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Executively Speaking: A Year of Inspiration

by Michael Saxe-Taller, Executive Director

The following is excerpted from a talk given on Erev Rosh Hashanah

I consider it an honor to have the opportunity to offer my viewpoint on our unique and powerful community as we welcome the new year. A little more than a week ago, many of us participated in the Youth Climate Strike, the largest youth-led mass demonstration in history. I was moved to tears as I marched with ten’s of thousands of young people and their allies, demanding that we immediately change our societal structures in order to avert a climate catastrophe. I came home tired, but inspired.  I noticed that the feeling (the inspiration, not the tiredness) was similar to what I have felt numerous times throughout this past year at Kehilla.

I felt inspired when we packed the house to hear Alicia Garza and a crew of Jews of Color talk about racial justice and building sustainable liberation movements. I was inspired when, on Shabbat following the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, our sanctuary and lobby overflowed with members, friends and allies who came together in solidarity. I was inspired every time I sat in a B’nei Mitzvah ceremony and listened to powerful teachings from our Kehilla teens, and by the gratitudes shared every week at Kehilla School.

And you? You may have been inspired by Kehilla’s protest at ICE and our other Immigration Team actions. You may have been inspired by the spirited singing at Hazzan Shulamit’s Kehilla Sings, or the joyous dancing at Simchat Torah. You may have been inspired by our first-ever People of Color Chanukah celebration.  You may have been inspired by the beautiful consecration ritual for our new Kehilla section at Mt. View Cemetery. And many, many more inspiring moments.

Because my son Sam was on the organizing team that planned the Youth Climate Strike, I was privy to the work it took to make those inspiring moments happen.  I watched the team meeting late into the night, planning the route, writing the chants, making flyers, and hundreds of other acts that made that extraordinary day happen.

As executive director, I see up close the hundreds of acts that make a year of inspiration and implementation happen at Kehilla: I witnessed the hours of work that our generosity team – Lisa Korwin, Susan Freundlich, Julia Epstein and Marjorie Cox, as well as the event planning team put into the Evening with Alicia Garza. I witnessed how much time the organizing team of the Belonging and Allyship Racial Justice Initiative has put into building this incredible project- including the hiring of Ruthie Levin, as our new People of Color organizer. I witnessed dozens of meetings that Jane Hoberman and Cathy Steirn attended that led to our Kehilla cemetery section. I witnessed Maya Joshua and teams of volunteers and planners make extraordinary efforts to organize our Passover Seder, Community Retreat, and these High Holy Day services.

I witnessed Rabbi Gray, Natalie Boskin, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah instructors, trope teachers and service leaders, Kehilla School teachers, teen teaching assistants, room parents and kitchen volunteers make our youth education programs possible. I witnessed Julie Litwin, Catherine Lyons and the Sanctuary Task Force prepare us to accept a refugee or immigrant into physical sanctuary, and Michael Butler make plans, secure permits and coordinate work to build a new bathroom for our guests a bathroom that will be finished before the end of Sukkot. I witnessed the hard work of Administrator Dee Ward, and custodians, Josef Straub and Fred Williamson to clean our sanctuary, paint our building and care for our physical home.

I witnessed the Economic Justice Committee, Immigration Committee, Greening Committee, Middle East Peace Committee, Faith Trio and others put our values into action. I witnessed our Board, Chesed Committee, Chevra Kaddisha, Spiritual Life Practices Committee, Spiritual and Musical leadership teams, Personnel, Finance and Membership Committees, Community Safety Task Force, Organizational Development Team, Working Class Low Income Group, Art Committee, Glitter and many others as well, make Kehilla’s community run.

A community that creates this many inspiring moments, that cares this much about building inclusive community, that fights this hard for justice, requires all of these contributions and more. It is because of you that we can do what we do.  I want to invite every one of you to join in the work that makes Kehilla go.  I also want to invite you to contribute the money that allows us to pay our staff, finance our building and run our organization.

You can do that by becoming a member. Many of you depend on Kehilla to be a spiritual home-base or a moral compass.  The main way we fund our work is through yearly dues pledges that our members make.  So please join us. If you are not ready to become a member, I invite you to make a contribution that honors Kehilla’s importance to you. If you are already a member, I ask you as well to donate beyond your dues to enable us to show up in all of the ways that we do.

Thank you all for what you bring to this community.  Thank you for making this a place of such powerful inspiration.


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