We are affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the association of Conservative congregations in North America.
A congregant said to me: “Rabbi, you sure sound like an optimist. You seem to think that this old, declining congregation can revive itself. I only wish I could believe you.”
I responded with a classic Jewish joke: A Jewish optimist and a Jewish pessimist were sitting around talking. The Jewish pessimist turns to the Jewish optimist and says: “Oy, things can’t get any worse for our people.” The Jewish optimist turns to the Jewish pessimist, smiles, and says: “Sure it can!”
That’s Jewish optimism. I know some Jewish “optimists” like that.
But then I said to the congregant: Am I an optimist? I plead guilty as charged. In my experience it is optimism that gets things done. Optimism energizes people. But optimism is not the same thing as wishful thinking. When an optimist looks at a half-full glass, she knows that it is also half-empty. The difference is that she sees it as an opportunity for using available resources for introducing a preferred future. She thinks she can make a difference.
The truth is, I have seen many congregations that are in worse shape than this one. CJC is small enough for people to get to know one another, and large enough to offer a warm and welcoming environment for prayer and life-cycle events; an religious school where children receive individual attention; regular family Shabbat programs; and numerous adult educational opportunities. We have many dedicated congregants and a lot to be proud of.
Of course, as I have been telling everyone, there is much work to be done. We need to become more of a relational community—which is my real focus for this year, inspired by Ron Wolfson’s book, Relational Judaism. Expensive programs that attract lots of visitors mean nothing, unless people are personally engaged and decide to come back again. Everything we do must have a community-building component. In particular, we have to bring the religious school parents together so that they can get to know each other and draw strength from each other. My hope is that CJC will be known as a place where people really connect with one another—and I think that is a more significant goal than aiming to “grow” the synagogue numerically. A larger synagogue will be of little value if its members do not find a sense of belonging.
We also need a more participatory religious life. Religious life becomes dull when others do it for us. So I plan to make an effort to recruit you to learn Hebrew, read Torah, lead a service, make a minyan, educate children, do tikkun olam. Or you might have an idea to do something else. Then I will help you realize your dream.
In short, the glass is half-full of resources and half-full of space to fill. I look forward to filling it with you.
I welcome your input. Please feel free to call me at (631) 543- 3311 or email me at RabbiK@CommackJC.com
While you’re at it, look at our redesigned webpage, www.commackjc.com, join our revived Commack Jewish Center Facebook group, https://www.facebook.com/groups/99899746937/ , and follow me on Twitter, @RabbiKlatzker.
Best of life,
Rabbi David Klatzker