Remarks from the Temple President Craig Niederberger for Yom Kippur

In 2007, the Kindle was new. In 1994, GPS was new. In 1985, WiFi was new. In 1973, the cell phone was new. In 1969, the Internet was new. In 1952, the Polio vaccine was new. In 1948, Israel was new. In 1946, the electronic computer was new. In 1928, penicillin was new. And in 1928, our Temple, the place where we’re sitting now, was new. In 1909, Television was new. In 1903, the airplane was new. In 1888, motion pictures were new. In 1885, the automobile was new. In 1879, the light bulb was new. In 1876, the telephone was new. In 1867, our congregation was new.

1867. Take a look around. Look at this amazing place in which we’re sitting this morning. But more importantly, look around and see our community, our friends, our families, our loved ones. 146 years ago, a community of people just like us had gathered as we do today to celebrate the birth of a new year and a new era. They didn’t inhabit the breathtaking architectural space that we do now; that would come over six decades later. But they created something wonderful, a community where Judaism would thrive in the vibrant city of Chicago. And create they did, and 146 years later, their children’s children’s children’s children are still creating a living Jewish community central to America’s most authentic city.

This past year was hard. We began it after the departure of a beloved senior rabbi, and we began a process of rebuilding, which is never easy. We had a ton of help. We had leaders of the Reform movement guide us in selecting a wonderful interim senior rabbi who was creative, warm, and inspiring, and we had a brilliant pioneer in the movement join us in our beginning to develop our vision of our congregation’s great future. We had a clergy who grasped this moment in Temple Sholom’s history with spirit and devoted enormous time and energy not only to tending our spiritual needs but to building our future. We had an incredible staff who capably run our complex institution with talent and charm. But most of all, we had you.

It is remarkable how many of you have given their creativity and energy to our rebuilding. We have wonderful committees vigorously engaged in social issues, spiritual needs, and in keeping our congregation’s home thriving. But we have entirely new efforts grown from your own passion and vitality. We have Eco Chavura devoted to bettering our environmental footprint in our house of worship and beyond. We have Michpacha, a community of our 365 families with children up to age 12, with activities for the whole family, parents, and collaborations with our remarkably strong and vibrant Sisterhood. I can hardly wait to see what wonderful new ideas that you build in the coming year.

If you haven’t yet had a chance to join in our rebuilding, now’s a great time to look around for something gratifying and interesting to join. There’s so much going on. If you’re wondering what’s available, the board and I would love to help you navigate your interests. You can identify board members by their name tags today; just grab one between services.

One way in which everyone will participate in our rebuilding is in our visioning process. A great and diverse group of thoughtful congregants has been working hard to craft a “Sh’ma” statement for Temple Sholom. Just as the Sh’ma is the central statement of Jewish belief, Temple Sholom’s Sh’ma statement will express the essence of how we perceive ourselves and what we’d like to be. The visioning team will be conducting a series of house meetings in the coming year to seek your input as we go forward with our “Sh’ma” and its subsequent “V’ahavta,” which will describe how we’ll implement the mission encapsulated in our “Sh’ma.”

I’d like to thank so many of you who completed our survey. It’s part of a larger initiative in which many congregations are participating for us to learn what is meaningful to you so that we can most effectively provide it. From our Temple Sholom survey, we learned that vision and values are very important to you, which harmonizes well with our visioning efforts. We also learned that social connections are very important, and we’ll be working to strengthen programming and services to address what you communicated through the survey.

 In this year of rebuilding, there has been much to celebrate. You know our rabbis as warm, approachable, and loving. But did you know that they are also Jewish luminaries?   Rabbi Conover was awarded a prestigious Hartman Institute fellowship, a remarkable honor, and will bring new ideas and learning to our synagogue.  As part of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultation, Rabbi Sandmel and fellow congregant David Inlander had an audience with Pope Francis on the 103rd day of his papacy. Our musically inspiring Cantor Katzman is also certified as a teacher of Jewish Mindfulness Meditation with the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. And we have an accomplished and passionate new director for Gan Sholom and all of our vital early childhood education programs, in Heidi Cooper.

Central to our rebuilding, and a great cause for celebration, is the arrival of our extraordinary new senior rabbi, Edwin Goldberg, an established leader in the Reform movement. As just one example of his significant influence, he’s a lead editor of the High Holidays Machzor in which we and so many of our fellow Jews around the world will find inspiration, nourishment, and peace during these Days of Awe. But like all of our clergy, Rabbi Goldberg is first and foremost a mensch, with delightful humor and boundless kindness. We have a “Shalom to Sholom” initiative introducing Rabbi Goldberg to our congregation and greater community, but please don’t wait: meet him and see for yourself what a wonderful senior rabbi it is that leads us now.

Our rebuilding does require support for the beautiful and historic physical space we inhabit today, for the programs and services that benefit all, and most importantly, to build our future. Please give what you can. It’s an important time for us, a time of special need, and a time of special opportunity.

Two years after the American civil war ended, our congregation was new. We’re starting a new year and a new era in our Temple’s remarkable history. You’re a part of that history, and of our future. L’shanah tovah!

Craig Niederberger is Temple President and has been a member of Temple Sholom since 2003. Craig’s goal as President is to increase engagement in all of its wonderful forms within the great Temple Sholom family.