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HTAA Kol Nidre Virtual Pledge Card

09/27/2020 03:54:15 PM


Ethan Goldrich, HTAA President

Who shall live and who shall die; who shall attain the measure of man’s days and who shall not attain it; who shall perish by fire and who by water; who by sword and who by beast; who by hunger and who by thirst; who by earthquake and who by plague; who by strangling and who by stoning; who shall have rest and who shall go wandering; who shall be tranquil and who shall be disturbed; who shall be at ease and who shall be afflicted; who shall become poor and who shall wax rich; who shall be brought low and who shall be exalted.
It’s the most dramatic prayer in our liturgy.  Was there ever a year in our lifetimes, when these words, from the Rosh Hashana section of the Machzor, have had more resonance?  For those of us who have grown up in the United States, since the Second World War, it is hard to say that there was.
Who could have imagined the changes that have taken place in our world, in our country and in our Har Tzeon Agudath Achim community in the year that has passed since last Yom Kippur -- Since God closed the book of life on 5779 and opened it on 5780?  A year ago, we were sitting in the sanctuary of our bet Knesset.  Hundreds of us, crowded into our seats, waiting expectantly to hear the Chazan sing Kol Nidre, to hear the Rabbi tell us about the meaning of the moment and perhaps even to hear the President make the Kol Nidre appeal. 
Who could have imagined then, that a year later, packing hundreds of people into a bet Knesset would become unimaginable and that instead we would be sitting in front of our devices at home or in front of a screen in the courtyard or in a mostly empty room that the Shul has not used for the chagim in almost a decade?  Who could have imagined that we would all be wearing masks, not for Purim, but for every holiday, and every occasion that brought us into contact with people who did not live in our household.  Who could have imagined, that many of us would not have seen our families, friends and loved ones in person for six, seven or even eight months?  Who knew what social distancing was?  Who knew what Zoom was?  Who knew that Zoom and tele-video would be the only way we could regularly see our loved ones during periods of lockdown, isolation and quarantine.  Who knew that there was a pipe in the shul equipment room that had not been written into the book of life for 5780 and would burst catastrophically one June day and cause so much damage to our “new building:  new since 1968” that it would be unusable for months, until all our utility systems and basement infrastructure could be replaced.
Hashem knew.  He knows a lot about plagues.  He knows a lot about floods.  He brought ten major plagues on the Egyptians, but if you read through the whole Tanach, you will find numerous stories about diseases, plagues and pandemics.  And if you look for stories about floods, you will find only one that I know of, capped off with a divine promise not to destroy the world again with water.  But the promise does not apply to venues smaller than the whole world, including basements.
So where does that leave us, on the eve of Yom Kippur?  Uncertain.  Exactly as we should be, because if we were certain about our future, then we would be arrogant and we would fail to atone.
But we can be certain about what we have been through and how it can help us as a congregation prepare for what is yet to come. 
In March, when the country woke up to the threat of the COVID-19 virus, HTAA acted decisively, shutting down in-person events after Purim -- but we also acted decisively in re-connecting with ourselves on-line, through Zoom.  So that our daily minyanim were back up and running in less than two weeks and classes, Torah readings, and lectures soon after that.  By the time Pesach came, we had figured out how to hold both a seder and Yizkor services online, and 49 days later we were able to hold Shavuot study and Yizkor, also online.  We spent the summer continuing to broaden the subject matter for our online lectures and determining how we could bring the congregation together on Shabbat morning, in a halachically justifiable and hygienically sound way.  And finally, we devised the hybrid High Holiday format we are experiencing tonight, where we are all together -- but in three separate ways: at home on Zoom; in the Sarah Lechter room and out in the Friedman courtyard.  We’re in the Sarah Lechter Room.  We’re in the courtyard.  We’re at home on Zoom.  But as a community we are united and as a congregation we are bound by our prayers and our love for one another. 
Now despite our shared victories in a time of adversity, we must acknowledge the daunting challenges that are facing us.  The shutdowns and the need to social distance have buffeted our nation and our economy, as well as our Jewish community and our shul. 
Consider that for years, Bingo has been a substantial and reliable slice of our shul’s income.  Consider, that we cannot run Bingo during a pandemic, as we have in the past.  Consider that we have had no Bingo income since March.  Consider how many people would buy seats for guests or visitors on the high holidays.  We tried to replicate that by selling access to our Zoom feed for non-members.  Consider that while many of you have been generous and understanding and paid the fees, it does not add up to what we normally take in.  Consider the pledges that we need you to make tonight.  They need to be more than in a normal year, because 5780 was anything but a normal year and without pre-judging Hashem's intentions, I can say that 5781 is also going to be anything but normal.  We don’t have ushers walking through your living rooms to pick up your pledge cards, but we do need you to imagine how much more difficult it will be for our shul to thrive during the pandemic and to revive and recover afterward, if we do not have your generous help at this moment.  When the Chag is over, you will be receiving an electronic pledge card that you can click to link to your account, with the amount you are pledging.  I am asking that you consider pledging twice what you would have pledged in a normal year, at least depending upon your resources.  That will not come near to covering the loss of our Bingo and other income, but it will help. 
None of us can imagine what the coming year will bring, but we can imagine that the year will be a better one with the comfort we all draw from our synagogue, from our HTAA community, from our activities and prayers -- online now, in person later.
We have much to work through together in the coming year.  Recovery and revitalization of our damaged “new building” (new since 1968), planning for an eventual reopening, that will come, because plagues and pandemics do come to an end, and beyond that continuation of the development program that you heard about from my predecessor last year.  Our development continues to move forward and we will have more to tell you in the coming weeks and months.
Meanwhile, let me wish you all an Easy Fast, a Gmar Chatima Tova for yourselves, for your families and for Congregation Har Tzeon Agudath Achim.  Our synagogue is only as good as we the congregants and the membership can make it.  Tonight, I ask for your donations to preserve and strengthen it.  In the coming months I will ask for your time, your wisdom and your expertise to provide our community assistance in our endeavors.  What you will get back is an unequal source of comfort in unquestionably uncertain times.
I know that you will all give generously in whatever way that you can. 
Chag Sameach,
Ethan Goldrich, HTAA President
Wed, December 2 2020 16 Kislev 5781