2015 President’s Report – Onward and Upward

By Bob Ritter, President, Vassar Temple


In the familiar words of the opening of Emet Ve-Emunah,

“Standing on the parted shores of history we still believe what we were taught before ever we stood at Sinai’s foot; that wherever we go, it is eternally Egypt and that there is a better place, a promised land; that the winding way to that promise passes through the wilderness. That there is no way to get from here to there except by joining hands, marching together.”

The end of this month of June marks one year as your temple president. But it feels longer! And that’s because it is a continuation of a journey that began three years ago when I accepted the position as Bob Abram’s 1st VP and became part of a team effort that continues to this day. There are others on the team.

To begin with I’d like to announce/acknowledge Sandra Mamis for her being chosen by the Officers and Trustees to receive this year’s Vassar Temple Founders Service Award. Sandra follows Marge and Art Groten who received the award last year. And it is customary for the previous recipient to present the award. So, Marge and Art, would you please come up to make this presentation.

[Marge and Art present award … ]

This July, Ron Rosen will step down as our Temple Ritual Chair after 6 years, a record I believe. Ron’s ritual committee report for this year can be found in the Committee Reports Roll-up. I’d like to ask our past board secretary and new treasurer, Leonard Greenbery, to read a proclamation of the VT Board of Trustees.

[Leonard Greenberg reads proclamation]

By the way, all the committee reports are rolled up into one document and copies are for you to see and share. If we run out please contact Sherrie at the temple office and she will email it to you.

Next I would like to thank my fellow Officers and Trustees, Committee Chairs, and volunteers. Let us all give a round of applause for all our lay leaders and volunteers who serve only to serve our beloved temple. This remarkable history of service is why Vassar Temple’s history dates back 167 years.

And then there are the individual acts of members who don’t necessarily lead a committee, or hold a title, and yet they find the private motivation to serve our temple. This can be any one of you, and I hope it is. Because this temple depends on the individual efforts, that happen throughout the year, and through the years, and often don’t get even a mention in our bulletin. People like Polly and Kamil Lewis, Michele Sinn, Shaari Roland, Zoe Wieinstein, Eric Rosenfeld, Kristin Judd, and others. I’d like to ask Leonard Greenberg to once again read another Board proclamation which speaks to the dedication of a couple who exemplify the devotion and loving kindness I’m speaking about.

[Leonard Greenberg reads proclamation]

I’d also like to thank Marian Schwartz, one of the most determined and dedicated champions for social action this temple and I have ever known. Her passion for instilling Jewish values in our children is as commendable as it is fierce. Our social action committee is involved with many projects: food drives, preparing and serving meals for LunchBox and the homeless shelter, voter awareness, recording books for children in need, the CROPWalk for Hunger, community service on Mitzvah Day, and so much more. Marian will tell you that the scope of what we can accomplish is only limited by your ideas and your willingness to join in. In the month of May alone, thanks to Marian’s efforts and your anonymous gifts in the Tzedak chest in our lobby, we were able to supply the River Haven Shelter with some needed appliances.

Holy lovely is our tent – if we take care of it! Our building is a holy place and we have an obligation to take care of it. It is expensive yes, but what would our predecessors, who were much fewer and yet they found the wherewithal to acquire the land, build this temple, and move here, say if we let this building deteriorate. We honor them by respecting the needs to maintain and invest in the temple which they entrusted to future generations, you and me, and we will entrust it to future generations!

I know it is disconcerting to have construction going on in our temple! But I am also glad that so many critical improvements are being addressed. From the failing boiler, to water damage, a kitchen that was falling apart, to our magnificent stained glass windows covered by clouded plastic, and a social hall that needs to see brighter days and greater usage, we are doing what we can within our means for the future of our synagogue. Each temple faces generational challenges. You, the members, are to be commended for sustaining this 167 year old congregation at this time. I am personally grateful to my friend Chuck Stein, Chair of the House Committee, along with Men’s Club and Sisterhood and all the dedicated volunteers who support our efforts to maintain this holy place.

Onward and Upward!

Tonight voted in one of my favorite human being’s and high school classmate, Leonard Greenberg as our Treasurer. But for that past year we managed without a treasurer because no one would step forward. Not having a treasurer made matters more challenging for everyone involved with the financial affairs of our temple. But in spite of having one hand tied behind our back we made notable improvements to bookkeeping and reporting which will help us operate more efficiently and effectively for years to come, thanks in large part to our office manager, Sherrie Geisler, with the guidance of our Finance Committee under the leadership of Sam Finnerman and the extrordinary help of my favorite mench, Bob Abrams. I also want to thank Cathy Bokor who has does a great deal behind the curtain of privacy handling dues relief situations. I must say a few words about this challenge.

Onward and Upward!

In the first year as your President, I asked the board to make some choices in order to drive down expenses while at the same time investing in the future and not passing through either an assessment or raising dues. One expense has risen considerable. That expense is DUES RELIEF. Dues relief is a cost, born by the other members of the congregation. As a congregation, some do more. Some do what they are asked. All we ask is that people do an inventory of their soul, Chesbon HaNefesh, and give what they can afford so that the weight of operating the temple is shared fairly. This not me pressuring anyone to give what they cannot afford!! Not at all!! Just my appeal for everyone to do what they can, knowing that the more we share the burden, the better able our temple is to serve all its members and the community.

Onward and Upward!

With the great and tiring work of the Rabbi Search committee chaired by Sandra Mamis in conjunction with a Presidents Advisory Committee, we achieved a milestone with the selection and hiring of a new rabbi, Rabbi Berkowitz, who will begin in just 20 days. And we held a very successful gala and fundraiser to honor and celebrate the retirement of Rabbi Golomb. Positive things will come from those successes.

There is still much to do, as we turn our attention to those aspects that define Vassar Temple as a Reform Jewish congregation!

In the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, I will be joined by new officers and Trustees, and Rabbi Berkowitz! I am sure that Rabbi will want time to get the lay of the land, and learn the traditions we value. By the same token, the leadership will continue on a forward path. Rabbi Golomb continues an association with VT as our Senior Scholar – a distinguished role – giving us great rabbinical depth (3 total) and prestige. Rabbi Golomb will continue teaching Talmud on Tuesday whereas Rabbi Berkowitz will take over Torah study. And our newly funded Adult Education Fund will provide us resources to continue providing inspiring classes for members and guests.

Onward and Upward!

It is time for another important change! Thanks to a Bylaws task group led by Bob Abrams, we are able to update our temple bylaws in order to comply with new laws governing nonprofits, as well as to adjust our Constitution to current practical needs.

Onward and Upward!

Thanks to Roni Stein and a super nominating committee, we have engaged members in new leadership roles with the temple as trustees and as officers. Moving forward I hope that important committee positions will be filled as well. This is essential to the future of Vassar Temple. Our service is not burden, it is a joy! Service to the temple blesses both you and the temple!
As more people discover the blessing of service to their temple the better we will be! This is not to say that previous leadership was lacking. Too the contrary — many have worked hard and deserve our highest praise and appreciation!! But they also need a rest, and an opportunity to explore new ways to serve the temple as mentors with great wisdom to share.

Onward and Upward!

Thanks to the kind conscious heart of Ben Krevolin, we were able to establish an LGBT Committee this year. As a result we’ve reaffirmed our temple’s inclusivity and have started to make conscious efforts, such as statement that will be included in our ByLaws, and we’re doing targeted marketing communications to inform the community. As we spread the word through the help of Kristin Judd who chairs our Outreach committee of our openness and the fact that we will hold Interfaith and same sex marriages, we can see benefits to our temple community as we serve the faith and family needs of our local community.

Onward and Upward!

Now, we must act on expectations for greater change and growth. Now, we must find and develop new methods for enhancing and making more meaningful temple relationships. Now, we must explore ways to deepen our spiritual connection. Now, we must raise the bar on the expectations for our childhood education. Now, we must build on those practices which sustain our temple. Now, we have to concentrate on those things which will make us a better temple.

It is that which makes Vassar Temple a better temple, which helps us to be better individuals and community. That is the attraction. Jeremiah 8: 4,7 raises and answers a related question. “If people break away, can they return? The dove and the swallow know the season of return, What human instinct knows the time to turn back?” In the coming year let us all make room in our hearts for deeper relationships with one another and Judaism.

I will close my report with an alternative reading for the Mi Chamocha also found in the Mishkan T’filah.

“The Good in us will win, over all the wickedness, over all our wrongs we have done.
We will look back at the pages of written history, and be amazed, then we will laugh and sing, and the good that is in us, children in their cradles, will have won.”

Onward and upward – together!

Thank you.


June 2105 Board Citation for Lisa-Sue & Kurt Quackenbush

Lisa-Sue proclamation

Congregation Brethren of Israel
Citation in Appreciation of Lisa-Sue and Kurt Quackenbush

WHEREAS Lisa-Sue and Kurt Quackenbush have made significant contributions to the spiritual, social, organizational, and financial health of the congregation, and
WHEREAS Lisa-Sue has demonstrated exceptional commitment to Sisterhood, proudly fulfilling both leadership and supporting roles, and
WHEREAS Kurt has exhibited extraordinary dedication to Men’s Club, taking a lead role in major events and proving himself equally at home wielding tools or kitchen utensils, and
WHEREAS Lisa-Sue has provided unremitting support for major fundraising events, including silent auctions and rummage sales, and continuously graced the congregation with her good humor and legendary baked goods, and
WHEREAS Kurt has been a talented and beloved ringleader of the Vassar Temple Purim Players, gracing our stage for numerous seasons, and
WHEREAS the Quackenbush family sets an example of Godliness by sustaining the Vassar Temple community in a multitude of loving and admirable ways; therefore

BE IT RESOLVED that the Officers and Board of Trustees of Vassar Temple, on behalf of the entire congregation, thank Lisa-Sue and Kurt Quackenbush and their family most sincerely for their devoted service and betterment of the temple community, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a copy of this resolution be attached to the Board minutes and a copy of it presented to Lisa-Sue and Kurt Quackenbush.

By action of the Board of Trustees of Vassar Temple June 10, 2015 ~ 23 Sivan, 5775
Citation – Quackenbush June 2015

Founders’ Service Award Remarks at June 2015 Congregation Meeting

Sandra award
Founders’ Service Award: Sandra Mamis
June 2015
Written and presented by: Marge & Art Groten

It is an honor to have the opportunity to recognize Sandra Mamis for her dedication and her commitment of time, energy and creativity to Vassar Temple. In the 26 years her family has belonged to Vassar Temple, her work has helped to sustain the congregation.

“The Vassar Temple Founders’ Service Award is given annually to identify and honor an individual, or a household, who has provided consistent and beneficial service to Vassar Temple over an extended period of time. The awardee’s service acts as an inspiration to others, demonstrating leadership by example.”

To provide a list of the many roles Sandra has fulfilled with excellence would not be as interesting as to consider the impact of her far-ranging activities at Vassar Temple. Sandra has touched every aspect of Temple life in a meaningful way, often playing a leadership role. Indeed she has led this congregation as Sisterhood President, Temple President, Board Secretary and a board member for 14 years.

Sandra has also led by inventing and spearheading new Vassar Temple traditions. Sandra initiated and continues to chair the annual Passover Seder. She also started the well-attended annual Vassar Temple Break Fast and coordinates them each year. Sandra chaired the Nachamu Bereavement Committee, which created an invaluable Vassar Temple guide to bereavement. These initiatives have enriched and enlarged our Temple family.

Sandra has re-invented the Vassar Temple Scrip program, expanding and improving it. It now provides between $10,000 and $14,000 in income for our budget annually. (I will take this opportunity to remind you that if you make your purchases using scrip, it will support the Temple at no cost to you. We could easily be raising $20,000 or more with scrip.)

Sandra has chaired numerous committees: the 2014/15 Rabbi Search Committee; the 2015 Gala, which netted almost $90,000; the High Holy Day Committee and the effort that renovated our restrooms. She always leads the way with thoroughness and attention to detail that exceeds all expectations, with consistently excellent results.

Sandra has participated as a member of committees that are the lifeblood of our Temple: the Moveable Feast Committee; the Eternal Torah Committee; and the Ritual Committee. A member of Ritual for 7 years, she is now incoming chair.

Lastly Sandra has contributed to the Temple the work of her hands and of her heart by sewing new red covers for the Rabbi and Cantor’s podiums, creating the garden in front of our building and by leading lay services during the summer

This may not be a comprehensive list, but it surely demonstrates the qualities we seek in the recipient of the Founders’ Service Award. Hopefully it will inspire others to contribute the work of their minds, hands and hearts to do the same. Thank you, Sandra, for all you do for our Temple Family.

Marge Groten

Torah Study Notes 6-13-15

June 13, 2015

Rabbi Paul Golomb’s final Torah class as our Rabbi.


The scouts go into the land.

14:5  Have no fear the Eternal is with us. The Israelites are the fifth personality or player in this account. We are told  what they all do – even if it was nothing.  Moses and Aaron. Joshua and Caleb are the speakers. This is transitional to the new generation of leadership. And we have not yet begun the 40 year sojourn – a term of years that is immaterial. Note that the people of the land that are there now – the Canaanites – have lost God’s favor. How and why did they have it in the first place? Is this a foreshadowing of the Babylonian Exile? Note that the writers and readers all know what the ending is so this element is obvious to them. The relationship with the land is dependent on the stewardship of the land. What is being argued is that there is no natural right to the land. Buber says that “natural rights” is usually dependant on longevity – it has no other basis. LL: This is resonant of our obligation to care for the Earth. God has said nothing so the lesson here comes from the action of the people. As said in the Psalms “The Earth is the Lords and the fullness thereof.” Consider the policies of the colonialists: They were interested in the land only in terms of what it could produce.  SF: One of the underlying messages here is recognition of human fear. They fear going into the land. They must trust in God. LL: I disagree. That is not the macro lesson of Torah. It is the movement toward that “still small voice.” Once we have internalized all of the lessons of ethics, morality, and government that have gone before. SF: I agree with you. PG: You are both right – your points are not incompatible.

14:11 “How long will this people spurn me…? Moses bargains with God to forebear – be slow to anger, kind and forgiving.  This is a recap of the arguments about the Golden Calf.  One way of reading Numbers is as a recap of the entire journey out of Egypt. Note that the faith sought here is “informed faith” not “blind faith.” There is faith in what is absent and in the future. What are the techniques that help you to have faith. We learn to have faith in absence and memory. AF: Do we place our faith in God’s Master Plan? PG: The other gods tended to be reflections of human leadership. Heidegger (http://www.iep.utm.edu/heidegge/) said “you cannot jump over your own shadow. “ Meaning that it is hard to understand and encompass any fundamental eschatology here. Scripture avoids this discussion.  A “plan” presumes an “end.” In Thinking, Fast and Slow”  (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/27/books/review/thinking-fast-and-slow-by-daniel-kahneman-book-review.html?_r=0  it is argued that most plans are not fulfilled. Sam: Engaging with people in the most wholesome way possible is the journey to a full life. PG: Note that there is no mention of a “”Messiah” in scripture.

14:20 Those who have disobeyed me shall not see the land that I have promised. Caleb who has expressed his faith is the exception. No mention of Joshua at this point. Also, why the reference here to “Amalachites” instead of the Canaanites? They are a wondering people –how did they occupy the land? The mention of them is probably going to make the people nervous since they are a daunting enemy.  The rabbis have suggested that “the Amalachites” represent the fear that is within us.  Later they are defeated by Saul in Samuel I. But they show up again in several subsequent kings until Hezekiah where they are neutralized. Then the name appears again in the Book of Esther.

14: 26  That wicked community … muttering against me? Not one shall enter the land except Caleb, and Joshua. This is a restatement of the previous paragraph. Why? Two tribes. Judah – that survived after the Assyrian invasion – claimed Caleb as their own. Joshua, as the representative of ancient Israel was lost but not exterminated. That is the hope expressed in the second paragraph.

14: 36 “The Eternal will not be with you..” A shattering blow was struck them at Hormah. There was a time when they would have succeeded but it is past. This is also indicative of Moses’ diminishing authority over the people.

Chofetz Chaim (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chofetz_Chaim_Heritage_Foundation )  was a famous rabbi who lived in the Pale of Settlement (http://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48956361.html ) who frequently traveled by train. When he traveled he did not look like an esteemed Rabbi and wore rough travel garb. He as insulted for his appearance by some of  the people on the train. Upon arrival he is greeted by a great throng. When the rude travelers asked for his forgiveness’ it was denied. They had to ask the old man for forgiveness – not the esteemed Rabbi. The time for proper behavior had passed.

Late: A celebration of  Paul Golomb by the Torah Class. Presentation of guitar lessons for him as a going aways present – followed by refreshments. Rabbi’s memory: When he started there were only two people in the class: Sam Finnerman and Bunny Levinson. Now there are over a dozen “regulars.”