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Executively Speaking: Rosh Hashana Thoughts

By Michael Saxe-Taller, Executive Director

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

I love my job! One thing I love is the view I get of the many parts of this living, growing organism we call the Kehilla Community.

During last year’s High Holy Days, our leaders called us to act with spiritual audacity. Tonight, I want to share some of the audacious acts I’ve witnessed this year:

Leaders of Kehilla’s Immigration Committee continued organizing a monthly protest called Let Our People Go at West County Detention Facility, calling for an end to the detention, deportation and mass incarceration of our neighbors.  Protests there by many local organizations culminated with a demonstration on June 30th of over 4000 people, led primarily by Kehilla leaders. A few days later, the Contra Costa sheriff cancelled the county jail’s lease to ICE.

This past spring, the Kehilla Board of Directors voted to offer physical sanctuary in our Grand Avenue building to immigrants facing the threat of deportation. We have been raising money for a new shower and will soon be ready to open our doors.

For the second year in a row, Kehilla is contributing to the Sogorea Te Land Trust by paying the Shu’umi Land tax, a voluntary tax that builds indigenous people’s capacity to buy back land in the East Bay. This year we invited our whole congregation to contribute and more than 60 households have already responded.

And just yesterday, Kehilla showed up in force at the big Climate Justice March.

We have also looked bravely at our own congregation:

We are well underway with Kehilla’s Belonging and Allyship Project, our long-term initiative to address racial justice and dismantle white supremacy within Kehilla.

A new Working Class/Low Income Group has become a place for working class and low-income Kehilla members to meet together to build solidarity and has begun efforts to raise class consciousness within Kehilla.

We are in the early stages of deepening our commitment to full inclusion by applying the principles of disability justice to our building, our programs and our community as a whole.

This past year, we also celebrated and learned as a community:

Under the leadership of our new school director, Rabbi Gray Myrseth, Kehilla school has continued to grow as a place of learning and community for Jewish young people of a wide range of backgrounds, races, beliefs and abilities.

During our extraordinary Brit Kehilla, Community Covenant last November in which hundreds of us came in celebration of Rabbi Dev Noily becoming our senior rabbi, over 100 people crowded around tables in our sanctuary to study Talmud.

Nineteen young Kehilla members gave powerful and provocative Torah teachings at their Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremonies – and we celebrated them with dancing, blessings and joyful music.

A pretty audacious set of things, don’t you think?  And that isn’t close to all that has happened in our community over this past year.

These are tough times.  As Nancy Feinstein, a Kehilla leader and mentor to me, said, “Building our resilience is building the Resistance”.  She continued, “This is true for each of us as individuals – but it’s also true for organizations and institutions.  As Kehilla moves forward, we want to become resilient enough to continue to be a place that engages, supports, comforts and sustains.”

How does Kehilla become resilient enough?  We do so by taking care of our members, our leaders, our staff and our physical home.

We all have a role to play in doing that.

  • Please volunteer – in our office, in our building, or at a program.
  • Please take initiative and help make happen the things that you most wish would happen at Kehilla.
  • If you are not a member yet and want to know about membership, please talk to me or any of our staff or leaders.
  • Please join the Kehilla Legacy society by remembering Kehilla with an afterlife gift.
  • Please, in addition to all of these things, take an envelope from the lobby or go to our website and donate so that we will continue to act with collective courage, solidarity and power to transform the world that is into the world we want to see.

Like you, I sure am glad that Kehilla is here and that I get to journey through this next year with all of you.

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The Weekly, Kehilla’s newsletter, is released every Thursday.