Letter from the Rebbe


Letter from the Rebbe


June 26, 2008 23 Sivan 5768


My Dear Friends,

This has so far been an exciting and auspicious year, and I’m so sorry I can’t be with you at the meeting to kvell in person. We have had many successes, including a substantial increase in membership, increased success in fundraising, new and enriching collaborations with Kehilla and Chochmat Ha-Lev, and an influx of new energy on the Minyan Council. And, your rabbi got married!

At the same time it has been a year of deep sadness and loss, as beloved members of our community and newer friends have passed from our midst—our dear Helene Goodwin, the brilliant Tirzah Agassi, and our angel of poetry and healing, Alison Bermond, as well beloved parents and close ones of a number of our members.

New programs and classes have been greeted with enthusiasm, both by our own community and by members of the larger community. Nearly forty folks have dropped in on my Monday evening class series, many of them becoming regular attendees. The Wednesday night author series has prospered and grown, first under Naomi Rose, then Abigail, and now Lea Delson. We are continuing to grow our relationship with the JCC, which we hope will be to the mutual benefit of both communities.

Now… it’s time to take a breath, to look back at the hills we have climbed, to wipe the sweat from our brows and bask in the accomplishments….and to look to the path ahead. Where it leads is not clear.

I recently attended a leadership retreat produced by ALEPH, the Alliance for Jewish Renewal, at which the many arms of the ALEPH organization, including reps of 20 ALEPH-affiliated communities, brainstormed about how to grow Jewish Renewal and sustain our communities. Among the insights I had there were these:

1) There are many things we are already doing right…..
2) And, without a clear and current mission and buy-in on the part of our members, we cannot continue to raise money at levels needed to sustain our organization as it currently exists…..
3) And, without a culture of consistent kindness and respect, both in public and in private, we cannot attract the caliber of people we need to populate and serve our core community.

My Gadel Hesed class has devoted the year to growing our capacity for lovingkindness. We still have a long way to go, both as individuals and as a community, yet I’m heartened that many are making the effort to witness their responses rather than simply react, to pray for ourselves and for each other, to take responsibility for our own stories, and to open to how much we don’t know. I urge you to read the open letter sent by Rachel Eryn Kalish to the community several weeks ago (it appeared in the Minyan Update). I believe that adopting her suggestions are essential for the ongoing development of our community.

Recently Abigail, Barry and I met to look again at the Minyan’s mission and to ask ourselves the question: for what purpose do we now exist? What is it ours to do in the world? We plan to continue that exploration and open it to others.

But the biggest question in my mind, body, and spirit right now is—do we have the resources and the will to grow and move forward? I don’t necessarily only mean to grow in size, but to grow in spiritual depth and breadth of participation, in maturity, in effectiveness, in balance.

We have recently lost two key Council members—Don Adams, who moved to Kansas City and is, at last, happily and fully employed, and Bob Jaffe, who is taking a leave of absence to grieve the loss of his dear friend, Alie. Arlene Goldbard, who has written much of our magnificent PR copy over the past couple of years, will soon be following Don to Kansas City. Abigail has had to step back from many of her duties due to illness and general burn-out. Other key Council members will, I know, be stepping down after High Holy Days. Who will do the work of the Minyan? Who will take up the slack?

We are facing a major human resources shortage, running without administrative oversight. Shoshana and I find ourselves taking on chunks of the work Abby has done over the past several years, but without more help, more “holders,” the Minyan can’t continue to function as we have been. Our services are labor intensive. Every event takes much planning and coordination, since we don’t have a real physical home or automatic operating procedures. This gives the Minyan its intimate family flavor and creative juiciness, but isn’t always very efficient. When someone is ill, is dying, the community rallies—but we aren’t really prepared to handle crisis after crisis. A few people continue to carry the burden.

I am gratified by the positive response to my work with the community, by the ways that together we have grown and deepened spiritually, yet I know that I can’t continue to carry the weight of the administrative and structural burden that I’m now carrying AND do what is needed as a rabbi—the teaching, the learning, the praying, the being present with people as needed for life cycle passages. AND supplement my half-time Minyan income as needed to survive in the Bay Area. AND take care of myself as a human being.

I believe we are at a choice point. Shifra Tobacman will be interning with the Minyan this summer, spearheading the creation of a volunteer network to support the work of the Council. With your help—with each one’s help—we could co-create a new model, an energetic net of cooperation that would lift the burden from the few and engage us all in a dance of connection. This will require a new level of consciousness and commitment, a spherical consciousness emanating from and feeding into center, replacing the old, “top-down” pyramid. Before leaving for Kansas City, Don Adams had such a vision. He drew a diagram—an elegant web of response-ability, each Minyan Council member connected with two or three members who would oversee one area responsibility. It’s a new world….it’s our choice.

What will you choose? Will we grow into a community of caring and blessing, of the heart? Can we move toward a new vision of collaboration, resource-sharing, loving participation that benefits us all? In order to do that, will we need to scale back expectations, programs, learn to simply be with each other? What can you offer? What will we choose?

With love, Rabbi Diane