This is the last early morning email you will receive from me for a while as I will be beginning four weeks of vacation time as of Sunday. Many clergy -- not just rabbis -- report that however much vacation they may in theory be entitled to, they rarely if ever get to take all of it. In the previous two congregations I served this was certainly the case. One of the things I love about Kehilat Shalom is the recognition that both the congregation and the rabbi benefit when the rabbi actually gets to take his or her vacation and recharge his or her batteries, and through the years that I have been here, congregational leadership has made sure that I have been able to do so.
Yesterday I began my 10th contract year as your rabbi. (I actually began on August 1, 2012 because my contract at my previous congregation ran through the end of July, but my second contract was actually for 23 months so that my contract year was in line with the congregation’s fiscal year.)
If you were part of Kehilat Shalom at that time you may remember what things were like. When I accepted the position and Keleigh and I began looking for a place to live, many people advised us that under no circumstances should we seek to buy a house because the survival of Kehilat Shalom was so uncertain. Even the congregation’s own internal projections cast doubt on whether the congregation would be able to survive more than five years. On my first day at Kehilat Shalom, the then-administrator asked me what she should tell people who were calling seeking to reclaim yahrzeit plaques for their loved ones and in some cases even items that they had donated, because they had heard that Kehilat Shalom had closed.
On the other hand, there were also former members who decided to rejoin the congregation. As one of them told me, they had assumed that the synagogue would always be there for them if they needed it but saw no need to be members or pay dues. When it became clear that the synagogue in fact would not necessarily always be there, they realized that if they wanted to insure its future they had to be part of its present.
Nine years later I believe we are in a much stronger place, although of course there are still challenges. Starting in March 2020 we successfully transitioned all of our activities to Zoom and even added new programs. We are now in the process of transitioning back to our building, carefully and deliberately, with the recognition that we need to preserve online access to services and educational programs as well for those who are unable to participate in person. Instead of five-figure deficits our budget predicts a small surplus, and we are in the middle of a Capital Campaign that has succeeded beyond what most people thought possible.
When I look at our congregation’s roster of officers and board members who took office yesterday, it is an interesting mix. We have some people who were officers or board members nine years ago and continue to devote tremendous time and energy to our congregation. We have people who were members at the time but not particularly active, who have stepped up and shouldered responsibility. And we have people who were not members of Kehilat Shalom at the time -- some who did not live in the area nine years ago, some who at the time belonged to other congregations, and some who were unaffiliated. It’s a nice mix of people who represent different histories and different perspectives and work together for the betterment of our community.
There are certainly still challenges to be faced as together we figure out the path forward. But with trust in God and trust in each other, we can create a bright future.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian