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A Time for Change

Six letters have taken hold of our lives and our world. I am sure some of you are thinking that I cannot count, because surely it is only five letters that dominate our days: C-O-V-I-D. But in my view, the pandemic is merely an agent; ultimately, it does not and will not define us. The six letters that I believe have become central to daily life and fundamental to our future are C-H-A-N-G-E. 

 

By the time you read these words, my deepest hope is that we all will be starting to experience positive change. But whatever stage we are in, it is very different from where we started a few short months ago and unquestionably different from where we are headed.

As I begin my term as president of our congregation, I’d like to share some thoughts with you about change. It is a subject that I expect will be an essential part of our conversations in the months and years ahead. In only the last two months, just as great change has occurred for all of you in so many aspects of your lives, it also has impacted almost everything we do at Washington Hebrew. Our future will depend on our ability to continue to evolve, adapt, and lead.

On a personal level, one obvious change is that you are hearing from me and not from Nell Shapiro. On behalf of all of us, I want to thank Nell for her friendship and for the lasting warmth, boundless empathy, and clear-eyed wisdom she brings to everything she says and does. We are grateful for her service, and thankful that she will continue to help us as we face the future. On May 31, with help from Zoom, this congregation sidestepped COVID-19 and gathered virtually to carry out its sacred obligation of overseeing the orderly transition of its lay leadership. I, along with my fellow Officers and Board members, are honored to serve you. Together with our spectacular clergy and staff, and in partnership with all of you, we will face the unprecedented challenges that COVID-19 presents and ensure that Washington Hebrew continues to provide you with meaning, comfort, inspiration, community, and joy. We are realistic about the challenges we face, but we are determined to accomplish this goal. 

Change can be unsettling. It also can be energizing and beneficial. By remaining true to our values, faithful to our history, and open to new possibilities and opportunities, I believe we can embrace change and use it to help shape our future. By the time of our 175th anniversary, in 2027, I know we will have evolved yet again – maybe several more times. While we manage through this pandemic and construct our path through post-lockdown life, we also will begin to define the way to that future.

What are some of the changes that will be important to us as we move forward? Let me start with three.

Make Virtual Connections a Positive Addition,
Not a Substitute.

That we cannot gather physically and embrace each other deprives us of an essential aspect of our lives, both inside and outside of Washington Hebrew. Over time, these restrictions will ease. But we have all discovered that virtual connections can be meaningful — even convenient. And from this experience, we need to extract the benefits, enhance the advantages, and imagine and implement a future in which virtual involvement will be both a welcome and a positive option. This potential, which we are only still discovering, can benefit us all by increasing opportunities to participate and connect. And as our knowledge of and access to improving technology grows, the ways in which we share virtual connections will blossom, whether for worship, learning, meeting, or just connecting casually with each other. 

Redefine Our Membership Model. 

For several years now, Temple leadership has been exploring options to revise our membership model. Our goal is to make being a part of Washington Hebrew more welcoming and accessible, while ensuring the structure is financially responsible and sustainable. Over the coming year, we will be introducing you to a new dues program and a membership model that we are confident will help us chart the course for a bright future. We believe these changes will benefit all members and prospective members, regardless of age, economics, or family situation. We look forward to discussing this with you and joining together in a redefined partnership.

Use the Pandemic to Accelerate Our Evolution. 

For several years, our congregation has been exploring ways in which we can evolve to respond to the changing needs of members and prospective members and the changing demands of the world in which we live. The pandemic imposed vast and swift changes on all of us. But, through a combination of necessity and innovation, Washington Hebrew learned how to adapt quickly. While we still have much to do, what our clergy and staff, in partnership with so many members of our congregation, have accomplished in such a short time is nothing short of amazing. These are lessons we must embrace and retain. We need to keep the sense of urgency and the openness to new ideas and opportunities that this crisis has forced all of us to accept. We must be willing to try new approaches, accept that some will succeed while others will not, and refuse to allow fear of failure to dissuade us from moving forward.

COVID-19’s ripple effects have touched nearly every facet of our lives, from our physical and mental health to our daily routines to our vision of the future. Loss in all forms has been enormous, and we still face many challenges ahead. 

We sincerely hope that Washington Hebrew has been a source of comfort, connection, and caring for you throughout this crisis. We have worked hard to remain open to all of you, even as we have been required to keep our buildings closed. Just as you need your Temple, it needs all of you: your spirit, your creativity, your commitment, and your support. 

In the coming weeks and months, as restrictions on physical distancing continue to ease, we will communicate regularly with you about our plans to resume in-person activities in a safe, gradual, and careful manner. Working with public officials and health care professionals, we will seek to offer you reasonable and appropriate choices that ensure you can remain connected and involved, whether you choose to do so in-person at Temple or JBSC or from your own homes. 

Yes, it will be a constant process of change, but together, we will overcome the many challenges that lie ahead. And together, we can construct a post-pandemic future rich with spiritual fulfillment, emotional support, and joyous community. I look forward to sharing this journey with all of you.