Last year, around Purim time, I wrote a newsletter article talking about the different masks we wear in our daily life. This would be a perfect opportunity to talk more about Purim, since it’s coming up later this month. However, after my last visit at the end of January, and reading about the sin of the Golden Calf during February’s Torah Readings, I realized that instead I need to talk about failure. Particularly, I need to write about the ways that I’ve been failing as a leader for CBI, and to address ways of asking for forgiveness.
The sermon that I gave last time I was in Mississippi had to do with the Jewish conception of sinning. I thought it went well, but after talking to multiple members of our community, I realized that I had made a grave error. There is a sense that Congregation Beth Israel is declining in membership and sustainability, due to external and internal weaknesses and threats. These threats include steadfast members moving away, people splitting their time between many different possibilities for Jewish engagement and the feasibility of remaining relevant in such a spread out and diverse area where the Jewish population is already so limited in scope. By writing a sermon that had to do with sinning, as opposed to recognizing the atmosphere in the shul and speaking with others about how we can combat these challenges, I failed as your student rabbi.
I returned home realizing that I should have instead been more proactive in talking and working with members of CBI to figure out ways to address some of these problems. Not all of these issues are my fault, and not all of them are our fault, but there is work that needs to be done to return CBI to a vibrant, passionate and engaged community. I can not do this work alone. In fact, because of circumstances outside all of our control, I am going to be physically far removed from the community for the majority of the remaining year. Much like Moses on Mount Sinai, I won’t be present to help stem this flow of despair and panic that things seem to be falling apart without your help.
Thank God there is something that can be done to deal with nearly all of these challenges. I’m going to suggest that we utilize a tool which a Jewish Law professor of mine once mocked when I suggested it as a way of building strong communities. This tool is something that congregations all over the world have used to better themselves and to become stronger. The tool I’m talking about is: committees.
We need a wide variety of active committees at Congregation Beth Israel in order to help us deal with the challenges facing us. People are moving away, often for very good reasons such as job opportunities. What this means is that we need a membership committee to do outreach and find new Jews in the Gulfport area. The membership committee should also have an inreach component, speaking with members of CBI and building relationships together. People are rarely attending services on Friday night; perhaps a ritual committee is necessary to look at services and figure out what can be done to make it more accessible.
The enormous opportunity that committees present as a tool for communal engagement and revival are unparalleled by anything else. What do committees need to get started? The first thing is: you. If you are reading this, I guarantee you that you are wanted on a CBI committee. You might be the one to start the committee, or you might be one of the founding members, but what you definitely are is an integral part of saving our community. And, while I may not be physically located in Mississippi, my email is and my phone number is 407-453-3601 so I’m readily available. I’m challenging you to join the revival revolution, and start a committee today. You are the only one who can save our community and help us grow great again.