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Coming Closer to Home: Erev Rosh Hashanah 5777/2016

by Michael Saxe-Taller, Executive Director

Last summer, my mom took my family on a trip to Belarus, where her parents were born and raised.  My grandpa Willy and my Nana Sarah, came as young adults to the United States around WWI, settling in Cleveland, Ohio.

My mom was born and raised in Cleveland amongst a large extended family in a community deeply rooted in Yiddish culture.  I was raised in Berkeley and throughout my childhood, my family was not part of a community.  We had little family in the area, and my parents were not joiners.

I saw my Cleveland family once a year at most, and when I did, their Yiddish culture looked foreign through my assimilated, California eyes.

When mom told me she wanted to go on this trip, I realized that I didn’t even know where Belarus was.  The rare times my family spoke of the old country, it was as if they were speaking of folklore.  And certainly, no one had ever thought of going back to visit.

So it was a big deal when our family headed for Belarus a year ago July. On our third day, we visited Pinsk, my Nana’s hometown, and spent the day touring what had been the main Jewish neighborhood. That evening as we reviewed our day, I didn’t know what to do with the fact that I had just walked the neighborhood in which my ancestors had lived for hundreds of years.

My son chimed up, saying, “Daddy, you’re home.  This is one of your homes!” That broke me up, and I wept for the first time on our trip.  I had never really understood that my family had actually been part of an established community for generations. Being there, I felt a new sense of home.

My grandparents had left Belarus, and my parents Cleveland. I lived a in a place made up largely of people who came from elsewhere, living on the land of people who we hardly knew existed.  It was hard for us to maintain our connections to Jewish culture.  If we wanted communal homes, we were going to have to build them ourselves.

Kehilla was founded 30-plus years ago by people looking for a place they could call their Jewish home. Last month, at a Shabbat service, I met a number of new and prospective Kehilla members:

I talked with:

  • A woman from the East coast seeking a community that combined spirituality and activism.
  • Someone who had Jewish heritage but not a Jewish upbringing who wanted a place to explore his roots
  • An Israel/Palestine peace activist wanting a spiritual home in which to rejuvenate her activism
  • An African American Jewish woman looking for a community where her daughter will see other Jews who look like her.
  • A gender queer young adult looking for a welcoming, inclusive community
  • A young couple wanting to raise children in a Jewish community that shares their progressive values

Every one of these folks was seeking a Jewish home and their eyes, words and tears expressed that they saw Kehilla as a place they could call home.

Hundreds of people make this kehilla, this community, work.

Each year:

  • Our staff, board and committees take care of the nuts and bolts of running the institution.
  • Our Spiritual and Musical Leaders watch over our spiritual needs.
  • Our Chesed Committee and our Chevra Kadisha care for people who are ill or have lost loved ones.
  • Our Youth Committee, religious school and Bar/Bat Mitzvah teachers educate and inspire our children.
  • Our Generosity Committee raises money and many of you make generous contributions that allow us to function.
  • Our many social justice groups do the work that allows us to live our values.

This past year, we did all of this and much more, and you can get the marvelous, juicy details in our new Annual Report.

Tonight, on the doorstep of our new year, I invite you to come closer to home.  Whether you’re a long-time member, a newer member or not a member at all; whether you come regularly, sometimes or just once a year, I invite you to consider Kehilla one of your homes.

  • Come closer by coming to a service, holiday celebration, adult ed class or Glitter Kehilla event.
  • Come closer by volunteering in the office or joining a committee.
  • Come closer by planning or attending a social justice activity.
  • Come closer by remembering Kehilla with a gift in your will, trust, retirement plan, or life insurance policy.
  • Come closer by giving generously to our High Holiday Tzedakah Drive (there are donation envelopes and a box out in the lobby) and by responding quickly when you receive your Terumah fund request, as your gift allows us to maintain our Grand Avenue home.
  • Come closer by joining Kehilla.

Imagine with me the year 2216. Our great, great, great, great, grandchildren are attending Kehilla High Holy Day services and they are thinking “how amazing it is that our families have been part of the same Jewish community for hundreds of years. “

Today, we are living and building that community.

Shana tovah


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