President's Column

Sept. 18, 2018 (Kol Nidre service)

Shana Tova.

I am speaking to you today in our sanctuary, or at least our extended high holiday edition of one. What is a sanctuary? It is, of course, a sacred place, a place to worship. But I think all of us feel a sense of something even greater when we come together in our sanctuary. A place of comfort and safety and connectedness, away from the daily din of the news of the day, replaced with the steady tones of time-honored traditions that feed our spirit and connect us to our Jewish community both locally and around the world.

Some houses of worship in Connecticut have become literal sanctuaries, housing longtime members of the local community who are subject to being deported, as a sanctuary is one place where the government’s hand has traditionally not reached. While we haven’t made use of our facilities that way, it shows that a religious institution’s building is more than four walls and a roof; it is a place infused with the human spirit to make a difference in our lives and the lives of others around us.

When a group of us, led by Rabbi Offner, venture to Poland, Vienna, and Prague next spring, we will gain an even deeper appreciation of the importance of sanctuary, and of the blessing we have living the lives of American Jews. Thankfully, the U.S. continues to be a welcome haven for Jews and Jewish families. But we can never be complacent. In a recent march in Charlottesville, chants included the slogan “Jews will not replace us.” Even in Israel, within the Jewish community, we have seen a Conservative Rabbi arrested for performing a non-Orthodox marriage ceremony. And there’s the controversy in the U.K., where the leading candidate to be the next British Prime Minister has been called an existential threat to Jewish life by a joint statement from a broad spectrum of Jewish leaders in that country.

TBT’s founders created a communal Jewish life here on the shoreline of Connecticut, making Madison, Guilford, Clinton, and other surrounding towns a welcome place for Jews to live. We have all built on that foundation, and our Rabbis, including Rabbi Offner, have built strong bridges to people of all faiths on the Shoreline. TBT’s members and clergy have worked hard to be a beacon for Jews looking for community, worship, and knowledge in this neck of the woods.

TBT has become a sanctuary for those looking for inner peace—with mindfulness and meditation classes, along with Torah Study—and outer peace—with our social justice committee helping the hungry and marching in protest against gun violence. A sanctuary for those looking to study (with lunchtime seminars with the Rabbi), and to play (with Friday mah jong), and to examine the human condition (with an engaging set of Jewish or Israel related films in our annual film series). A place where everyone is welcome. We are strengthened by our diversity of backgrounds, interests, and perspectives.

In order to maintain our spiritual and emotional sanctuary as a place to make those connections, we also need a physical sanctuary that supports our mission.

A lot will be happening in the coming year as many dedicated volunteers among our members work to ensure that our “house of hope,” our Beth Tikvah, is in a building that is inclusive, accessible, and supports the values in our mission statement of tikkun hanefesh (enriching our lives) and tikkun olam (improving the world). Reform synagogues nationally have adopted a principle known as audacious hospitality, to be welcoming in all we do.

Adding an elevator so all of our members and guests can go from the main floor to the lower classroom wing will make us more welcoming. This need was well illustrated when, last December, our 40-year old aging pipes broke and we had no main-floor bathrooms just as we had a guest speaker recovering from hip surgery who struggled to go down the stairs to the lower facilities.

Adding an awning so those waiting for a car don’t get wet will make us more welcoming. And the Rabbi, Cantor, and I could have used that awning when greeting you after last week’s Rosh Hashanah morning service in drizzling rain.

Adding live streaming of our services for congregants unable to attend in person, to hear the Rabbi’s sermon, or view a funeral service, will make us more welcoming.

Expanding our parking area so we have a drop-off loop to avoid children dodging moving cars, and to avoid the High Holiday shuttle being stuck in the line of cars waiting to park—or dispensing altogether with the need for a shuttle—will make us more welcoming.

Making the sanctuary bright with natural light and views of the woods, making the social hall more desirable for b’nei mitzvah celebrations, and allowing us to all face East with our yearround ark on the High Holidays will make us more welcoming.

Replacing an entire air conditioning system so we can stay comfortable and not continue to inject into our aging system a chemical refrigerant that will be banned by federal law in two years will make us more welcoming.

A welcoming congregation also embraces all members regardless of personal and financial circumstances. We want all shoreline Jewish families to be part of our collective endeavor. We can only do this thanks to the generosity of those members who contribute each year to our Annual Fund, above and beyond their annual membership pledge. We will shortly be kicking off the new year’s Annual Fund drive.

None of these improvements and initiatives are possible without the time, energy, and expertise of our members. Our members allow us to fulfill our mission. And our members are essentially our only source of revenue.

Membership is more than a listing in a directory or high holiday tickets. It is even more than access to our wonderful religious school, now headed by Cantor Stanton. Membership is a dedication to the idea of a thriving Jewish community on the shoreline, relationships with our experienced, talented clergy for pastoral care and life-cycle events, deepening one’s knowledge of and connection to Judaism, and social relationships with old and new friends.

Your continued membership is what makes TBT thrive and allows it to be here to support all of us when we need that support.

The Rabbi, in her Rosh Hashanah morning sermon, told us that the Hebrew word for “member” is derived from the word for “friend.” I know that I’m not alone in counting many of our members as my good friends. But membership goes beyond personal relationships. Our collective friendship from our membership at TBT is what makes this place a sanctuary, a safe and meaningful haven for all of us. And when the strength of our physical home reflects the strength of our spiritual home, we are ensuring that TBT will be able to continue its mission for decades to come.

On behalf of our Board of Directors, myself, and my family, we wish you a sweet, healthy, and productive new year. G’mar Tov.

Jeff Babbin