Treaurer’s Island: November, 2012

Well, there are many shiny baubles in the chest this month, and a few tarnished ones as well. Let’s try one of each.  One of the listings mentioned in the “Office” is membership, dues and donations. There is an effort to get out a mid-(fiscal)-year statement to all members, pledgers, etc., to let them know where they are. Not only have people actually requested that, but it will also be good practice for the year end tax summary letter in January. The intention is to get them out before the next newsletter, so don’t feel surprised if we succeed. Hmm, that wasn’t exactly how I wanted it to come out, but you probably know what I was trying to say.

Another, and more well- worn, treasure in our trove is the grocery certificate pro- gram (Wait! Don’t Go! This is new stuff, I promise!). We have just about shifted all of the LJCC supermarket purchases over to certificates, figuring that we might as well make money on our own purchases as well as those of others. How long did it take us to figure that out? Don’t ask. LINK, Blintz Brunch, Religious School are in the program. The next opportunity is to sweep up those of you who fairly often make purchases for reimbursement. If you do it a lot, we can assign a card; if it’s occasional thing, stop by the office and pick up a loaner.

On this same basic subject, we’ve had conversations before, you and I. I tell you how neat and convenient and beneficial to LJCC using certificates is, and you give me some lame excuse about why you can’t possibly take one teeny tiny step outside of your habit trail. So. herewith are some sensitive compromise suggestions.

1. The season of revelry is soon upon us, and if you’re going to have the family over for Turkey Day, or throw a New Year’s Eve party, you can count on leaving several hundred $ behind at the grocery store (or gas up both cars and get much the same effect). Try certificates for these one-time big-ticket events. Once you gain experience with the special case, you might not find it as fearsome as you thought.

2. And in order to further de-fearsome-ize it, we have addressed one of the big barri- ers — “I can’t remember how much is on the card.” From now on, the office and all certificate sellers will have on hand small address labels that you can stick to the back of your card (avoid the magnetic strip, please). Since every cash register has a little writing table and a pen and a screen that displays your balance for all to read and a clerk who will give you a separate cash register printout with the same information, well, there you are. No more effort than signing your credit card chit, and you have a running record of what it’s worth. Queue up neatly when you rush to get your certificates, please.

~ Bob Buddemeier

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Being a Jewish Values Voter

It’s election time again, and as we consider who to cast our ballots for, one important element to take into consideration is what our Jewish values have to tell us.

This sometimes brings up the question of whether it’s appropriate to bring “religious” considerations into the public square in this way. To me this really isn’t much of a question. My environmental activism, for instance, is largely based on my understanding of what Jewish texts and traditions have to say on the subject, and the idea of separating those spiritual values from my work in this area would be like asking me to go outside without my heart. Just as it would have been for some of the faith-based activists I so admire, such as A.J. Heschel, Martin Luther King, and Gandhi.

What is inappropriate, and where there is a church/state separation issue, is when someone asks for their religious practices to be legally enforced upon someone else. (If you see me the line!) One could argue separation is violated when on says “no person of faith could support such and such a position on such and such an issue,” but actually, that’s just foolishness. God is not partisan; people can come to different conclusions from the same texts, and that’s as it should be.

Having said that, what Jewish values can or should we apply when we go to vote in the upcoming election?

One value that springs to mind is the admonition, repeated over and over in the Torah, to care for the orphan, the widow, and the stranger. The questions to ask here would be: Do the policies being proposed by the candidates make it more or less likely that the less-fortunate among us will be cared for, will have access to food, to housing, to medical attention, to educational and economic opportunity – and not five years down the line, but today?

Which candidate’s policies are more likely to allow an opportunity for people to earn a decent living with dignity? On Maimonides’ ladder of tzedakah, the highest form of “charity” is giving someone a job.

What policies are more likely to balance the call to promote peace in the world with the responsibility to protect our citizens? And whose policies will better help Israel make that same balance? For as the Torah tells us, “Seek peace, and pursue it.”

Which policies are more likely to protect our environment, to address issues such as biodiversity, availability of resources, and climate disruption? As the Midrash tells us, “Be careful that you don’t spoil or destroy my world — because if you spoil it, there will be nobody after you to fix it.”

An openness to consider- ing what Torah and tradition have to teach us can’t help but have an impact on the way we see the world and the issues and choices before us.

One more thing: I talk a lot about brachot, about blessings that sanctify our daily acts. At RRC (my rabbinical school) they developed a brachah that is appropriate for acts under- taken in the public interest:

Blessed are you Adonai our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who has made us holy with your mitzvot and instructed us to occupy ourselves with the needs of the community (la’asok b’tzorkhay tzibur). I encourage you to make your voting a sacred act by saying this bracha in the voting booth.

~ Rabbi Moti Rieber

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Beautiful Voices

Our president is just a bit of a Jayhawk fan

This summer I attended a Shiray Shabbat service at our congregation. I am a traditionalist; I want to hear services that pretty closely resemble the ones I remember from the dawn of the LJCC. I didn’t want to hear a musical ensemble. But I was surprised; I was delighted; I was moved. Four women and two men led the service, sang, and played various instruments. The music and the singing at the Shiray Shabbat inspired me, not just that evening but long afterwards. And I reflected on how important women’s voices are to our community.

Women were largely excluded from conducting Jewish services until the 19th Century, and even today, in more conservative Jewish congregations, women are excluded from the bimah. It was perhaps in the mid-1970’s when the Lawrence Jewish Community began to welcome women as leaders of our services, well ahead of many other congregations in the area. It is difficult now to imagine our congregation without its female voices; voices that don’t just join in with the men’s, but elevate and amplify the male vocal expression.

It was a woman who taught me my first Hebrew prayers. Our cantorial soloist is a woman. And many of our readers and leaders are women. On Rosh Hashanah, when I was honored with an aliyah, I was struck by this irony: traditionally, only men might read from the Torah. If it had been left to me to read a Torah portion, I would have stumbled through the text slowly and badly. But I was fortunate that a woman was present to read my portion for me, chanting the words in a beautiful melody.

We have many voices in our community, from bass to soprano and possibly beyond. The lovely feminine voices join with the deeper men’s voices and create a chorus that lifts our prayers and our visions heavenward. And an occasional toddler’s squeal provides the exclamation point.

Roman statesman Cato the Elder (not to be con- fused with his obnoxious nephew Cato the Young Punk) concluded every oration with the exhortation Carthago delenda est. Because it is a matter of considerable importance to us, I am going to begin concluding my presidential columns with a similar exhortation: Bob reponendus est. We must find a successor to Bob.

Bob Buddemeier has done an outstanding job as our treasurer and go-to volunteer for the past year. Part of his outstanding job has been to organize the job of treasurer so that it is now much more manageable. We have contracted with an accountant who is helping with maintaining the books, and our office manager can now carry out some of the more routine financial duties. We have updated forms and letters and reorganized the databases and files for easier use.

It is reported that the good times must eventually end. Because of his great work, we are forced to consider giving Bob good-time credit toward his release. But when he leaves office, it will be imperative that we have a treasurer to replace him. The choices are: (1) operate without a treasurer and in violation of corporate and by-law requirements; (2) find a replacement at the last minute who will be plunged into an unfamiliar job; or (3) enlist an early volunteer who can work with Bob for a number of months, learn the job, and feel comfortable with the responsibilities when Bob finally re- tires. (1) is not an option. (2) is a bad option. (3) is a wonderful and quite doable option. I favor (3). Thanks to Bob, serving as treasurer should be a much more manageable undertaking. It does not require accounting expertise. It does not require many backbreaking hours each week. It does not require expertise in Latin.

I will continue to raise this issue until we have a successor in place or until we fold up as an organization because no one steps forward to take on this task.

~ Jonathan Paretsky

Listen to a recording of Shiray Shabbat during Hanukkah, 2011.

(And special thanks to one of our beautiful voices, Rachel Cunning, for her assistance with this column.)

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Treasurer’s Island: October, 2012

We are on the brink of a new year, individually, as a community, and as an
organization. The question is what happens after we step over that brink. LJCC is on an upward trajectory, with a rabbi (!), a revitalized program committee, and some essential repairs and upgrades under way. But… sustaining that trajectory will take additional treasure.

Let me tell you about the treasure on this island. It is not, unfortunately, a giant chest brimming with gold and jewels that you can get to by digging a big hole and tossing out the skeletons. It’s spread all over, buried a little bit at a time in wallets and sacks and boxes that sometimes cost almost as much to dig up as the contents are worth. We need still more buried wallets, and still more diggers to find them.

The High Holy Days are not only a time for joy and reflection; they are also traditionally a time of giving. Giving can take many forms – you can be a wallet, for example, or if that’s not possible you can be a digger, giving your time and energy. If you can be both, that’s great; if neither is possible, then be an enthusiastic participant and cheer on the others.

May the New Year be happy for you –- and for us.
— Bob Buddemeier

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New Rabbi, New Beginning

The fall is the time of new beginnings. A new school year begins, with new clothes, new haircuts, and the excitement of new teachers and subjects. Sometimes, new rabbis join new communities. All of these things are exciting and engaging.

Yet there is a melancholy, too, about this time of year. The leaves begin to turn, then fall; the days get shorter and cooler; we see students or our children undergoing new experiences that are long behind us.

During this time of both excitement and melancholy we celebrate the High Holy Days. Many of us spend many hours reading through a prayerbook written in a language we don’t really understand, trying to connect with themes that were developed by people who lived in other societies many centuries before we were born.

The holidays are meant to be a time of self-reflection. We take account of where we’re come over the past year or years; we look at the quality of our personal relationships, how we can improve or repair them. We take the time to think about our Jewish commitments – our personal spiritual practices, our tikkun olam (repair of the world) commitments; our relationships with our fellow community members, and with God.

But this rather melancholy pursuit is followed by joy: the joy of Sukkot, which is called in the prayerbook zman sim- chateynu – time of our joy. We spend time in nature and it can be a gift – the most beautiful time of year. Then comes Simhat Torah, which literally means “joy of Torah,” when we raucously celebrate the tradition that is our birthright. After the lows, come the highs.

We can see here a microcosm of what Jewish life can be. Tishrei, the month in which all these holidays fall, is home to a full range of emotions – sorrow, guilt, self-reflection, turning to relief, joy and riotous celebration! Each emotion is felt all the more strongly because of its proximity to the others. The fact that many of us choose to only partake in part of this cycle limits the effectiveness of it all.

And that’s connected to the beginning of a new relation- ship between a community and a rabbi – between you and me. It’s one of the ironies of Jewish life that when a rabbi joins a community virtually the first thing that happens is the holiest time of the year. It’s like having the Super Bowl at the beginning of the season. Many people will only see me one or two times, and that will form a lasting impression – but in some ways a false one, whether good or bad.

For our relationship is more than the holidays. Our relation- ship is in the Shabbat worship, in the year cycle and lifecycle events, in learning, in the tikkun olam we do together, even (heaven help us) in committee meetings. Our relationship, like all relationships, will be built in the ebbs and flows of the time we spend together.

I feel blessed that I am able to begin to take this journey with you. I look forward to being with you in the holy and in the mun- dane, in the melancholy and in the joyful. I look forward to taking these journeys – of calendar, and of relationship – together.

Praised are you, Ad-nai our God, Sovereign of all the worlds, who has kept us alive, and sustained us, and allowed us to reach this season.

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The Other River in Lawrence

The river of Judaism is long and broad. It has flowed for thousands of years, and it is fed from tributaries of all kinds. Those tributaries include Talmudic scholars and uneducated faithful; exiles from nations and nation builders; Orthodox observers and atheists; speakers of Hebrew, of Yiddish, of Ladino, and of English; members of Lubavitcher and reform communities; poets and painters and musicians and dreamers; martyrs and healers – these countless springs flowing into a grand, ancient river that continues its majestic course, despite persecution, despite assimilation, despite indifference, and despite difference.

Our differences give the water texture; they produce ed- dies and shallows, rapids and still places in this mighty, often turbulent, often calming river. We have the opportunity to draw on our individual differences to help us more fully experience the river that is Judaism.

In the coming year I will be looking for ways that the LJCC can provide a course for us to learn from each other. We will offer, I hope, organized discussions on topics as di- verse as genealogical research (with an emphasis on Jewish genealogy); atheism and Judaism; the Burning Man Festival ,the Black Rock JCC, and implications for the Lawrence JCC; the notion of sacrifice in Judaism; Jews in the world of modern art; and a host of other subjects for instruction, discussion, and debate. We have the potential to give to each other, and I trust that we will do that as a community. We likewise have the potential to receive from each other, and I trust that we will also do that as a community. We are the springs that feed the tributaries, and we are the great river.

— Jonathan Paretsky

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