A thriving Jewish community requires more than religious ritual — it needs you!

By Betsy Frank

Betsy Frank is UHC para-rabbinic fellow and president.

This month, I thought I would share some of the remarks I made on Erev Rosh Hashanah.

Yana Weinstein performed as soloist during the High Holidays.

I want to thank again all who keep us going on a day-to-day basis: Norma, the heart of all that we do; the entire Temple board; Ken Turetzky, our wonderful webmaster; Lori Wycoff, our custodian; Karen Harris, the religious school director; and Patty Lewis, the core of Sisterhood.

In addition, Student Rabbi Jonathan Falco and our soloist for the High Holidays, Yana Weinstein, each did a wonderful job. I also want to thank all of you who are dedicated to our congregation.

And now for the sermon:

Building on the holidays

Isaiah, in Chapter 58, verses 1-14, cautions us that ritual without action is not enough.

We can attend our yearly services, but we need more. We must change and help others make their life journeys in our own Jewish and larger communities.

Jack Wertheimer, professor of American Jewish History at Jewish Theological Seminary, wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal column that many of us come once a year to renew connections with family and friends within the Jewish community.

We renew our personal connection to prayer during the holidays, Wertheimer said, engaging as a “community of seekers” who realize the importance of connecting our daily lives to a higher purpose.

We renew our personal connection to prayer during the holidays, Wertheimer said, engaging as a “community of seekers” who realize the importance of connecting our daily lives to a higher purpose.

As Isaiah told us, ritual without that connection to something else is just empty ritual. In fact, empty rituals keep many away from the synagogue. Yet many of you do come to the synagogue at least once a year.

Reid Zoll greets former UHC President Julius Loeser with apples and honey following Rosh Hashanah morning services.

Your perspective counts

When considering reasons to attend services at the Temple for the High Holy Days, what is your perspective? A few months back, I asked the UHC board what this congregation meant to them.

The responses varied, as one would expect. We also agreed not only do the board’s views matter regarding how we operate, but so do the perspectives of all of you. Often the board’s and members’ day-to-day concerns cloud our views of a larger purpose for the entire congregation.

What does this congregation mean to you — whether you are a member of not? Is our Temple just a building to be preserved for historical purposes?

So, what does this congregation mean to you — whether you are a member of not? Is our Temple just a building to be preserved for historical purposes?

After all, under Terry Fear‘s leadership, we obtained grants to help with the restoration of our wonderful building. Improvements include new lintels above the beautiful stained glass windows and other repairs to the exterior.

Student Rabbi Jonathan Falco (right) leads Rosh Hashanah Tashlich ceremonies at Fairbanks Park in Terre Haute.

The Jewish community faces important questions

But having an actual building is not enough.

What about the congregation within? If we did not exist, where would you go for High Holy Days services?

Who would conduct the life cycle events such as Bar and Bat Mitzvahs? Where would our children learn about Judaism and engage in activities with other Jewish children?

Would Jews considering a move to Terre Haute come here if no congregation existed?

Without us, where would the larger Wabash Valley learn about Judaism and its role in the development of all western religious traditions?

Attracting those with a variety of skills, in the trades, retail, education, engineering and health, requires a full array of religious congregations, including ours.

Without us, where would the larger Wabash Valley learn about Judaism and its role in the development of all western religious traditions?

Would textbooks and library books really tell the story of the Jewish community? I do not mean to denigrate in any way the wonderful work of CANDLES Holocaust Museum & Education Center, but we all know Judaism is much more than the Holocaust.

Remembering the Holocaust should lead us to understanding the importance of preserving the living Jewish community.

Remembering the Holocaust, in fact, should lead us to understanding the importance of preserving the living Jewish community.

Therefore, I ask again: What does this congregation mean to you? How does participating in our annual rituals enrich your lives? How empty would your lives be if we were not here?

Community is all of us!

Congregants climb the stairs to historic Temple Israel before Kol Nidre services.

Please give

Of course, our community needs your monetary support, whether member or not. We need to keep the lights on, the garbage picked up, the building maintained and personnel paid.

However, these tangible reasons for support provide only the foundation for maintaining and growing our thriving Jewish community.

We need you to participate in the entire life of this Jewish community, including religious services, education and other expressions of our Jewishness.

Not only do we need your monetary support, we need you! We need you to participate in the entire life of this Jewish community, including religious services, education and other expressions of our Jewishness, contributing to projects that support the larger community, and most of all, providing the connections we all need.

Let us know how we can maintain your connection. If you do not tell us, we do not know.

On behalf of the board, I wish you all L’Shana Tova.

Shalom,

Betsy Frank

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