there are issue and program areas that could use your volunteer energy to help our community continue to grow (especially membership with Marcy Boroff stepping down as chair, though remaining on the Board) and sustain the high level of current offerings and work in justice- program areas and committees.

A deep bow in gratitude to newly minted Rabbi Julie Benioff who blessed us with three years of rabbinic internship and added so much to our spiritual, pastoral, family educational, teen and life-long learning communal lives. We send you off with sadness at your departure and abundant blessings and delight at who you have become as a rabbi and the way your new congregation in Ashland, Oregon, will benefit- kol hakavod (all power to you!). Supported by this year’s teen coordinator Julia Weekes, and Gabby Kaplan Meyer, we were able to keep growing our teen program.

I am very excited to announce that Clair Brunhild, an incoming third year RRC student, will become our new rabbinic intern/teen coordinator. Claire is a gifted educator, youth worker, musician, singer, animal lover, and much more as you will discover beginning next fall.

Thank these people--and others I may have not been thoughtful enough to mention--when you see them! Hoda’ah- gratitude is an ancient and core Jewish practice! It is from this Hebrew word that Yehudah or Jew comes from- we are the Grateful People not only Yisrael/God-Wrestlers through our lineage.

I look forward to seeing you in the weeks ahead inside our Mishkan or under heaven’s canopy

at Shabbat under the stars. Either way, I welcome the ongoing opportunity to meet with you over the summer if your time allows and continue to listen to, guide and accompany you individually and all of us collectively on our Jewish journey. We, who are Mishkan Shalom have a mission and direction, I am passionate about and know there are many more Jews and non-Jewish partners and allies who would thrive here if they knew about us and experienced us. I also know we need continued and increased involvement from all our membership to be able to sustain the level of intense offerings we have been generating.

There are school and Board membership engagement initiatives investing in growing our community beyond the stabilization of membership we have achieved the last four years at our two hundred and twenty households. This engagement, with its simultaneous attendant in-reach and outreach is what lies ahead for us. Yet, we are all members of the in-reach/outreach team- it is in one-to-one relationship building that community happens, that social change occurs and true transformation is possible.

Both our young teen and B’nai Mitzvah leaders, adult members, Rabbi Yael, now Rabbi Julie Benioff and I, along with many guest leaders who spoke to us in our sacred space this year--Reverend Greg Holston, Pastor Nic O’Rourke, Reverend Mark Tyler, Imam Qaiser, Reverend Linda Noonan—have shown us that it is by continuing to be strong through engagement in hope, not fear, that we will continue to meet the intense challenges ahead for us all.

“The kind of hope I think about…a state of mind, not a state of the world…It’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well…but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good....” Vaclav Havel

Let us continue to work for the common good here at Mishkan Shalom and our greater Philadelphia community and world in the months ahead. Kayitz tov- have a wonderful summer, (a.k.a. Tammuz and Elul!). See you under the stars for Shabbat and elsewhere; Shul is in for summer!

Note: It is often very hard to gauge who reads Kol Shalom (compared to Ma Hadash, which is a web-based production and has around a 60% opening rate. There are times I know Rabbi Yael, Ellen and I struggle with whether what we write about has meaning, relevance or impact for our member readers. If you have read this and have thoughts or reflections, please let me know at or call 215.508.226 ex. 1, and set up a time to talk and get to know each other better over the summer. It would mean a great deal to me to know your thoughts and reflections as we look to a new year ahead.


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