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President Shana Fishman's Remarks at the BDJ 2018 Banquet

01/16/2018 11:37:50 AM



Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said - “Life’s most persistent and nagging question is, what are you doing for others?”

I find it auspiciously fitting that we are gathered here today, on MLK Day, for our annual dinner.  Many of the values represented by the life and legacy of Dr. King - moral courage; boundless compassion; dignity for all; and selfless service - are values that our congregation deeply identifies with. We are a community that rightfully prides ourselves on welcoming everyone into our fold, while simultaneously reaching out to those in need outside our walls.  At B’nai David, “Tikkun Olam” isn’t just a slogan - whether feeding the homeless at monthly lunches; packing and delivering care packages throughout LA; running volunteer blood drives; helping those in need with matters as simple as doing their laundry; or raising money for causes in Israel and the broader Jewish community beyond - we are actively trying, in ways big and small, to repair the world around us each and every day.

Of course, we do not forget our own.  Greeting new faces in shul; regularly hosting shabbat meals; setting up Shiva homes; reaching out to help and support each other in times of need.  No one at B'nai David need ever feel alone or unsupported.

We indeed excel at serving people in our community and beyond. But what about serving the institution itself? Are we good at that?  

In Parshat Beha’alotcha the people grumble and complain about the ma’an.  Who could  complain about ma’an?!?  It fell from the sky, it tasted like heaven!  But hey, Jewish complaining has deep historical roots.  Moshe at his wits’ end exclaims:

לֹֽא־אוּכַ֤ל אָנֹכִי֙ לְבַדִּ֔י לָשֵׂ֖את אֶת־כָּל־הָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֑ה כִּ֥י כָבֵ֖ד מִמֶּֽנִּי׃

I cannot carry all this people by myself, for it is too much for me!

What does Hashem do? Hashem appoints 70 elders to help him. Moshe gets a board of directors!

וְנָשְׂא֤וּ אִתְּךָ֙ בְּמַשָּׂ֣א.  

They will share the burden.  

And from that moment on, the mandate is on us all to share the burden...

Here’s the thing.  The dictionary definition of a “community” is  “ ….a social, religious, or other group sharing common interests or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists.”  What the technical definition fails to adequately convey is that community is created by participation - members of a community need each other, and need to be involved with each other, to thrive.  Unlike a sporting event or concert, there can be no spectators. Spectators are not part of a community but rather they sit apart from the community. B’nai David-Judea is not simply a shul you attend, but a living, breathing community that you help sustain with your proverbial blood, sweat and tears.

It’s time for some self reflection.  Are you an active participant? Are you able to see the community as a whole and service those needs even if you yourself are not in need? Do you answer calls to action? Do you involve yourself in activities outside your immediate demographic? Do you follow through? Are you a yes-person, or a no-person? For too many of us, the answer is no. The good news is that we all have it in us to change the equation. Let us know your strengths.  We’ll gladly keep them on file and contact you.  Answer the call.  Your job is to say yes.  And don’t be afraid to commit to a real project.  Don’t be afraid to step up and say “I am going to plan the shul dinner next year…”  Because you can do anything you put your mind to. Step out of your comfort zone. I do it every Shabbat.  I’m doing it right now.

You’ll likely recognize these words from the communal misheberach read aloud before Mussaf each week:

וְכָל מִי שֶׁעוסְקִים בְּצָרְכֵי צִבּוּר בֶּאֱמוּנָה. הַקָּדושׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא יְשַׁלֵּם שכָרָם

“And all those who occupy themselves faithfully with communal affairs - may Hashem give them their reward….”

The entire paragraph is explicitly instructive.  People who occupy themselves faithfully with communal affairs include those who establish shuls as well as those who come and fill them to daven, those who provide light and food and tzedakah.  

The rewards are delineated as well - “Health, happiness, pardon from sins, blessings, and success.”  This prayer is pushing us towards community service and explaining all the benefits that come along with the sacrifice.

It turns out that there actually are real positive health and psychological benefits attributed to volunteering for a non-profit.  Becoming a volunteer is said to lead to higher self esteem, a longer life, and if you can believe it, becoming a volunteer is even said to combat stress!

Today, we not only celebrate and remember the man, Dr. King, but we also commemorate his ethos of service. Across our country today, offices and schools were closed - not so that Americans could hit the slopes, but so that Americans could hit the soup kitchens.  How fitting then, that we are here celebrating the commitment of our members Mr. and Mrs. Sassover, Rae and Shep Drazin,  and Nikki Sieger and Andres Terech, symbols of the generations who helped build our Los Angeles Jewish Community. We would not be the shul we are today without their commitment and unwavering support.  They answered the call and they said yes.

Mon, June 17 2024 11 Sivan 5784