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President's Column by President Jay Hirsh

Looking Ahead: Striving to Live as an Inclusive Holy Community
May/June 2023

As my two-year term as Beth Am President comes to an end at our Annual Meeting on May 21, this is my final President’s Column for the Builder. I could reflect on completing eight years of board service, which has had its fair share of highs and lows, expected and unexpected. As with almost everything during the pandemic, what has often popped into my mind is the witty Yiddish proverb “Der mentsh trakht un got lakht,” translated as, “A person plans and God laughs.”

So instead of a reflection, I’ve chosen to share again some of what I wrote in my first President’s Column from May 2021:

In seeking inspiration, I recently read the book “Here All Along – Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and Deeper Connection to Life — In Judaism” by Sarah Hurwitz. Hurwitz served as head speechwriter for First Lady Michelle Obama, a senior speechwriter for President Barack Obama, and chief speechwriter for Hillary Clinton on her 2008 presidential campaign. While she is neither a rabbi nor a Jewish academic, she chronicles her own engagement efforts to understand and participate in Judaism through consultation with rabbis and Jewish academics. Her journey gave her fresh insights about what it will take to remove perceived barriers to Jewish community engagement:

  • Address the basic lack of Jewish literacy. Even learning the basics can be a serious challenge. We need to support people as they push through feelings of intimidation and embarrassment.
  • Create an environment for approaching Judaism with curiosity, openness and persistence. Questioning, debating, and interpreting have always been a part of Judaism and this is a strength.
  • Embrace that there is no one right way to be Jewish.
  • Recognize and support that figuring out how to be Jewish is a lifelong process.
  • "Do Judaism” meaningfully by finding opportunities to understand the Jewish thinking and traditions behind Jewish experiences.

Now in 2023, I believe more than ever that Beth Am and the Reform movement can, and do, create a Judaism that is accessible to all. Beth Am has developed outstanding youth education options for families and adult education classes supporting new and advanced learners; we continue to engage in social justice work, seek an end to antisemitism and grow our personal connections to Israel; and we celebrate Shabbat and worship together, elevated by soulful spiritual music. We come together in times of joy and sorrow. If you are actively participating in our congregation, you know how blessed we are. If not, I urge you to rededicate yourself to engaging in our vibrant Jewish community — to take advantage of all that is offered here, be kind to one another, and generously support the mission of Beth Am and the work of our clergy, educators, staff and volunteers. Start small and figure out what is comfortable for you — attend a worship service, a class or an event, in person or online, and feel free to bring along a friend, or try out volunteering. Together we can define a bright, inclusive future for our synagogue as we strive to live as a holy community. 


Tue, June 25 2024 19 Sivan 5784