Welcoming our new members 10/29/21 -remarks by Vivian Garber

Shabbat Shalom.

When Rabbi asked me to speak about my experiences at Vassar Temple, I initially said no because I am not comfortable speaking in public. However, as I thought about how important Vassar Temple has been to me and my family over the many years that we have been members, I decided to push beyond my comfort zone and share with you my life at Vassar Temple.

My first experience with Vassar was more than 40 years ago when Ed and I were invited to a Bat Mitzvah here. At the time, we were unaffiliated and were trying to decide where to join. We had a young son and wanted him to learn about Judaism and have the experience of being a part of a Jewish community. We walked into the sanctuary that day, experienced the warmth of the congregation and immediately felt at home.

My husband, Ed, had never been a member of a synagogue until we moved to Poughkeepsie. He was so touched by the Vassar community that he decided that he had to get involved. Over the years, he has served on many committees including nomination committee, House committee and finance committee. He also served on the board eventually getting elected President.    

Vassar Temple also became a very integral part of our son’s life. He attended religious school, was Bar Mitzvahed and confirmed here, tutored other children for their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, participated in the youth group taking leadership roles and even lead services during the summer. Because of what he learned and absorbed here at Vassar, he now shares that with his synagogue in MA even joining the board.

Vassar Temple has been so much to us. It has been our second home. We have worshipped together, we have laughed and celebrated together and, yes, we have cried together and held each other up in difficult times.  The Vassar community is vibrant and caring offering a multitude of opportunities to its members as well as to our neighbors outside of the Vassar community. We help to feed the hungry, offer assistance to the local schools both in the classrooms and by helping to provide needed supplies, volunteer our time where needed in the community and  join together with other organizations to help the disenfranchised. I could not be prouder of the members of our congregation who so graciously give of their time and resources to others without looking for recognition or praise.

However, you need not leave the confines of Vassar Temple to experience the caring and amazing empathy that is what the Vassar family offers. There is always food in our freezer waiting to be delivered to a member of our Vassar family when needed. Hamentaschen during Passover is delivered to those who are shut-in, calls and visits are made to those who are ill or suffering from a loss. When I broke my ankle and could not put any weight on that leg, I was the recipient of so much good food. That was especially appreciated by Ed since cooking is not one of his skills.

Besides serving the spiritual and material needs of our congregation, there are lots of interesting courses and programs to stimulate our minds from book club to cultural events and study groups. There is always something of interest in which to participate.

I am so very proud to be a part of the wonderful Vassar Temple family. And, family, is what we are. I am deeply thankful for all of the wonderful friendships that I have made. Since Ed and I have no family locally, our friends have become our family and we have been blessed.

To our new members, I say welcome. I encourage you to become fully involved in our community. You will not regret it. I truly hope that Vassar Temple becomes to you what it has been to my family. 

Thank you.


President’s Remarks, Rosh Hashanah 2021

A year ago I was forced to pre-record my Torah reading and remarks. It was honestly crushing for me, having had several years to anticipate these responsibilities and privileges.I was angry; I felt cheated. For the past several months, things seemed to be improving, and I looked forward to being able to stand here today and say “we’re back.” But here we are tonight, and that’s only partially true. Circumstances have prevented our reopening from coming to complete fruition. Nevertheless, I see an analogy between this long, challenging journey and the more typical act of coming into the temple. I suggest that we are, at this moment, in the lobby, figuratively speaking, and ask you to join me there for a few minutes.

And, of course, I think of the mishkan, the tabernacle in the desert, with its different layered spaces requiring increasing preparation, privileges, and sacrifices as one approached the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies.

Regardless, the common denominator of these interim spaces is that they are transitional and preparatory, places where change takes place. 

We pass through a foyer when entering this sanctuary. We pass a beautiful painting and our tree of life, but this is not simply a physical passage. Here at Vassar Temple we have two sets of doors before you reach the sanctuary; those same two doors must be navigated to re-enter the outside world. What do we bring in and take out with us? Is it a casual drop-off for you? a lifesaving protocol? or a crushing, negative obligation? Are these deliberate choices, or dictated by other people or forces? And how do you use that intervening space to prepare for the transition in or out? Do you leave anything in the lobby temporarily to pick back up on your way out? 

Like coming into our physical temple, we can stop, pause, and take stock of where we are in our pandemic passage.  Let’s all ask what we can leave behind and what we should take in with us. 

We have been forced by Covid to prioritize, and I hope that you have found this community to be not only a priority but also an incredible resource. While we have learned that we are not defined by our building, nonetheless as we pass together through the real and figurative lobby, hopefully sooner rather than later, we intend to build on those rediscovered connections and use the lessons to strengthen ourselves.

The holy days also offer us a passage. Please use your time there to consider what you want to bring in, what you want to place on hold, what you want to leave behind, and what you hope to take with you when you emerge.  Personally, I’m at least attempting to leave behind that anger – some days are easier and some are harder – and focus on the happier moments and the love and support of family, friends, and especially the friends who might as well be family – you know who you are.

Wherever you are tonight, whether here physically or virtually, I welcome you to enter fully into this sacred space and time and to our unique annual opportunity to take stock.  L’shanah tovah. 

High Holy Day Appeal 2020

by Lisa-Sue Quackenbush, First Vice President

Good Evening, my Temple family.

I hope you are all well. Needless to say, this is not the High Holy Days or the Yom Kippur we all envisioned. This is such a mixture of both the comfortable and the uncomfortable.  On one hand, many of us are in the comfort of our homes. Maybe you are watching this from your living rooms or from patios, sitting on comfortable couches or in your favorite chairs. Maybe you are in your favorite loungewear, wearing your favorite slippers (no judgement on my part). So, yes, there is some actual physical comfort involved. But how comfortable are you feeling, observing this holiest day of the year over a computer screen, not in our beloved Temple sanctuary, not side by side with the rest of our Temple family? I have to tell you, I am struggling with this and I know I am not alone. 

This pandemic has personally made me dive deeply into both the comfortable and the uncomfortable on many levels. ’m not totally comfortable with technology, but if I don’t try to upgrade my knowledge, I will get left behind and have difficulty communicating with the rest of the world (namely my children) – and without that communication, let’s face it, I would be extremely uncomfortable! And so a little discomfort in learning is better than the great discomfort in getting left behind. And we’ve all been doing these trade-offs for months now. “If I stay home, and wear my mask when I do go out, it’s a little uncomfortable, but it’s a whole lot better than getting sick or getting others sick. Should I eat out? Is inside dining safe? Maybe outside dining is OK. Maybe we’ll get takeout or curbside pick up.  Maybe we’ll just cook at home.” How much risk is too much risk, and how much risk am I willing to take?  

Comfort vs. discomfort for the greater good. I know what would make me comfortable. If Kurt and I could just have a Happy Hour here with our Temple family, holding a glass of wine, and a nibble of food and asking about your families. If we could socially gather around a table in the Social Hall for a Shabbat dinner and casually converse without wearing masks. If I could physically sit in our sanctuary and enjoy a Friday night service with my Temple family and wish you a “Good Shabbos” with a hug, and then watch you enjoy my homemade brownies and cookies (that are presently piling up in my freezer at home- Kurt is doing his part, but he can only eat so many). All of this, I know will happen. But not yet. We have to return to our Temple activities thoughtfully and carefully. The health and safety of our congregants and community is of the utmost importance. We have a dedicated committee that is working very hard at how best to meet the needs and wants of our congregation, and we so appreciated the many of you who responded to the survey we sent out a few months ago regarding these important safety issues. Rest assured, we are listening and acting accordingly.

There is a great deal of history here at Vassar Temple. We are nearing 175 years as a Congregation. I, myself, have a long history here at Vassar Temple. I have been a member here since I was 11 years old; 45 years of membership here is certainly an appreciable investment. I was given a Torah scroll for completing my first year of Religious School on this very bimah. I both attended Religious School and taught Religious School here. I was confirmed here, as were all three of our children. I literally grew up here. Kurt and I have raised our family here. We both know our way around the Temple in different capacities; Kurt through Brotherhood (formerly Men’s Club), and I have participated in many different activities. We both know the kitchen very well. Kurt is always found preparing and creating a wonderful meal at our annual Purim Pasta Dinner and I am usually found baking hamantaschen and busy at any number of cooking events at Temple. It’s no secret to anyone that knows me that the litchen is one of my favorite and cherished spots in Vassar Temple. During  my time here I have served as Sisterhood President.  I have served on the Board twice.  I’ve seen Rabbis and Cantors come and go. I’ve seen this Temple deal with flooded basements, broken boilers and leaky roofs. We have dealt with fiscal crisis and budget Issues. We have dealt with the devastating and sometimes sudden losses of great leaders and members of our Temple family. We will get through this pandemic as well. This is my Temple home and you are my Temple family. And families stick together through joys and sorrows, easy times and the difficult times. That’s ultimately what makes us stronger for the future.

Let me state the obvious. There is a future here at Vassar Temple. Both Sisterhood and Brotherhood are working on future programs. Even during this pandemic, new members are joining and prospective members are asking about our upcoming programs and our outreach in the community. Our Religious School has already met on the Temple lawn, following all the proper, socially distant protocols, and will continue to virtually gather for learning experiences. We are excited to be the future interim home of the Jewish Community Preschool of the Hudson Valley, which is currently offering virtual programming for our future little learners. This congregation is not sitting idle. It is vibrant and growing even under these precarious circumstances.

So this brings me to do that which makes both you and me uncomfortable. This is of course, the High Holy Day Appeal. Now I know that through the great perks of technology you can, at this point, turn me off, but I’m asking if you’ve invested in me this far, please hang in there. We can be uncomfortable for a few more minutes together.  Let me start by stating the obvious.  If there had been no pandemic, Vassar Temple would have had all kinds of dundraisers by now.  There was a Movable Feast planned for this summer. We usually have some kind of Gala/Auction event.  We have Happy Hours and dinners throughout the year. These events help bring in money to offset our expenses. Clearly these events and others like them – namely any event that involves person-to-person socializing – is not going to happen any time in the near future. This is a huge problem, as bills still need to be paid.  The physical upkeep of our building has not changed much. We still need to pay for employees, insurance, electricity, heat, mowing in the summer and shoveling in the winter. Now rest assured that the Board and Finance Committee have worked incredibly hard in many areas. Early on, all the pertinent  information was gathered and submitted so that we successfully received a PPP loan. This was an incredible help to maintain our payroll.  Line items in our yearly budget have been tweaked as to where we can save money, and we have saved in many areas already.  There may, however, be new expenditures involved in upgrading our physical space for health, safety, security and technology. The technology piece is being so generously subsidized by the new Lila Matlin Technology Fund.  You are all benefiting from the first phase of this technology investment over the High Holy Days. We are so grateful for your donations to this new fund and all of our other sustaining funds. We are also very grateful for your generous participation in our very successful Golden Gelt Fundraiser earlier this year. Scrip purchases have gone up during this pandemic and that helps as well. But we can always do more. There are other fundraisers that are smaller in scale, that we are working on to extend to the congregation in the future.  Frankly all of this is helpful, but it is just not enough. Even though we like to think of Vassar Temple as our home, it is also a business. And like all businesses, this one is taking a huge hit during this pandemic. It puts me in an uncomfortable position to say that due to the pandemic and lack of typical socialization fundraisers, it is necessary for this High Holy Day Appeal to become our biggest fundraiser of the year.  

Remember how I said earlier comfort vs discomfort for the greater good? As uncomfortable as I am asking this of you here and now, I know I would be much more uncomfortable standing before you, my Temple family and telling you as a leader of the congregation, what we can no longer afford to have. We have a beautiful building that we need to maintain with the goal of at some point gettingback inside to pray and study and socialize together on a regular basis.  We have an Incredible Rabbi, wonderful Cantor, talented accompanist, highly skilled office and maintenance staff that are always available to us and truly are holding it all together. I would hate to lose any of these integral parts of our Vassar Temple family or part of our Vassar Temple home. Throughout this pandemic, the Temple has been and is still working hard for us.  Sisterhood and Brotherhood are still active.  The Board is still meeting.  services are still happening.  Torah Study is still happening. Many of our committees have not stopped working and are actually working harder than ever throughout the pandemic, as there is a greater need in our congregation and community for help of various kinds. I’m proud of the fact that we’ve been able to adjust to these tumultuous times. A year ago I had never even heard of Zoom, and now I cannot imagine how any of us would be living without it. We are all adjusting. When we are able to eventually, regularly come back inside, there will be more adjustments, I am sure of it. We will be ready, and our Temple home will be equipped with whatever is needed to ensure the health and safety of our staff and congregants, while maintaining an environment of learning, socializing and spiritual respite that we’ve come to know and love. Those of you coming in for pre-scheduled meditation times tomorrow in the sanctuary will notice many of these additions.  

I thank you for joining me in these few moments of discomfort. No one likes to “be asked” for money, and no one likes to “ask” for money.  However, if you feel the kind of connection to this Vassar Temple family and Vassar Temple home that I do, I hope you will support this year’s High Holy Day Appeal. You will soon receive a letter in the mail from Vassar Temple, signed by me, a member of your Temple family, asking for your support.  May we all continue to stay safe and healthy. May we all be able to be seated comfortably together in our beautiful sanctuary soon. Our Vassar Temple home is where you belong.

 G’mar Tov.

President’s Remarks on Rosh Hashanah 5781/2020

By Susan Karnes Hecht

L’Shanah Tovah. It’s a very great honor to address you as Vassar Temple President.

About 2½ years ago, when I committed to my current stint on the executive committee, I knew I would be expected to stand here today to share an inspiring message. I had many expectations, about many things, 2½ years ago that had to be set aside because the world has changed drastically, especially in 2020.  I’ve been forced to re-envision and re-prioritize my term. Through it all, this community has been a lifeline to me and to so many others. During the holidays, we’ll have sermons.  We’ll have a holiday appeal. I leave that to others; today, I want to focus on a different message.

Like many of you, we’ve been getting a lot of takeout. We need a break from the stress, we want to support local businesses, and let’s face it, this is really a time for comfort food.

A few weeks ago we picked up our favorite Chinese takeout from Chan’s on Raymond Avenue. Having savored my egg roll, fried rice and orange chicken, I cracked open my fortune cookie hoping to be momentarily distracted by an insipid quotation. (I held up the fortune.) Here it is.

On the first side, I saw “now is the time to take the census.”  Pretty amazing timing (and incidentally, I hope that all of you have done the census! If not, please do it – after the service).

I then turned it over, ready to check out my lucky numbers or perhaps learn a Chinese word, and saw:

“Character is who you are when no one is watching.”

(I repeated.) “Character is who you are when no one is watching.”

An omen. I knew at that moment that my message today must be one about character, and about gratitude. Gratitude for the comfort food for the soul that emanates from the good works done by this temple family. Gratitude to counteract the significant personal and congregational losses that we are now grieving.

Every month we list the donations in the Bulletin. When we have a Gala we publicize the pledges. We give awards and make proclamations and engrave all of these plaques.  (I indicated the sanctuary.)

And then, there are all the others.  Those who are rarely recognized, who feed the soul by being a blessing when no one is looking. Today is the time to say thank you. So, here I go:

– To our parents and generations of grandparents for their legacy of values, always present here with us.

– To our children, a constant source of learning and inspiration.

– To our friends, always there for us.

– To those who silently drop coins, and sometimes huge bills, into the Tzedakah box to help our neighbors in need.

– To those who donate anonymously to every social action drive.

– To those who quietly transport heavy bags of food to the pantries. And to those who cheerfully wash dishes at Lunch Box.

– To those who, after a hard day or week, give of their time off to maintain our congregational house.

– To those who say “use my credit card on file” or mail a check when the temple has an unforeseen need.

– To those who habitually pay above and beyond temple dues so that others may have dignity and share equally in temple life.

– To those who slip a few meals into the freezer for Reyut.

– To those who make it their business to show up at every shiva to make sure there’s a minyan for a grieving family. 

– To those who leave their comfortable homes to spend the night at the homeless shelter.

– To those who go out of their way to provide a ride to someone who wants to come to temple or needs groceries.

– To those who get out of bed in the middle of the night to go to the hospital or house where there is sickness.

– To those who cook week after week to brighten our Shabbat gatherings. We will be back!

– To our stalwart office volunteers who provide hours of writing and envelope stuffing, and camaraderie.

– To those who volunteer their professional skills to support the synagogue and its members.

– To our dedicated staff who go above and beyond their hours to keep the temple humming.

– To our Vassar Temple technology heroes.

– To our clergy, our teachers, our health care and all of the other essential workers.

– To those who travel to the border, stand in the blistering heat and witness.

– To those who have deliberately begun to examine bias and do the work to break it down.

– To those who practice tolerance and model for their children against hate in all its forms.

– And for the sudden discovery, in the midst of mourning for normalcy, of a source of optimism, of something for which I am exceedingly grateful – that is, the ability and privilege to make decisions that keep everyone safe.

Hakarat hatov:  recognizing the good and being grateful. Turning disappointment into appreciation.  Being thankful for what we have instead of wishing for what we don’t have.

I know I’ve missed many of you in these thanks. Listed or not, today we see all of you. Thank you for feeding our souls.  Thank you for being a blessing to Vassar Temple. May you and yours be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet year.