CBI President Ellen Kaufman – KOL NIDRE APPEAL
Dear fellow congregants,
First, I want to welcome everyone here for this holiest day of the year, the Sabbath of Sabbaths, and in addition falling this year on the Sabbath. I feel so happy to see once again our sanctuary bursting at the seams.Â It is wonderful and sweet when we gather together to pray.
As you all know, it is the intention of the Board and the congregation that all who wish to attend services here at CBI are welcome, even on the High Holy days, without tickets and that moreover, there is no distinction in seating between members and non-members, nor is seating in any way based on the level of financial contribution.Â In this way we as participants here at Congregation Bâ€™nai Israel express our communityâ€™s ideals of social justice.
I think that itâ€™s not a stretch to see a connection between these ideals of social justice and whatâ€™s happening now with Occupy Wall Streetâ€”this nascent movement arising at long last, with so many citizens expressing anger about social injustice in general and corporate greed in particular.Â I think the phrase â€œcorporate greedâ€ is really interesting in the context of Yom Kippur and our work of deeply investigating our hearts and minds; and I would like to explore this with you.
The term Corporate Greed is a misnomer.Â Corporations, which are not sentient beings, donâ€™t have personality traits.Â So when we talk about corporate greed, weâ€™re really talking about people who run corporations whom we think are greedy. They want excessive compensation, they donâ€™t want to share.
So I would invite us to move in closer and look at greed more carefully.Â To make that easier, I suggest that we think of greed as an offshoot of the natural tendency to want things. I donâ€™t know about you, but my mind tends to bounce off the term â€œgreedâ€ as ugly and certainly not something that describes me.Â However, this tendency toward â€œwantingâ€ is something that I can easily identify withâ€”and who among us is free of this?Â Weâ€™re hard-wired to want thingsâ€”and this â€˜wantingâ€™ serves an important survival function for us as individuals and as a society.Â We want food, shelter, security, medical treatment, spiritual inspiration, beauty, intellectual stimulation, we want community.Â Itâ€™s right and proper that we want these things and that we strive toward having enough resources for ourselves and our families to live comfortable lives with all the necessary ingredients that go into that.Â But when does â€˜wantingâ€™ go beyond what is wholesome and become something ugly, something excessive, that seems unethical and that we feel called upon to protest against?Â Is there a point on a continuum at which we can agree that the â€˜wantingâ€™ is excessive?Â Might all of us in this room agree on that point?Â Thatâ€™s unlikely, and yet I think can all agree that at SOME point the â€œwanting moreâ€ is a problem for both ourselves and the community.Â Thus Iâ€™m guessing that most of us agree with the intentions of the protesters that in this country there is too wide a gap between the haves and the have nots, and that some correction is called for.
What essentially Iâ€™m inviting us all to do is to consider the Wall Street within our own hearts and minds.Â We all have a wanting part of our minds; we all have an internal Wall Street. We want what we want.Â And thereâ€™s an ongoing tendency for that wanting to get out of balance for whatâ€™s good for our hearts and whatâ€™s good for our community.
Our tradition recognizes the tendency of humans toward greedâ€”it has been and will be repeated frequently in our prayers-in Viddui- over the next twenty four hours.Â We are also given the antidote to greedâ€”which is tsedakahâ€”literally translated as righteousness, fairness, or justice. Tsedakah, along with tsuvah and prayer, are the the three main acts that can annul a less than favorable heavenly decreeÂ (and weâ€™ve got about 25 hours left!).Â Tsedakah is not optional, rather it is an obligation, a commandment.Â There are specific guidelines about how much we should giveâ€”the traditional concept of â€˜maâ€™aser kesafimâ€™â€”tithing 10% of our income to support those in need.
The obligation to give tsedakah is not just to achieve social justice but alsoâ€”relevant to this holiday— to open our hearts, to balance this inborn tendency which we all have, to accumulate and hold on.Â We are enjoined to be just, righteous, fairâ€”both for our own good and for the good of the larger community.
And to whom should we direct the prescribed acts of charitable giving?Â HereÂ hereÂ here ! Your synagogue, CBI, is the heart of the Jewish community. Thereâ€™s a reason that this sanctuary is filled to overflowing on these High Holy Days, and for each of us the motivation may be different: that itâ€™s tradition, a sense of obligation, a yearning to slow down and listen to that still quiet voice inside, a need to escape from the busyness that seems to plague us all, a way to gather with family and friends.Â Whatever the reason, we all depend on this institution being here for us.Â You may only come two days a year, but CBI is here for you 365 days/year.Â I have heard former congregants say they were leaving CBI because they werenâ€™t using it enough.Â We must change the way that we think about CBIâ€”we need a paradigm shift.Â This is not a fee for service organization, and we just canâ€™t think about it that way.Â Rather, ask yourself if you want there to be a local synagogue.Â Do you want a place to turn to at times of great joy, at times of great sadness, at times of spiritual confusion, a place to be buried or to bury your loved ones?Â If the answer is â€˜yesâ€™ then each of you needs to support CBI.
So I invite each of us to look within, to identify our own internal Wall Streetsâ€”our very human tendency to want to hold on to what we have.Â And in the spirit of the High Holy days, I invite you to practice tzedakahâ€”righteousnessâ€”by releasing some of what is yours by way of this convenient envelope that you can find on your seat and on the shelves in the hall, in your back pocket, use the nifty red arrow to point to the amount you commit to contributing, and mail this in with payment after the holiday. Take it, itâ€™s good for you, itâ€™s good for us
Thank you for your attention,Â I wish you a very sweet Shabbat and Yom Tov, and may you all be inscribed in the book of life for a sweet and peaceful year