By Date

Dear Friends,

Thank you to everyone who attended the TSTI Annual Meeting this past week. For those unable to attend I wanted to share both my and out Temple President Bryan Bloom’s remarks.

Wishing you all a Shabbat of Peace.

Rabbi Daniel Cohen

My Words:

Good evening. Thirty-two years ago, I attended my first TSTI Annual Meeting. I had just been offered the position of rabbinic intern for the next year, and walking into the social hall, I felt honored to be there but could not have been more nervous. Thirty-two years later, serving this community continues to be one of the greatest honors of my life.

After thirty-two years, much remains the same. TSTI continues to that look for every opportunity to be as inclusive as possible, and we welcome people into our corner of the Jewish community. TSTI continues to be led, both on the professional and the volunteer side, by some of the smartest, most caring, and most dedicated people I have been privileged to know. Thirty-two years later, TSTI continues to be sustained by a community of members made up of some of the finest people I have ever met.

But thirty-two years later, much is different.

Once warm but a bit threadbare, our building is now a shining reflection of our commitment to this community. Thanks to the Art Committee, a revolving series of art shows not only beautifies the building but also reflects its depth and diversity.

Thirty-two years ago, our preschool was small enough that Moving On— preschool graduation—took place in the small mansion chapel. Thirty-two years later, the graduating students are so numerous that our sanctuary bimah is too small for everyone.

Thirty-two years ago, I had almost perfect vision and wavy black hair. Thirty-two years later. . .  Well, you get the idea.

Over these three decades, I have come to appreciate that TSTI has always and will always be a work in progress and that, so long as we do that work together as sacred partners, it will always remain such. That is part of the challenge and the joy of living in community.

Along the way, I have come to appreciate the fact that change is the only constant in life.

And that is what I want to address this evening.

Before I do, however, I want you all to join me in wishing a heartfelt mazal tov to our president, Bryan Bloom, and his significantly better half, Jill, on the marriage of their daughter Allie this past Saturday night.

When Bryan was first asked to become TSTI’s next president, he expressed concern. Max, who served our community as president for three years, guided us through the traumatic beginning of the pandemic. Elise and Marjie served as co-presidents through the second half of the pandemic and our slow return to being in person. Bryan was concerned that his presidency would be boring and uneventful.

Now that didn’t happen, but who could have predicted everything thrown at Bryan during the first year of his term? Through it all, he has been a calm, thoughtful leader. Every decision has been made based upon his and our values. He has been and continues to be an incredible friend, partner, and leader, and I could not be more grateful.

Bryan and Jill, thank you. Thank you on my behalf and on behalf of the entire TSTI community.

As I said, the only constant in life is change, and we are living in a moment of profound change. This evening, we find ourselves in a world vastly different from the one that existed when we gathered together just one year ago.

The massacre of October 7th shook many of us to our core, and speaking for myself, at least, I am still grappling with its implications.

The explosion of antisemitism has awakened fears and uncertainty that were familiar to our ancestors, but we never thought it would be part of our own lived experiences.

And the divisions within our community that have emerged in recent months—fueled in part by the current extremist government in Israel AND by an intentional, effective, and well-funded propaganda campaign against Israel and our people—have raised fears about what the American Jewish community will look like in the coming years.

For most of us, the upheaval we confront is unlike anything we ever experienced. And, as I stand here this evening, I do not know what the answer is.

In the small section of the Talmud known as Pirke Avot—the ethics of the fathers—we are taught to greet each person with a cheerful countenance. Elsewhere, we are instructed to give one another the benefit of the doubt. That counsel is more important than ever.

So, let me be clear. Let me be direct. Let me be blunt.

Disagreement is a fundamental part of what it means to be Jewish, but we owe it to each other to do everything possible to ensure it does not tear us apart. For we need one another now more than ever.

Those members of our community who are conflicted over the Gaza War are not self-hating Jews, as I have heard said by some. They are seeing the suffering in Gaza and they have reason to be conflicted. This war is ugly and painful and too many innocent Gazans have been killed or wounded. And while I put the overwhelming majority of the ones on Hamas, I understand the strong feelings many have expressed. We are a people that longs for peace and wholeness—but now, shalom seems more distant than ever.

At the same time, those of us who are staunch Zionists, who continue to stand with and support Israel—not the government of Israel, but the people of Israel—and who believe this war cannot stop until Hamas is no longer capable of committing such atrocities, are not cold or callous despite some of the accusations that have been made. We are not inured to the suffering of the civilians in Gaza. We take no joy in the images that we see. But we also believe that a sense of security for all Israelis, whether Jew, Muslim, or Christian, must be reestablished. And that that cannot happen if Hamas remains in power.

We can disagree and still be one community. And now, more than ever we need to be one community. And I believe that now, more than ever, we need to stand with the people of Israel as they fight those who seek to demonize and marginalize the Jewish State from the outside and those who seek to undermine the values of liberal democracy from within.  I stand with Israel, AND I have every intention of participating in every rally both to release the hostages and to push back against this current Israeli government when I am in Tel Aviv this summer. For Zionism does not mean acquiescence . . .  It means aspiration. And especially now we need to aspire to something better.

During this year it has become clear to me that we need to change our approach to Israeli education. I am speaking with Mindy about how we do that in our religious school, and I will be teaching a course on the history of Zionism—the actual facts—next fall.

We also need our young people, many of whom are conflicted and many of whom are influenced by this social media campaign, to see the reality of Israel rather than merely the caricature of it that is painted on social media. So, I am proud to announce tonight that for the next two years, I will offer incentive scholarships of at least $500 to any high school or college student wanting to participate in an Israel program. We need our kids to get to Israel, and I believe we have a moral obligation to help make that happen. (I’ll have more to say about this in the coming weeks.)

I never imagined I could ever be prouder of my colleagues than I was when we were forced to shut down our building due to Covid-19. In just 48 hours, we recreated TSTI as a virtual synagogue. Despite being unable to be physically together, we had a fully functioning synagogue with more programming than ever in a few days. It was an extraordinary lift, but we did it thanks to the dedicated people who serve this congregation on both the professional and the volunteer side. And we did it thanks to all of you who were patient and supportive.

But as significant as it was, that accomplishment pales in comparison to what we have accomplished this year. In a year when nothing has been normal, the amazing team that serves this congregation was able to maintain as much normalcy as possible—especially for our young people, who needed that calm, sense of safety, and feeling of belonging more than ever.

Under the leadership of Carol, Jennie, and Lauren, our overflowing preschool didn’t miss a beat.

Under Mindy’s leadership, our religious school remained a warm, loving, and supportive place for our students.

And thanks to Tracy and Adam, our teens, many of whom encountered things in their secular schools we prayed they would never have to experience, found a safe space here in their Jewish community.

Our programming, under the guidance of Tracy and Alicia, not only proceeded as planned, but their flexibility allowed us to address the current moment whenever opportunities arose.

At the center of moving things forward has been our executive director, Beth, who has worked tirelessly on so many levels, especially when it comes to ensuring that our community is as safe as possible.

None of this would have been possible without the partnership of my colleagues Rabbi Klein, Cantor Moses, and student Rabbi and Cantor Burack. The collaborative model under which your clergy operates is a rarity, but that collaborative approach is part of what makes TSTI special. I could not be more grateful to my colleagues or more honored to work with them. They are each remarkable clergy people and their love for this community is exceptional.

Finally, I want to say a word about Jodi. Jodi came on as our part-time PR professional.  And, as you may have noticed, our materials are better and more professional than ever. Two years ago, Jodi also took on the task of dealing with me. What a blessing that has been from day one—at least for me. (I won’t speak for Jodi.) But this year especially, as I have been dealing with more issues in the extended community than ever, and my schedule has been in constant flux due to these overlapping challenges, Jodi has kept me on track. I could not have navigated this year without her, and I want to thank her publicly for all she does.

But the biggest thank you goes to all of you—the volunteer leaders and members of TSTI. None of this would be possible, or matter, if it were not for you. Thank you all.

There is one additional change I want to address this evening.

As you know, two weeks ago, I announced I would retire in two years. As you might expect, Raina and I did not make this decision lightly. I love this community. Raina does as well. But a year and a half ago, as we were flying home after our 2022 TSTI Mission to Israel, we started exploring what a move to Israel might look like. After spending last July in Tel Aviv, we decided to eventually make aliyah, but we did not know when we would do so. Ultimately, we decided to move as soon as possible, but I wanted to ensure our leadership had enough time to make plans for the next chapter of TSTI thoughtfully. Hence, my announcement two years in advance.

We will miss all of you, but at a time when extremist voices are growing increasingly loud in Israel, we look forward to two more votes to help maintain Israel’s identity as a state that is both Jewish AND democratic. And at a time when there is a concerted effort to demonize the only Jewish State, often through misinformation and propaganda, we look forward to being two more voices that can speak firsthand to the reality of Israel. We have dedicated our lives to am yisrael—to the people of Israel—and this decision reflects that commitment. I am grateful that you all know me and know Raina well enough to understand why we made this decision.

I am grateful for the many emails and calls I have received since making my announcement. I have been so very moved by the expressions of kindness and support.

To those of you who are sad, I am leaving—and I am so touched by that—please know that I am not only here for two more years but will remain fully engaged in our community until my last day. I love this community and will do everything in my power to ensure this transition sets the stage for amazing things here at TSTI.

And to those who are happy I’m retiring, I’m sorry, but you have to deal with me for two more years.

In all seriousness, Raina and I have dedicated our lives to our Jewish community. This decision is a natural extension of the commitments that have guided us all these years. While we will miss you, we look forward to visiting often and spending time with you when you come to Israel.

In the meantime, we have work to do. And I am grateful to have all of you as my partners.


President Bryan Bloom’s Remarks:

I am honored to discuss the State of the Congregation.

The truth is, when I started as President, I was not fully aware of the depth of talent at TSTI.  We have pre-school, religious school, and youth engagement opportunities that are second to none.  Our programming is extraordinary. None of this happens on its own but only due to the amazingly dedicated people who work tirelessly, day after day, often behind the scenes. I want to especially thank Carol Paster, Mindy Schreff, Tracy Horwitz, Jennie Rubin, Lauren Byers, Alicia Karlberg, Jodi Rotondo, and of course, the leader of the gang, Beth Blackman, as well as the entire staff team who make TSTI special.

And then there is our clergy.  Not enough can be said about Rabbi Klein, Cantor Moses, and of course, Rabbi Cohen.  More on them in a little bit.

But most importantly, there is our community.  Because at the end of the day, this is all about you, the TSTI community.

So what’s the bad news?  Let’s not call it bad news but rather “other news”.  There are significant challenges ahead.  Financially, as Rob Jones and Roberta Probber will present to you, there are substantial issues to be addressed.  There is some uncertainty with the enrollment of the preschool program due to lower or no-cost alternatives, security costs have skyrocketed, and the “old guard” of financial supporters is in jeopardy of disappearing.  The events of October 7 created challenges to some core relationships and values, though I have no doubt we will come out the other side stronger because of it.  And of course, Rabbi Cohen’s heartfelt announcement that he and Raina are making Aliyah to Israel in two years.  So here are some thoughts.

The financial challenges need to be viewed in the context of how we see ourselves as a community.  To me, The best example is our commitment to meeting the needs of diverse learners in the preschool. The gratitude and compliments received from parents are amazing.  And that commitment comes at a cost – extra staffing, for example.  Do we cut that cost at the risk of providing a lower level of care?

Security.  Thankfully, through the foresight of Rabbi Cohen and the generosity of some lead donors, we have the makings of an endowment that helps defray some of the security costs.  But that fund is not enough to ensure TSTI’s security, financially and otherwise.

And of course, we have the recent announcement that Rabbi Cohen will make Aliyah in two years.  While there is no doubt I will have plenty of things to say about him from now until then; it goes without saying that he has been an extraordinary leader for the past 32+ years, both for our community and the SOMA community.  He has been tireless in the time he has spent with members of the TSTI community, giving his heart and soul to ensuring the success and stability of TSTI.  He has meant the world to me and my family, and he undoubtedly leaves big shoes to fill.

So what does this all mean, and what is next?  Ironically, when I first stepped in as President, I was asked what my goals and objectives might be.  I thought about our aging financial supporters, the fact that Rabbi Cohen, at some point down the road, would be retiring, and the vibrancy of our next generation of community members.  And last fall, I raised these issues with the Board to give thought and process to what comes next.  And after Rabbi Cohen told me of his exciting plan, I consulted with a professional as to what has worked and not worked when a longstanding senior Rabbi retires.  So here are some thoughts on that.

First and foremost, the board needs to separate its own views and beliefs from what is in the best interests of TSTI and the community. We all have a fiduciary duty to do so. Second, the URJ and CCAR recommend a process that we at least need to be mindful of. Third, the process is very time-consuming and effort-intensive.

So, over the next few weeks, you can anticipate an announcement of the co-chairs of a search committee. The co-chairs will then form a search committee to take the laboring oar in the process. The goal will be to have representation from all different types of congregation members: it is essential for our next generation to be represented. I will not be a co-chair, and while still being evaluated, I believe it might be more important for me to be a liaison between the Board, the Clergy, the Community, and the committee.

The committee will do what it needs to from a formality standpoint, and will spearhead the process.  At the same time, the goal will be to be transparent to the community (subject to confidentiality limitations); there will be many opportunities for you, our community, to espouse your views, and to begin with, you can anticipate a formal reach out to the community this fall to hear from all of you as to who we are, what we want to look like and what is essential to membership. The intent throughout will be to keep you advised.

At this point, I would be remiss not to talk about Rabbi Klein and Cantor Moses. Regarding Rabbi Klein, our search is not a referendum on Rabbi Klein. She IS a phenomenal rabbi who has, time and again, shown her love for and dedication to this community. But the board felt strongly that we owe it to our community and those who come after us to embark on a thoughtful process that considers where we are, where we want to go, and who the best fit for that vision might be. But she also deserves to hear from the community about who we are and where we want to go.  I am, we are, thrilled that Rabbi Klein has expressed interest in becoming TSTI’s next senior rabbi, and I know she is an incredibly strong candidate.

That approach served us well when Cantor Aronson retired after 45 years and, thankfully, led us to Cantor Moses.

Finally, I want to thank the Board for its service throughout the year. This is truly a volunteer job, and you have all served the community well in challenging times for the Jewish people. Thank you all.