And then… a Community Comes of Age

I have had the good fortune to be a founding member of my synagogue, Shaarei Shamayim (Gates of Heaven), an inclusive Jewish community, affiliated with both the Reconstructionist and Renewal movements. This past weekend, Shaarei Shamayim held a weekend long siyyum to celebrate both our 25th anniversary and to welcome and complete a rare Torah, written by a woman, Yonah Lavery-Yisraeli. On Sunday, about 150 members, friends, and others who gathered to join in this historic event.

completing torah

As I am once again (for the 4th time) serving as President of Shaarei Shamayim, I was called upon to give some remarks on Sunday, and though I do not write speeches, this is a version of what I told our community that lovely afternoon.

Early in Shaarei Shamayim’s history, when we were a small group of volunteers without a rabbi or any other staff, I coined the phrase, “We are what we do.” At that time, I used that phrase because I do not believe in guilt tripping people to do things. That rarely turns out well. Since we were small, it was important to remind ourselves that we did not have to do everything, and we would be viewed and judged based on what we actually did. I recall one year when nobody would volunteer to coordinate a Chanukah party. Rather than guilt trip others to do this, I simply reminded everyone that in that year, part of who we were included not holding a Chanukah party. It was not tragic, and here we are many years later, having survived quite fine without that particular Chanukah party.

But look at us now. Indeed, “we are what we do.” At 25 years old, we are a well established inclusive Jewish congregation, that has gathered to welcome not only a rare Torah written by a woman, but a beautiful new ark, crafted by our wonderful carpenter/craftsman and member Zaccai Lewis.

new css ark

As someone who spends a lot of time helping to develop organizations, I believe that organizations often develop along a human life span through infancy, adolescence and adulthood. At 25 years old, Shaarei Shamayim is now a well established young adult, respected in our community, and thus able to attract the generous funding of the Goodman Foundation to help pay for our new Torah and ark. Of course, we could not have accomplished this without the help of so many people along the way including Jackie Kaplan, who invited my wife Sheryl and I to the first meeting to consider establishing our synagogue, as well as Hava Kohl-Riggs and Roseanne Clark, who convened that meeting and are the true founders of Shaarei Shamayim. Many others, too numerous to mention, enabled us to reach this moment.

As Shaarei Shamayim has developed into a strong, vibrant, and inclusive Jewish community, I have learned that while we continue to hold our values dear, some of our practices have changed over the years and I have learned to let some of them go. To close then, I offer a beautiful poem by Judy Chicago that we used to read during our services, but seems fitting today.

And then all that has divided us will merge

And then compassion will be wedded to power

And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind

And then both men and women will be gentle

And then both women and men will be strong

And then no person will be subject to another’s will

And then all will be rich and free and varied

And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many

And then all will share equally in the Earth’s abundance

And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old

And then all will nourish the young

And then all will cherish life’s creatures

And then all will live in harmony with each other and the Earth

And then everywhere will be called Eden once again.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.