Tevya the singing philosopher in Fiddler on the Roof teaches us about tradition with the song that begins with the words: “Because of our traditions, we have kept our balance for many many years”.
Tevya closes the song with the words: “Tradition. Without tradition, our lives would be shaky… as a fiddler on the roof.”
Tradition is defined as the passing down of a mode of thought and elements of a culture from generation to generation (L’Dor va Dor). We may not be on Broadway or in a movie but most of us also struggle between tradition and a fast-changing world. Tradition can ground us with familiarity and provides a comfort level during the lifecycles and struggles.
And yet, traditions can change. Around 1987, which was early in my corporate career, I attended a seminar called Managing Change. We learned how the world would be changing and that our management styles would have to adapt to those changes. What an understatement when we look back to the 1980’s. Technology has accelerated changes in our personal world and in some of our religious traditions. However, traditions still have their place in our religious and personal lives.
By attending and by participating in religious services during these Days of Awe, each of us is saying tradition is important to me. By keeping our Jewish traditions at home and in the synagogue, we keep Judaism alive.
For more than 100 years, TBEMC has been the Jewish synagogue of Cranford. Some of our members have moved away but remain connected as Associate Members. The memorial board on the wall and the Yizkor prayers and books remind us of family, temple members, and friends who are no longer with us. We welcome new members each year. As the membership and times change, the temple community continuously adapts, modifies, or adds to those traditions.
In 1917 a group of 12 Jewish families got together for social events and worshipped in each other’s homes. Within 10 years they had outgrown meeting in living rooms and laid the cornerstone of our first building on South Avenue. The new synagogue was called Temple Beth El. By 1960 they had outgrown their first building and laid the cornerstone for this building where we pray today. In 1987 we had our first woman president, Abbie Halperin. In 1998 we merged with Suburban Jewish Center Mekor Chayim of Linden. One of our former presidents, Jackie Baranoff was the first girl to read Torah at her bat mitzva in Mekor Chayim. Traditions have been evolving all along. Imagine the dedication, initiative, and ambition required for those families to take the first steps to create a new synagogue family, and years later to build each of the two buildings and then to merge with another synagogue.
As I enter my second year as co-president with Bruce, I recognize how much planning, willpower, fundraising, financial commitment, volunteering, and teamwork are required to meet our commitments to the congregation and maintain our building. This Temple is more than a building. This is a religious home away from home.
I have spoken with members who have been part of our community for over 50 years. Can you imagine that? Many remember when the cornerstone was put into this building. We also have members who have been part of TBEMC for multiple generations. This holiday we have a reunion of TBEMC alumni leading different parts of our services. The following are children of former presidents who have found their way back to share their talents with us during these High Holy Days:
- Spencer Brooks led Musaf and graced us with beautiful and familiar melodies and prayers
- Nat Werschulz led family services woven with his musical talents to make the services special for all, and
- Ellie Barkin, our Religious School Education Director, helped lead family services
and the following read Torah:
- Jon Cohen (who will also teach Trope to our Religious School)
- Jeremy Brooks
- Aaron Werschulz
Our recent Religious School alumni Torah readers and Haftorah chanters included: Ryan Feldman, Ethan Kanig, Caleb Mallo, Joshua Metz, Max Reissman, David Thaler, and Alana Taub. Welcome back to all of you, and we invite you to keep sharing your talents with our congregation.
Technology and necessity helped us adapt during the Covid lockdown as we created new traditions and modified old ones. For example:
- We began using Zoom for daily minyans, meetings, virtual fundraisers, and events.
- We invested in live streaming cameras and sound equipment in September 2020 so that we could have hybrid services.
- We modified services to include virtual P’tichas to allow for social distancing which we continue because we learned that the service moved more smoothly. This year we distributed lists of virtual P’Ticha openings so you will know the names of our P’Ticha honorees.
- Our family services used to be held only in the Youth Lounge. This is the third year with family services were under the tent on our front lawn when the weather permitted.
The substance and melodies of the religious services, meetings, and events were grounded in tradition even as the method of connecting changed. See how flexible we can be?
The High Holiday Services do not just happen. Planning began before summer started as our ritual committee led by Laura Cohen and our High Holiday Committee led by Elliot Ballen worked with Rabbi Kerbel to ensure the religious traditions were kept and that services ran smoothly. We thank everyone involved. Yashir Koach.
TBEMC operates with a small staff that includes Rabbi Kerbel, an office administrator along with the Education Director and Religious School teachers. The rest of the heavy lifting and accomplishments only happen with the help of our volunteers. Through your generous pledges, donations, and volunteering, each of you support the Temple and allow us to continue to provide various services to our members and community. You make miracles happen.
Our membership is about 150 families. A small reliable group of about 30 to 40 volunteers work behind the scenes to make sure TBEMC is alive and thriving (Chai V’Kayam). We thank all of them for their time and energy. Our volunteers give up their personal time to make things happen at TBEMC. They are passionate about doing things the right way. These volunteers include the officers and the members of the Board of Trustees, the committee chairs and members, and the minyan leaders. They include the sisterhood and men’s club officers and members. They include all the volunteers who help in the office, the kitchen, build the annual sukkah, create events, attend meetings, plan, organize, make phone calls to members, and visit them. They shop, chop food, make beautiful kiddush platters, stuff envelopes, make copies, and go to the post office. They support all age groups from our Seniors to our children and young families. We thank every one of our volunteers. We could not be here without each of you and your endless devotion to TBEMC.
Let me highlight just two of the many volunteering miracles that happened during this past year.
First miracle: a team of about a dozen volunteers worked together during two days in August and created a super team. Together we filled a dumpster with 1.7 tons of debris. Our ages ranged between 11 to the mid-80’s. We worked hard and laughed together and enjoyed the great accomplishment and the teamwork.
Second miracle: one young person who had an urge to do something good for the community. Joshua Schwartz is the son Craig and Rachel Schwartz and grandson of David and Shelly Schwartz, third generation TBEMC. As a senior in High School, he offered to power wash the Holocaust Memorial in our front yard a few weeks before Yom Hashoah. He came back a second time to get it done perfectly. Then he came back to power wash the stone bench on the other side of the main entrance way. He did this because it wasn’t right to only power wash part of our garden. Isn’t he great?
There are so many unbelievable examples of volunteers who help our community in so many ways. Whether as one person or as a team, every single one of you can make a difference. We invite you to accumulate your mitzvas for the new year and join in the fun. Imagine how much we can get done if more of you volunteered.
Just like in 1917 and 1960, TBEMC depends on volunteers and donors. Generous donations from current members and from legacy donors have allowed us to make necessary capital improvements. However the building is now 62 years old and is in need of more system improvements and replacement parts. We must again pull together with donations and volunteering to ensure our building continues to be safe and functional.
The prayer for those that serve the community is said every Shabbat after the Torah Service and before the prayer for our country. In this prayer, we ask God to bless among others, “those who unite to establish synagogues for prayer, and those who enter them to pray and those who give funds for heat and light, and wine for Kiddush and Havdalah, bread to the wayfarer and charity to the poor and all who devotedly involve themselves with the needs of this community and the Land of Israel”.
Between this Yom Kippur and next Yom Kippur there will be unlimited opportunities to meet, socialize, volunteer, and pray. Start this year by joining us for weekly Shabbat Services, Kiddush, and some schnaps; for Jewish festivals and holidays, for Sisterhood and Men’s Club events, for Senior Monthly Gatherings, for entertainment and for learning, for the library and for committee meetings and even for fundraising events and for old fashioned socializing. There are unlimited opportunities to come into the building and join in these events. There are also unlimited opportunities to volunteer and help TBEMC while also making new friends and new bonds.
TBEMC is here for each one of you and we also depend on each one of you. We are committed to keeping our traditions and even creating new ones for you and for your families. Let’s work together to make sure we “are not shaky… as a fiddler on a roof.”
Thank you all for your support!