President's Column

President's Column


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


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


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

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

President's Column


The High Holidays are right around the corner, and once again our clergy, staff, and member volunteers are hard at work to prepare meaningful and memorable services for our congregation. Mishkan HaNefesh, our Machzor for the High Holidays, can still be referred to as our “new” prayer book despite a few years of experience with it – but it remains fresh and engaging, with new surprises each year.

Plus, it will seem all that much more original this year in the hands of our new Cantor, Mark Stanton. Many of you have met him this summer, including at our two wonderful Beach Shabbats – but others will meet him for the first time. Get ready to be impressed. I am already anticipating hearing his trained operatic voice sing the opening words of Kol Nidre.

This will be my second year as TBT’s President, and I continue to be amazed by the variety of ways that TBTs members bring our synagogue to life. Our new Board is already engaged to ensure the vitality and fiscal health of our community. One of our goals for the coming year is to make use of the resources of our Reform umbrella organization, the Union for Reform Judaism, including its teaching tools on leadership development and synagogue governance.

The energy and wisdom of our lay leaders, working closely with our clergy and staff, are what make our synagogue work for so many people. It is my hope for the coming year to ensure a solid foundation on which to build our future.

Jeff Babbin

President's Column - Summer 2018

TBT was a hotbed of activity in June, so the summer months of July and August should bring us some respite and time for reflection.

Every weekend in June brought excitement – from the Broadway and Burgers dinner and entertainment extravaganza, to the Board Installation Shabbat, to the blockbuster farewell Shabbat for Cantor Margolius. Yes, about 200 congregants filled our synagogue to honor our Cantor before his departure for New Orleans – and the tributes and unique gifts were heartwarming. I have to thank Sandy Whelan (chair), Jodie Ambrosino, and Judy Merriam for serving on the committee that, in conjunction with the Rabbi, organized the night. And special thanks to Rob Jacoby for the Cantor’s portrait on behalf of the Torah Study participants, and to John Lesage, the master craftsman who designed and created by hand the magnificent wooden music stand that Cantor Margolius will take with him as a reminder of our musical experiences together these past five years.

The next two months will bring a slower pace. Remember: every July and August service on Friday nights starts at 6:00 p.m. Those held at TBT will have a pre-service oneg (“pre-neg”) at 6:00 followed by a relatively short service. Then there are the two beach Shabbat services at Madison’s East Wharf Beach, on July 13 and August 3 at 6:00, followed by a short walk to a congregant’s house for the oneg. Last year’s beach Shabbats were memorable, so bring your folding chair and join us! Bonus treat: hearing Cantor Mark Stanton’s beautiful voice – which many of you heard at Cantor Margolius’s farewell Shabbat – at every summer service starting with Friday, July 6.

- Jeff Babbin

President's Column - June 2018

Shalom. June brings us to both endings and beginnings. When one era ends, another always begins. June is the last month of TBT’s fiscal year, and with it we have Board members departing after years of service but also congregants newly joining our Board to help us fulfill our mission statement in all we do. At our Annual Meeting, we recognized the departing Board members and came together to welcome the new ones. If you are interested in service to your synagogue, whether it is on the board or, just as important, on one of our committees; please let me, the Rabbi, our office staff, or another Board member know.

June is also the month when we say farewell to Cantor Kevin Margolius, who in his five years of service to our congregation has been a spiritual and musical leader and friend. He leaves us as a stronger community, and with a solid religious school, ready for the next era. And that era is already starting as we welcome our new cantor-educator, Cantor Mark Stanton, who brings a wealth of experience and talent to the shoreline of Connecticut. It is fitting that on Friday evening, June 15, we will have the opportunity to celebrate all that Cantor Margolius has brought to our community while also saying hello to Cantor Stanton, who will attend that special Shabbat service. Do please come that evening as we transition from one era to the next.

June is also a month of high school graduations, where in our own families we celebrate what our children have accomplished while readying them for the next era of college and adulthood. In May, we had a special Shabbat service recognizing and blessing TBT’s large group of 12th graders (including two from the Babbin family!) as we looked both backwards and forwards. I am pleased how TBT has prepared our children for leading Jewish lives as they depart our homes for the next stages of their lives.

- Jeff Babbin

President's Column - May 2018


“Civility.” That’s a word I want to plug in this month’s column. It’s a short column because I am facing a barrage of work-related deadlines in my legal practice. But what makes it all tolerable is civility in my profession and in the workplace. A lawsuit is by definition an intractable dispute among people or businesses, so we have courts that apply the rule of law to maintain civility. Now, sometimes I do face a lawyer for the opposing party (usually from out-of-state!) who thinks that being difficult will give him or her an advantage. That is mistaken. One thing I’ve learned about Connecticut is that most of my Connecticut legal peers, even when our clients are locked in a legal battle, are civil and professional and make Connecticut a wonderful place for the legal profession. Connecticut is, as you all know, a small world, and lawyers who are opposed to me on one case might be working alongside me on another one, or working on a project with me for a legal organization like the bar association.

It is a shame that our political world has lost the civility that had long been a hallmark of legislative and executive life and tradition. Has it improved anyone’s political standing, the ability to get things done, or the lives of the politicians and their constituents? I think not. Now, there were exceptions in history to this civility, like the 1856 caning of Senator Sumner by Rep. Brooks, a dispute that foreshadowed the larger divisions that led to Civil War. Civil discourse has greatly improved since then, but we risk too much by forgetting the benefits of civility.

To help all of us continue to engage in meaningful and respectful exchanges within our communities, TBT is presenting a program entitled “How to Talk to Each Other: Effective Communication about Differences.” If you are reading this in late April, please join us at TBT on Sunday, April 29, 2018, at 9:30 a.m. to hear from two expert TBT members, Nancy Abramson, MSW, and Rosemary Baggish, MPH, about how to talk and discuss issues in a divided, polarized country. You’ll even get to enjoy a light brunch.

I also hope to see you all on Tuesday, May 22, 2018, for our congregation’s Annual Meeting. An update on the building project will be on the agenda, along with the usual information and honors. Come at 7:00 p.m. for dessert and attend the 90-minute program from 7:15 to 8:45 p.m.

- Jeff Babbin