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Kol Nidre 2017/5778

Kesher encourages all members, visitors, and guests to participate in our annual Yom Kippur appeals. Your contributions make up a significant percentage of our revenue and allows us to provide minyan, adult and children programming, and community support. Make your contribution today!

Money raised from the Kol Nidre Appeal goes towards our 2017 operating budget, which helps us keep the lights on and the doors open. The operating budget helps pay for the salaries of our professional staff, cleaners, regular building repairs and maintenance, garbage pickup, gas, water, electricity, insurance, and programming. 

Money raised from the Communal Needs Appeal goes towards: 

  • Welfare Fund, to help people in need in our community with medical bills, groceries, and other life essentials;
  • The Rabinowitz Memorial Eruv, to maintain the DC eruv and pay for repairs; and,
  • The Kesher Israel Cemeteries, to fund the upkeep and care of Kesher Israel member graves.



President's 2017/5778 Kol Nidre Speech

Shabbat shalom and Shana tova. As the president of Kesher Israel, it is my pleasure to welcome you to our shul on Yom Kippur. I especially want to welcome our new members, our new rabbi and his family, visiting families, friends, guests, and all those who are spending their first Yom Kippur with us.

Yom Kippur is a unique day in our lives, unlike any other holiday on the Jewish calendar. Pesach, Sukkot, Shavuot, Hanukkah, and Purim, are all times when we happily get together with family and friends to celebrate our history and the miracles that occurred bringing us closer, as a Jewish people, to God. Even Rosh Hashanah, has a celebratory aspect associated with it. It’s the anniversary of creation and we celebrate, so to speak, what it means to be human under God’s sovereignty.

On Yom Kippur, our sole focus is pointed inwards, on ourselves. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes, Yom Kippur is about what it means to be me, the unique person that I am. It forces us to ask, what have I done with my life? How have I behaved? What have I done with God’s greatest gift, life itself? What have I lived for and what will I be remembered for? Yom Kippur is the day that we hold an annual dress rehearsal for our own death—men where a kittel, the traditional garment in which they will be buried, women wear white. We ignore our physical needs, and we recite Unetaneh Tokef, an emotionally stirring prayer, where we wonder aloud who will live and who will die. For Jews of all stripes, and even the non-observant or unaffiliated, Yom Kippur rises to a level of reverence unseen across the Jewish spectrum at any other time during the year.

Considering this inherent focus inward that is essential to the day, it is easy to understand the relevance Yom Kippur has on our individual lives. But what, if at all, might its relevance be to the life of community? Would our lives be any different without the benefits we derive from others – other people, other places, other things?

About a year after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Steve Jobs gave the commencement address at Stamford University, and shared this: Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment of failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

The challenge of Yom Kippur is for us to face our own mortality and discover that all of the things that we hold as being so important – ego, success, status – mean almost nothing. As we say in Unetaneh Tokef, “man is likened to a broken shard, withering grass, a fading flower, a passing shade, a dissipating cloud, a blowing wind, flying dust, and a fleeting dream.” Yom Kippur leaves us naked of our arrogance, our petty plans, and the notion that we “have something to lose.”

But Yom Kippur’s focus on death is not for the sake of self-negation; rather, it is to focus our attention on what truly matters. Recognizing our mortality is intended to help us focus instead on the things that really matter in our lives: our sacred connections to the people around us and our joy in living lives that truly make a difference.

There’s a story of 10 small Jewish families who lived in a shtetl in northern Russia. In each of these families only the father had been Bar Mitzvah and was old enough to be counted in a minyan. The men of the village were not religious; on the contrary all were secular except for the rabbi and his family. For their sake all of the men in the village would come together to help the rabbi bring in Shabbat, while the women would together cook a kosher Shabbat dinner for the whole community to enjoy, despite only the rabbi’s family keeping the laws of kashrut. Over time, the village began to prosper and accordingly was flooded with Jewish migrants. Now that there were more than 10 families, the men saw that they were no longer needed to make a minyan, and consequently, stopped going to shul. After all, someone else could now do it. Why did it have to be them? Eventually, the kosher communal dinners stopped and the rabbi could no longer make a minyan. The community died.

107 years ago, six merchants living in Georgetown got together to discuss the possibility of forming a “Hebrew society for worship and other communal activities.” Families with the names Brenner, Scher, Whitkin, Gamzy, Levy, and others founded this shul, first meeting in a house on M Street, then moving to a larger place down the block, and finally, settling here at 2801 N Street in 1915. The community grew and the shul grew with it. The men and women of the community invested time and effort to build their shul, both physically by building this historic structure, and spiritually, by doing what they could to sustain a minyan and a community built on Torah values. Of course, there were certainly times over the past century when Kesher Israel struggled to not only have daily minyan but to make minyan on Shabbat as well. And yet, you look around the room tonight and on many recent Shabbatot and you see a shul full of people, with a new, energetic, thoughtful, and deeply caring rabbi in Rabbi Shafner, happily calling Kesher “home.” What is it that sustains us, year after year, decade after decade, while other old urban shuls have had to permanently shut their doors?

It’s a testament to the people of our community that our small shul has endured for more than a hundred years despite constant change in the makeup of our community. We’ve experienced many up’s and down’s, to be sure, but we’re still here. The community in Russia died because the villagers lost their sense of accountability and stopped participating. They felt that others would do, others would give, and they could take a step back. Kesher is still here because of the continued hard work and dedication of many of you and those who came before us. All of this makes Kesher Israel a strong and vibrant community—a community of doing, a community of learning, a community of outreach, and a community of warmth and hospitality.

Tonight, as we begin the 25 hours of contemplation, reflection, and prayer, I ask you to reflect upon what we have and what we experience together as a community. What meaning does it give to our lives? What is the nature and depth of our commitment to Kesher Israel? Here in our sanctuary and in our social hall is where we celebrate together, mourn together, where we gather to pray, socialize, and express our Jewish identity. What can we do to make this experience fuller, richer, and more meaningful – not just for us, but for our friends, visitors, our children, and for the future generations of people who will walk through our doors and call Kesher Israel home.

A rabbi once reflected on the age-old question: “Is the glass of water half full or half empty?” His answer: It depends upon your relationship with the glass. Did you fill the glass with water or did you just drink from it? If you participate in filling the glass, you are a contributor; you have a stake in the glass and you will always feel like it is half full. You see its potential and will always strive to fill it completely. On the other hand, if all you do is drink from it, you will always see it as half empty. Not only will the glass never seem filled, but you will never feel fulfilled from it.

Do you consider yourself a giver or a taker? How much has Kesher given you? Friends? Community? Support? A place to enhance your spiritual life? Perhaps even the opportunity to transform your life? And how much have you given back to Kesher? Your time? Your energy? Volunteering? Contributions? Can you help to transform Kesher in recognition of what you have been given?

Go back and consider your life *without* the Kesher community, without the opportunities, the friends, the support, and the place that are all here because of what and who has come before you. Is it a priority in your life?

Take the time to express heartfelt appreciation in recognition of what you've been given. When the measure of you is taken, will it show that your priority was taking for granted or giving back? Demanding or listening? Calculating or sympathizing? Looking out for connections or offering to make them? Taking all you can or giving all you can?

This is a year of transformation for Kesher Israel. With Rabbi Shafner at the helm and a core of dedicated and talented members, we’re on the cusp of great change, growth, and forward movement to reinvigorate this historic shul. Join us in transforming how you see your own role at Kesher. By participating, giving, offering, and contributing more, you may find your own outlook transformed for the better.

Tonight I appeal to you to not just drink from the glass of Kesher Israel, but to participate in filling it as well. Help strengthen Kesher Israel by pledging to enhance and deepen your participation in, and your contribution to, our community. Pledge to attend daily minyan, participate in a weekly class, join us for a community Shabbat lunch or dinner, and volunteer your time to help get things done.

And finally, I appeal to you to continue your financial support of Kesher Israel. Nothing we do at shul can happen without your generosity. The Kol Nidre Appeal accounts for 12% of our annual budget. Our budget relies on donations, big and small, all of which enable us to sustain our programming, pay our bills on time, keep the lights on and doors open, and repair and maintain the three properties the shul owns. All of us sitting in this building tonight rely on Kesher Israel. Not just the idea of Kesher Israel, not just what Kesher Israel represents, but also on the bricks and mortar, the physical structure, to be here. And all of that is our collective cause and collective responsibility.

On each of your seats is a pledge card. Please flip a tab on the side of the card representing the gift amount that you feel is appropriate in recognition of what Kesher is to you. No amount is too small. Every little bit helps. If you would like someone to follow up with you about your pledge, or if you’d like to pledge an amount not listed on the card, please fold your card in half.

When you have completed making your pledge, please pass it towards the end of the aisle, where a volunteer will collect the cards.

Thank you so much for your generosity in sustaining our shul.

May the upcoming year bring us and our community an abundance of health, happiness, prosperity, and peace. Shabbat shalom and gmar tov.

Sat, October 20 2018 11 Cheshvan 5779