Rabbi Cohen TSTI Annual Meeting 2015
What an incredible honor it is to stand here before you during our TSTI Annual Meeting for the 22nd time. I have always known what a privilege it is to serve this sacred community. This year I am especially grateful for the opportunity to be part of the TSTI Family.
There is a Rosh Hashanah teaching that explains why the shofar is the appropriate symbol for the new year. No matter how much you practice and prepare to blow the shofar, this teaching explains, anything can and often does happen when you actually go to sound it. Similarly, no matter how thoughtfully you prepare for the new year, once it begins to unfold, anything can and often does happen. One must, it concludes, be prepared to address whatever may come your way.
That has, to a certain degree, been the nature of this year. As we always do, we planned things quite carefully. Once the year began to unfold however much changed. I could not be more proud of the ways in which we addressed the challenges that faced us this year.
For reasons both personal and professional I have found and will continue to find myself, flying more this year than at any time I can recall. During one flight I suddenly came to the realization that the job of a flight attendant is not to serve bad coffee and overcharge for snacks but rather, the job of a flight attendant is to be ready for anything. And on the rare occasions when things are rapidly changing during a flight the training these individuals receive kicks in so that the well-being of everyone on the flight can be insured to the greatest possible degree.
Said another way, having the right people on a flight when things are rapidly changing can make all the difference.
This has been a year of rapid change for us at TSTI. Thankfully, we have had and continue to have the right people in place. It makes all the difference.
We planned for a new website that would better serve our community but I do not think any of us expected how monumental the task was. Thanks to the leadership of Sue Wishnow (not to mention the wisdom countless hours she put into the project) and the creative genius of Lana Rosenberg, we launched an amazing new website in the fall. It not only represents our synagogue proudly but it helps make us more accessible to our community.
Shortly after the website was launched and we thought it would be a relatively calm year going forward, Rabbi Miller informed us that the time had come for her to have her own congregation. She was well into the interview process when we had to jump into action and begin our search for a new rabbi. Fortunately, once again, we had the right people in place.
On the Senior staff side we have a collection of amazing, dedicated, experienced and hardworking professionals to keep things humming here at 432 Scotland Road. A huge thank you to Leslie Sporn, Cantor Moses, Cantor Finn, Tracy Horwitz, Mindy Schreff, Carol Pastor and, of course, my left and right hand (not to mention my brain) Sunny Seglin. (Sunny, incidentally, recently had a milestone birthday and I know you join me in wishing her a Yom Huledet Sameach- a very happy birthday.)
Thank you as well to our incredible support staff for all they do day in and day out. They are the unsung heroes of this congregation.
On the Volunteer Leadership side we are similarly blessed. Time and again Craig Krandel has shown himself to be a phenomenal temple president not to mention mensch. Craig displays the best of Jewish leadership. He only wants what is best for this community. He thinks of others and the whole of the congregation first and last. It is NEVER about Craig and what he personally wants. It is always about the larger community.
And when Craig became president we gained a secret weapon who goes by the name Judy Krandel. Judy has been intimately involved with some of the most important new initiatives this year. Judy also had a milestone birthday this spring- although not nearly as monumental as Sunny’s, and I wish her a happy birthday as well.
Our Executive Committee this year is an amazing collection of talented and committed Jewish leaders. They, along with all the members of our board, jumped into action when this new need arose.
Sue Wishnow took the reigns as chair of the Search Committee. She, Craig, Leslie and I spent countless hours on the phone making sure we did everything in the manner that would best serve our congregation. And this while Craig was on vacation in the Caribbean and Sue was traveling in China!
We made application and Sue, Andrea Baum and I went to Cincinnati to interview students who were about to be ordained. Boy, were we impressed by the caliber of the students we met!
One of the great thrills of this process was that, because we are who we are, every rabbinic student who interviewed with us expressed a sincere and strong desire to become part of the TSTI team.
It was so easy to speak about out great congregation because we are just that — a great congregation.
And when the search process was completed we had the good fortune to get the search committee’s unanimous top choice — Rabbi Alexandra Klein.
Folks, she is fantastic and you are going to love her!
So now we have shifted gears yet again. We are sorry to see Rabbi Miller leave but are thrilled for her new adventure. On June 19th we will celebrate her and thank her for her years of dedication to the TSTI community.
And even as we are planning to bid Rabbi Miller farewell, we are ramping up to welcome Rabbi Klein when she begins her tenure on July 1.
And let me be clear about this. We chose Rabbi Klein but she also chose us. Trust me, she had numerous offers. She wanted to be here. With that comes immense responsibility on our part. Yes, Rabbi Klein will be here to serve our community but at the same time we have a responsibility to make sure her first rabbinic experience is a positive learning opportunity. That will happen by our being patient, welcoming, warm and understanding, for while she is already a stellar Jewish leader, she was only ordained a few weeks ago.
Allow me to speak very personally for a moment. As many of you know, at the beginning of 2015 Elana and I filed for divorce and I moved to South Orange.
Even when divorce is the right step for both individuals involved it is not easy. Our ancestors understood this. Judaism has, in fact, always had a mechanism for the respectful and fair dissolution of a marriage but, as one rabbinic text puts it, even when divorce is the best option, the altar weeps.
Living in the public eye as I do, this could have been an even more difficult period for me. But I had the good fortune to find two things. First, the members of our community who heard about situation were incredibly kind in their respect for my privacy. For that I am truly grateful. In addition, there were key individuals in our community who went over and above in their care, concern and support of me. I was humbled by the outpouring of kindness and want to thank all of you who reached out and offered support.
I am now a South Orange resident. I truly love living so close to temple and am grateful for other wonderful, and unexpected, turns my life has taken in recent months.
And as I stand here this evening I am reminded yet again what a privilege it is to serve this holy congregation. Thank you.