Kol Nidre Appeal 2022

Rabbi Irina Gritsevskaya, shared some thoughts with us, her rabbinc colleagues, on her experience working in Ukraine:

A year ago I led Yom Kippur prayers in Chernovitz. It was the first time the local community observed Yom Kippur with its melodies and prayers. This year will be completely and very, very, different. The community has changed. Chernovitz is now filled with refugees from other cities, many of them separated from their families and none without worries. All of them suffer from uncertainty. Their lives changed completely on February 24th and there is no way back.

She shared that thinking of these refugees and their plight brought to mind Unetantokef: 

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,

And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.

How many shall pass away and how many shall be born,

Who shall live and who shall die,

While there is still uncertainty and fear for the refugees in Chernovitz, they are lucky to have found sanctuary in a city that will take them in.

On October 2nd another rabbinic colleague, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, shared his thoughts before Yom Kippur in an Op-Ed in the New York Times. Rabbi Goldschidmt was, until recently, the Chief Rabbi of Moscow and rabbi of the historic Choral Synagogue there. His refusal to support the war crime that is the Russian assault on Ukraine left him with the choice to flee to Israel or face prosecution, perhaps death. And so, after 33 years of serving as a rabbi in the Moscow Jewish community he had to flee and find sanctuary in Eretz Yisrael.

My friends, when we refer to this room {outside: that room in there} as a sanctuary, we do not use the word lightly. Webster defines “sanctuary” as a place of refuge and safety. It can be applied to Chernovitz and other cities in Ukraine and Poland that have taken refugees. It certainly describes Eretz Yisrael for Jewish refugees from all over the world. And sadly, we are living in a time where the function of a synagogue as a sanctuary, a place of refuge and safety, is as important as ever all over the world, even here in the United States. Just since Rosh HaShanah, the ADL Antisemitic Incident Tracker has gone up by five, three of them in places we could drive to. How privileged are we to have the Westchester Jewish Center to be our sanctuary, to know that we always have a place to go where we can be proud and fully comfortable with our Jewish selves. And not only that, WJC is a place for our soul to feel fulfilled, enriched and rejuvenated.

I know that when we talk about finding sanctuary these days, we often talk about finding a place for solitude and meditation, maybe a walk in the woods or my personal favorite, on top of a mountain. And that is all good and necessary. But there is another kind of sanctuary, perhaps a more Yiddisher sense of sanctuary – rather than solitude, it is among people – because there is strength in numbers and spiritual motivation in shared commitment. Rather than meditate alone, we pray in groups, because there are ways to find God by reaching outward to each other, as well as reaching inward. 

Our neshamas, our souls, crave Jewish community. The buzz of voices praying together or learning Torah or even sharing in an Opening Barbecue or a simcha, all of that calms our soul and enriches our spiritual life. 

This is the place we come for the sanctuary of community, the kind of sanctuary that replenishes our souls and strengthens our resolve. At the Westchester Jewish Center we invest deeply in education for all ages, to make sure that our youth, our teens, and yes, our adults, are deeply connected so that wherever we find ourselves and under whatever threat, we can reach inside to connect with our communal grounding. We find new and fun ways to be among friends, to share joy and laughter, to celebrate Jewish life and the liminal moments in our lives.

We maintain a rich tapestry of mitzvah work and service activities from Sheldrake clean ups to hosting meals for Jewish elderly, from programs to support new immigrants to our efforts to help our neighbors with emergency preparedness. Finding ways to help together as a community buttresses our spirit with the knowledge that there are others driven by the same will to do tikkun olam – our spirits join together and we are comforted knowing we are not alone in our mission.

And of course, we come together in prayer. There are so many ways to lift your voice in prayer here at WJC – traditional services and contemporary services with instruments, youth services and teen experiences, the beautiful Renewal service led by our lay volunteers, Selichot services with other shuls, Saturday morning Yoga, with a Torah twist, and so many more. And all of them are fully egalitarian, treating men and women equally. And throughout the challenges of the pandemic, we have worked incredibly hard to make sure there is accessibility to prayer for everyone and to maintain our daily minyan services, so if you need your community when it is time to say Kaddish for a loved one, we can be here for you for that too.

In prayer, we refer to God as HaMakom, The Place. God is many things, including a place to find refuge, to find solace, to find shelter, from the tempests and tribulations of life. In this sense a Beit Knesset, a synagogue, is a manifestation of the Divine in the world. Always here to be our place, our sanctuary, to support us with the learning, prayer, joy, camaraderie, tikun olam work and comfort we need to replenish our souls.

Today, I am here to ask you an important question – how much is everything I’ve described worth to us? How much is it worth to you? How much are we willing to contribute for the privilege of knowing that our children will always have a place to learn and a playground to play on, that our teens will have a foundation in Jewish life to celebrate holidays when they are away and to protect them on campus and a rabbi or mentor to call when they feel threatened, that all of our people will have a community that cares for them when they have something to celebrate or are in need, or ill? Thinking about my colleague in Ukraine, thinking of the Chief Rabbi of Moscow spending these holidays visiting with other Russian and Ukrainian refugees in Israel, thinking of the rise in Antisemitism all around us, a synagogue, a sanctuary cannot be taken for granted. How much is a thriving synagogue in Larchmont/Mamaroneck worth? I think it is priceless.

Today, on this day when tzedakah is one of the three ways to redeem our souls and avert the evil decree, I am asking you to put a price on it. To pick a number and commit to going on wjcenter.org after Neilah and pledging that number to our Kol Nidre Appeal. Thanks to your continued support and the remarkable staff and lay volunteers who lead WJC, we begin 5783 in a strong position both financially and in membership units. That continued success is dependent on your generosity – the Kol Nidre Appeal does not represent extra funds for the shul, it represents one sixth of our annual budget. It represents the funds required to hire the staff, maintain the building and arrange the programs that make us so successful in the first place.

So, please imagine for yourselves a pledge card—picture flaps that say $180, $360, $500, $1000, $5000, $10,000 and more. And imagine yourself turning down one of those flaps – Tami and I have turned down $5000 again this year, because this place is our sanctuary as much as yours. We hope you will join us in pledging what you did last year or even more, so that our sanctuary can shepherd us and our families into the Jewish future with strength, with pride and with joy. And may we all be written and sealed for only good things in the year to come. Gmar Hatimah Tovah.


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