Judea Reform Congregation Annual Meeting, Rabbi’s Report

In last year’s report, I devoted a fair amount of space to a catalog of the changes our synagogue had experienced in the previous few years, and concluded with the hope we would all settle in for a while. I am pleased that my hope has largely come to pass, and I begin my report with a word of gratitude for our entire professional staff. Jennifer, Ray, Rabbi Brian, Aviv, Lois, Lisa, Loni, Nikki, Heidi, Anthony and Gene all serve this community with devotion. We are better for their presence and their gifts.

Rabbi Friedman continues to be a tremendous source of knowledge and wisdom to me, and a source of comfort and strength to so many of you, as our Rabbi Emeritus.

To lead a team like this one, I consider myself a very lucky Rabbi.

Last year I used these precious minutes of Annual Meeting face-time to speak broadly about the first 10 months of my tenure as your Rabbi. Rereading that report in preparation for this one, I feel mostly quite good about the trajectory of my rabbinate at Judea Reform. I spoke about privileging people over program, developing relationships with b’nai mitzvah families, wedding couples, grieving families, people choosing to join our covenant, synagogue leaders, and with all of the members who, for whatever reason, have welcomed me into their lives. This work continues, of course. And let me reiterate my recent bulletin message: my door is open, the interruptions are the job, and I treasure the opportunity to get to know our members face-to-face.

This morning, I wish to focus directly on how Judea Reform Congregation faces the world. Our public works of mercy and justice have always been our calling card. Born in the fast-changing South of the early 1960s as a synagogue committed to progress, we’ve never shrunk from the issues of the day. Welcoming the stranger, standing for the poor, speaking up for the voiceless…we always have, and we always will. The events of the past year have made this work feel even more important and urgent for many of us. Members have devoted time and energy to help resettle refugee families. We have joined of our collective voice to those of other congregations in Durham CAN to bring affordable housing and sensible policing to our community. We have maintained our ongoing commitment to a variety of social action projects. All of this is to be celebrated.

Near the beginning of the calendar year, leaders in our Reform Movement began speaking about the “urgency of now.” The phrase hearkens back  to Martin Luther King, Jr., who preached these words:

We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.

At a gathering hosted by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism just last week, the formal campaign to accompany the rhetoric was launched. The urgency of this moment is this: values long-cherished by our movement, values that we understand to be embedded deeply within Torah, are under attack. In response, our movement is standing with vulnerable communities and standing up to a climate of bias and hate. We are working in solidarity with immigrants and with people harmed by a criminal justice system in dire need of reform. We are as committed as ever to protecting and extending the rights of women. And we are stalwart in our belief that in the delicate balance of dominion and stewardship that characterizes our relationship with our planet, a course correction in the direction of stewardship is needed. We will be acting as a movement in these areas and more in the coming years.

In last July’s issue of “Connections” I quoted my colleague Barry Block, who wrote about rabbinical transition being a two-year process. As I approach my second anniversary as your Rabbi, and contemplate our future together, I am excited to pronounce transition complete and forge ahead. We have much to look forward to in the coming year: a robust program of adult study that will include weekly study of the portion once we come around to Genesis this fall, an anshei mitzvah class beginning in October and celebrating their accomplishments in December of 2018, as well as some highly-regarded speakers. Our engagement with Jewish music in worship and in concert will continue, with new learning opportunities planned each month, and a special weekend of music in store for Chanukah. Our Religious School, which had its own year of transition this year, will move into 5778 with the stated goal of creating community and deepening relationships. And we’ll keep on doing what we’re doing in areas too many to mention in the time allotted me.

Today is the twenty-sixth day of the omer, the period of counting that takes us from Pesach to Shavuot. Twenty-six as gematria points to yud-hey-vav-hey, the Ineffable Name of the Divine. With that in mind, I’ll conclude just as I did last year, with simple gratitude: to my staff partners, to our lay leadership, to our committed volunteers, to Alanna and my children, and to the Source of Life which animates us all. Todah Rabbah.

Respectfully Submitted,

Rabbi Larry Bach

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