Yom Kippur address delivered by RS President Michael Hauptman on October 9, 2019.
In 1810, four men, who for 15 years had been part of an informal minyan, met in a house on Race Street to draft the bylaws and articles of worship for the nation’s first Ashkenazic congregation. Included in their bylaws was a rule that members would be fined 25 cents each time they missed a Shabbat or holiday service. By my calculations and adjusting for inflation, today that would bring in about $237,000 annually. Sounds to me like an idea worth reconsidering.
One of those men, whose name may not be familiar to you, was Abraham Gumpert. You might want to make a point of remembering it. He was the first president of Rodeph Shalom.
We know a few things about Abraham Gumpert: he was born in 1766, he lived at 63 Race Street, he married a woman who was not Jewish – which led to the remarkably forward-thinking 1829 decision to welcome interfaith marriages at Rodeph Shalom — and they had two daughters, Rebekah and Sarah, who married brothers. It is entirely likely that he, as a younger man, crossed paths with the likes of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington as they went about their lives here in the new nation’s capital.
Abraham Gumpert died at the age of 83 in 1849 and is buried in the Mikvah Israel cemetery at 8th & Spruce. He was the first of the 44 men and women who have led this congregation as president during the past 224 years. Next month, we will be celebrating our presidents, living and deceased, learning about how they met the challenges of their time, how they were influenced by the events taking place in this city and in the nation, and how the work they did shaped the congregation. We will learn about their legacies. I invite you to honor their leadership by attending the tribute and celebration and participating as a patron if you can. And if you are a descendant of one of our presidents, please let us know.
While we don’t know much about Abraham Gumpert’s life, we do know something about his legacy. His legacy is us.
The enduring values and moral actions extolled in our newly minted vision statement find their historic origins in that house on Race Street. Those 1810 bylaws contained the notion that no member of the congregation would be excluded based on financial circumstances, encouraging them to pay what they could afford, a policy that we have continued to honor for over 200 years. The generosity and kindness of that fiscal policy has made us the diverse, caring, and socially aware congregation that we are today. It has also created our increasingly chronic fiscal challenge whereby a majority of our members are not able to contribute at the Sustaining Level, which is the amount we need to meet our budget obligations. Even the 10% of our members who contribute at the Investing Level, generously paying dues at a higher level than Sustaining, are unable to adequately make up the difference. This leaves us perpetually short of revenue, requiring us to rely on fundraising events, ever-increasing dues and ever-decreasing savings.
One way to provide a lasting solution to this unsustainable fiscal model, is to substantially increase our permanent fund – our endowment – that, through prudent investment, will be able to generate revenue of sufficient amount annually to close the gap in our budget, while the principal of the fund will remain in perpetuity.
Your contribution can be designated for a named clergy chair or for a named space in our building. Donations to an endowment fund can be part of an estate plan, leaving a bequest in a will. Or, you can make a targeted gift as part of our “Bring Your Lamp” initiative that supports a personal philanthropic passion.
A healthy endowment confirms a belief in the future. It ensures that Rodeph Shalom will always have the means to survive and to thrive. I must assume that when Abraham Gumpert drafted those bylaws in 1810, he never imagined that his name would be spoken over two centuries later during the High Holy Day services of the historic congregation that he was founding. We must assume that two centuries from now the generations of congregants that follow us will have endured and flourished because of our foresight today.
Rabbi Maderer introduced me to a concept taught by the 20th century Rabbi Joseph Soleveichik, that Jewish time is not linear. Instead, we envision the future, learn from the past and take action in the present. As we envision a fiscal plan that will secure our future; as we’ve learned that inclusion was a founding value of this congregation, born in Abraham Gumpert’s house in a distance past, and still defines us to this day; then let us act now to build a generous and durable endowment so that Rodeph Shalom, continuing to honor our extraordinary heritage, can enjoy with pride and gratitude our invaluable gift of lasting financial security.
That will be our legacy.