Kehilla’s Board Column: Lisa’s Kol Nidre Speech (October 8, 2019)
Kehilla board member, Lisa Korwin, spoke about her relationship to Kehilla at Kol Nidre services this year. We’re choosing to print her talk here to support each of us in thinking deeply about what Kehilla means to each of us.
Hello. My name is Lisa Korwin and it is an honor to be up here this evening. I’ve been invited to share my Kehilla story with you.
It starts about 25 years ago. I saw a notice for a synagogue that was dedicating its high holy day services to the intersection of Judaism and Feminism. It caught my attention. I’m like perhaps one or two others of you here — I was raised as a cultural Jew but not a religious one. But as a feminist and a Jew, this flyer felt like I had been sent a personal invitation. I attended services that year and fell in love.
I fell in love with Rabbi Burt’s and others’ sermons and how they wove together the political and the spiritual and wrapped it in a gentle, righteous, and loving energy. A tradition that continues to this day.
I fell in love with the music that although I hadn’t grown up hearing, I knew inside of me all the same.
I fell in love with how accessible Kehilla made it for someone like me who doesn’t know Hebrew to join in song and prayer by providing transliterated text.
I was hooked. I attended services for the next 20 years. Each year I so looked forward to the New Year.
During those many years, I would look around the Hall and ask myself “WHY I wasn’t joining Kehilla.” For many years, the answer came back, “you’re not Jewish enough.”
This was a show-stopper for quite a while but confusing because at the same time as I looked around the hall, I saw so many people that I knew and respected. I saw a community that I wanted to belong to.
Then as the years went by, when I would ask myself the question, the answer began to shift to “I will join Kehilla when I am ready to dive in.” So fast forward, 20 years go by — okay it’s a little embarrassing to admit that it took me this long — but the desire to become part of a community that shared my values eventually won out over the voice that told me I “wasn’t Jewish enough.” I joined in 2015 right after the High Holy Days.
From the start I looked for the best way to get involved that would support my desire for community. I saw an announcement in the weekly newsletter seeking volunteers for Kehilla’s Art Committee. As a highly visual person — though not an artist — this felt like a great way to become involved and make connections. I was right. For two years, I had the privilege of working with a wonderful group of artists and others putting together rotating art shows featuring Kehilla members.
From that initial involvement, I began to know more people and began to attend more Kehilla events and fall more deeply in love with this community.
In preparing for this evening’s talk, I was fantasizing about pulling together a slide show to accompany my words so that you could see what I see. It’s this beautiful collage…
Here’s what it would look like.
- It would include Wednesday morning meditation led by Rabbi Dev which not only lets me sit and meditate with other Kehilla members but also gives me the opportunity to learn and reflect upon that week’s Torah portion. Again, I didn’t grow up with the Torah and never felt drawn to it, but Rabbi Dev has an incredible way of bringing the Torah to life telling its’ story and bringing an interpretation that makes it meaningful in today’s terms.
- It includes attending Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat services where we get woven into a beautiful evening of prayerful song.
- It includes me participating in community efforts that further deepen my connection to social justice
- Whether it was my participation on an accompaniment team supporting a large Afghan refugee family to settle here.
- Or helping to produce last year’s event featuring Alicia Garza and a panel of Jewish women of color and Rabbi Dev.
- Or joining our Muslim and other friends at Lake Merritt after the shooting at the Christchurch Mosque in New Zealand.
- Or participating in Kehilla’s Racial Justice Initiative where we are individually and institutionally committed to decentering whiteness and creating a congregation which Centers ALL members’ experiences in the daily life of Kehilla.
- It also includes a snapshot of me participating in the monthly board meeting, having become a member over a year ago to give back to this community just a small token of what it is giving me.
- And it would include me chairing the Generosity Committee, more commonly referred to in other institutions as the Fundraising Committee. A role that I NEVER envisioned for myself but find to be a compelling way to engage each of us in being mindful and intentional of this precious synagogue and all that it takes to ensure that we can continue to grow while remaining centered in our values, maintain the structural integrity of our building, offer the Kehilla school and robust bnai mitzvah program, and serve as the foundation for so many social justice committees, actions, and events. And all of this magnificence which is led by or supported by our incredible staff and a robust cohort of volunteers. It really blows my mind how much lives under the umbrella of Kehilla.
It’s probably clear to you by now how much Kehilla means me. It not only means a lot to me but it means a lot to my wife as well. Though not Jewish, she has felt welcomed into this community from the start and has supported our giving financially to Kehilla more than we have ever given to any other organization before.
For those members who belong to Kehilla and perhaps were more engaged in the past but aren’t very engaged right now, or haven’t yet gotten involved beyond attending services, I invite you to step in closer with both your time and resources.
And for those of you — who like me — have been attending these services for many years but have never joined, I invite you to take the leap. It may be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my story. I hope that our paths will cross at some wonderful Kehilla event sometime soon. Yom Tov.