President's Column

President's Column September 2019

Shalom.

TBT is already gearing up for the end of summer and start of fall. The clergy, choir, and musicians are hard at work to prepare a meaningful and memorable High Holiday experience. The religious school has the teachers it needs and is getting ready to welcome the students back. The TBT Preschool (just renamed from the Nursery School) is excited to be opening its doors soon for another year—and it still has openings if you or a friend is looking for an enriching experience for a young child. And in September we return to our regular, non-summer Shabbat rhythm of 7:15pm Friday services, except for the 6:00pm First Friday service that starts with a cozy “preneg.”

The Fall will also be a time of renewal for TBT. You will see work being done on the first phase of our renovation project, to expand our parking capacity. And there will be congregational meetings to keep you all informed of our progress and to share ideas as we move forward together.

Looking forward to a wonderful year ahead. Thank you for your membership and being part of the TBT community.

- Jeff

President's Column Summer 2019

Shalom.

Summer has finally arrived, and we can now open our windows, enjoy the warmth of the sun, and take walks on the beach. We can even pray at the beach, with TBT’s wonderful annual tradition of Beach Shabbat at Madison’s East Wharf Pavilion on July 19th and August 9th. Like all of our Friday night services in July and August, these services will be at 6:00 p.m. Friday nights at TBT can be part of a healthy, balanced summer diet of community and spirituality— with the long summer evenings still ahead of you after the early services.

We also will be seeing changes this summer on TBT’s grounds, while school is not in session. If you have been following our building renovation progress, or attended our fun Paving the Way barbecue recently on our patio, you will know that Phase I of our project is about to get underway with much improved entranceways from Route 79 and parking to welcome you each time you arrive at TBT. While the final landscape plan won’t be fully put into place until the end of the construction process, we will enjoy this tangible sign of moving toward TBT’s future when we all arrive for the High Holidays this fall.

Summer is too hot for a long column, so I’m off to drink an iced tea and sit on my own porch right after delivering this column to the TBT office. And let me put in a word of thanks to the TBT office staff and volunteers who diligently assemble, produce, and distribute this Shofar newsletter month after month, especially our dedicated Administrative Assistant, Bonnie Mahon.

Happy Summer!
Jeff Babbin

President's Column June 2019

Shalom.

Fires set at two Chabad houses outside of Boston and a deadly shooting at a Chabad house near San Diego. A fire set at a mosque in New Haven. These are the most recent attacks on houses of worship in the United States in just the last month. I don’t need to list all of the other attacks on worshipers and on synagogues, churches, and mosques worldwide in the last several months. I don’t mention all of this to be an alarmist. Instead, I am heartened by the outpouring of support for all of these places of worship, with Muslims marching to support Jews, and Jews marching to support Muslims.

Our country was settled in part by those seeking the freedom to worship and follow their own consciences. We must continue to support that freedom and find ways to stem the tide of hatred directed at disrupting our way of life. As Senator Dianne Feinstein said after the Chabad of Poway shooting in California, “America stands for openness and tolerance, and those values suffer greatly from these terrible shootings.” Yet, we risk becoming numb to the violence and therefore losing the will to work hard to find solutions. In just the last couple of months, there were college and high school shootings in North Carolina and Colorado that were not even the lead story—but were “below the fold” on the front page of the paper I read—as deadly violence seems to become more of the norm in our everyday lives. Having just returned from the TBT trip led by Rabbi Offner in Vienna, Prague, Krakow, and Warsaw, we were witness to the sites and memories that told us how hate and violence can destroy the fabric of even the most developed societies of their day. I cannot in this short column provide advice on how we, in the U.S., can take steps to change course, but I can ask everyone to devote their attention to the problem so collectively we can find solutions and not accept the status quo as the new norm.

Jeff Babbin

President's Column May 2019

Shalom.

I am looking forward to many gatherings of friends, family, congregants, and community in the coming month. I am writing this just before the start of Passover, where it is so important to gather with family and friends in one’s home that we skip going to synagogue on Friday when the Seder falls on that night. Passover makes us think instead about hospitality, welcoming the stranger and the refugee into our midst (as we are thankful for our own exodus from the land of Egypt) and (of course) opening the door for Elijah! How wonderful, then, that TBT then comes together to make our synagogue our symbolic home for the communal Second Seder.

As soon as Passover ends, many TBT congregants are gathering together for a journey to the “Old World,” to Central and Eastern Europe where we will explore the ancestral homes of many American Jews but also bear witness to forces that destroyed centuries-old communities. I look forward to this TBT group adventure as well.

And right on the heels of our return from Europe will be our congregation-wide gathering—the TBT Annual Meeting on Tuesday, May 14, at 7:00 p.m. Please put this on your calendar and join us as we come together to reflect on the past year and consider the year ahead.

I also want to thank everyone who participated in another community-building event: the Social Justice Committee’s Spring Food Drive, our first food drive held entirely online, allowing us to order healthy, perishable food for delivery directly to the Branford Community Dining Room. The Committee exceeded its goal thanks to so many in our TBT community.

- Jeff Babbin

President's Column

Shalom.

In a column last year, I wrote about the importance of civility. Sad to say, the need for more civil conversation has only become more urgent by the tragic events of Pittsburgh and now New Zealand. Social media seems to have further inflamed the delusions of those who see the world through the filter of hate and distrust of people different from themselves, and thus resort to violence in pursuit of their twisted views.

I was recently in Charleston, SC, where I was reminded of a similar event in 2015 when nine black congregants were gunned down during a church service. Jews, Muslims, African-Americans – all people going about their lives, killed during communal prayer. The crisis of these events transcends any one group. Only by coming together as a community to speak out against all hate, against all groups, can we hope for a better future. There is a direct line between Pittsburgh and New Zealand. On the Friday night after the New Zealand shootings, Rabbi Offner spoke passionately against hate and violence in all of its forms and lit a candle in memory of the victims. People of all faiths have attended vigils, in Connecticut and elsewhere, to mourn the dead and support the people of New Zealand.

The holiday of Purim was celebrated shortly after the events in New Zealand. Purim can remind us of how hate toward others different from oneself can potentially lead to tragedy – but also how brave people who speak out to educate our leaders and community about the dangers of zealotry can change the conversation and lead to peaceful co-existence in a diverse society.

One final note, on a more local scale, TBT’s Social Justice Committee has organized an opportunity for us to help those in our community in need of basic sustenance. Our Spring Food Drive begins on April 1 and continues until April 19. This drive is entirely online. You can click HERE and order healthy, perishable food (including eggs, milk, fresh fruit, and vegetables) for delivery to the Branford Community Dining Room. Please partake in this important event to help our own friends and neighbors.

Jeff Babbin

President's Column March 2019

Shalom.

Spring is around the corner—although, let’s admit it: March often disappoints in Connecticut, making us wait until April for spring. But spring definitely comes to TBT in March. We have a wonderful Purim celebration scheduled on Wednesday, March 20 with a 5:15 p.m. communal dinner and then the 6:00 p.m. Purim service with the megillah reading and— most exciting—a Purim spiel. Cantor Stanton will coordinate TBT teens and choir in presenting a play to dramatize the Purim story (a tradition in many synagogues), and it’s not to be missed! Of course, we’ll have TBT’s annual Purim carnival on Sunday, March 17 at noon, organized as always by our SALTY youth group.

We’ll also fast forward some 2,400 years to the present day in March, when we are blessed by noted Jewish author Tal Keinan speaking at a free JCC-sponsored book author event at TBT on Sunday, March 10, at 12:30 p.m. The author’s book, God Is in the Crowd, is a modern and timely look at the Jewish people in the 21st Century. To help plan, please respond to the Evite.

Then, looking toward the future, please come to our special congregational meeting scheduled for Thursday, March 14, at 7:00 p.m., to hear the next installment of our periodic updates about the progress of our TBT building renovation project. There’s lots of exciting news and progress since our last congregational (building update) meetings last November.

Hope to see you all then.
Jeff Babbin

President's Column February 2019

Shalom. As I write this, it is nearly zero degrees out on a cold January day. Time to stay inside, hibernate, and do nothing until the dreary days pass.

Well, no. Actually, it’s time to come to TBT and be cheered up with activities and warmed up spiritually. TBT does not hibernate in the dead of winter. We light Shabbat candles and create a space where you can step back from the week in order to reflect, relax, and enjoy the company of fellow congregants in the sanctuary and at an oneg. Perhaps even sponsor an oneg in February! (Call Bonnie in the office to arrange that.)

Also, every other Saturday, there is Mindfulness and Meditation at 8:00 a.m.—and weekly Torah Study on Saturdays at 9:00. What better way to escape the doldrums of February. Well, some would say they prefer TBT’s weekly Mah Jongg on Fridays at 1:00. Better yet, wake up your mind and lungs by joining the TBT Choir, which practices Wednesday evenings. Contact the Cantor about joining—no auditions or special talent required. Do all of this and, before you know it, spring will be here.

February will also be special because Cantor Stanton will lead services with the help of many congregants this month, as Rabbi Offner will be on her month-long Sabbatical. I know you will enjoy learning and praying with the Cantor.

- Jeff Babbin

President's Column January 2019

Shalom. In my capacity as President, I recently attended the annual December orientation program for the students, and the parents of the students, who are about to embark on their b’nei mitzvah training in 2019. Even without a student of my own at this gathering, it was a fun event to attend, bringing back memories of my own daughters’ journeys to Jewish adulthood. Plus, I got to witness the advances TBT has made in teaching “trope” to the b’nei mitzvah students, making them all lifelong Torah readers.

The Rabbi asked me to speak to the parents on the topic of “parent engagement.” Of course, the parents are highly engaged in the b’nei mitzvah program, but the Rabbi meant something broader – parental engagement in the life of the synagogue, to act as role models for their children in their commitment to Jewish lives. That necessarily requires treating b’nei mitzvah studies as not just a milestone to check off a list, but as a springboard to a deeper commitment to communal Jewish life. A central feature of Judaism is its embrace of a sense of peoplehood, of a gathering of a community of Jews as the best way to experience life to its fullest.

So, to that end, I thought that I would share with the entire congregation the words I spoke to the parents of the upcoming b’nei mitzvah students one Sunday afternoon in early December. I am reprinting my talk here verbatim:

“TBT runs on the fuel of congregant engagement, including parent engagement. We have professional clergy and office staff – but, in the end, the congregation runs on the strength of its members’ commitment and support. And that includes engagement with the TBT community – from attending and bringing your children to services, volunteering for Mitzvah Day and class dinners, participating in activities like Habitat for Humanity, and helping TBT committees such as the education committee, social justice, and religious activities, among others.

“Your children certainly take note of the level of your engagement with TBT. I was hesitant to become president when my children were still in the house – and while I am now an empty nester, I am so glad I started my presidency with my twins at home, able to see my commitment to TBT, so I could model the importance of the synagogue to our lives. And now that they are in college, they have pleasantly surprised me by their involvement with their college Hillel programs and involvement with Jewish activities at school.

“We, as parents, are all role models. That also includes remaining as members of TBT following the bar or bat mitzvah, as Judaism is a lifelong pursuit, and supporting the presence of a Jewish congregation on the shoreline is an important way of showing that the bar or bat mitzvah is not the end of Jewish learning and engagement, but only the beginning.

“Thank you, and mazel tov on your child’s upcoming bar or bat mitzvah.”

Jeff Babbin

President's Column

Shalom.

As the days get shorter, the month of December at least brings us the Festival of Lights, our eight-day celebration of Chanukah. TBT will bring our families together for dinner (with latkes!), a group menorah lighting, and the Shabbat festival service on Friday, December 7. This will certainly lift the spirits of everyone on a cold December evening.

Chanukah also acknowledges the renewal of the Jewish people and the rebuilding and dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Here at TBT, we are engaged in our own rebuilding project, to take this temple of Jewish life on the Connecticut shoreline and keep it thriving and serving all of our needs. Those members who came to either of our two Building Renovation Project congregational meetings in November were able to examine a detailed model and hear the specific plans for how our temple will fulfill TBT’s mission in the years to come. For those who could not attend, we will be posting the presentation online very soon, if it hasn’t already been done by the time you read this.

I also want to encourage all members who are able to do so, to donate to our 5779 Annual Fund, bridging the gap between our budgeted needs and what we collect from members’ pledges each year. The Annual Fund is what enables us to open our temple doors to the entire Jewish shoreline community regardless of means and ability to pay our full pledge amounts. We celebrate the perseverance and strength of the Jewish people during Chanukah, and the TBT Annual Fund is what gives us the ability to serve our entire local Jewish community and help it prosper.

Jeff Babbin

President's Column

TBT PRESIDENT’S HIGH HOLIDAY SPEECH 5779
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