Remarks from Catherine Fischer’s Retirement Dinner

Delivered by Catherine Fischer on February 7, 2020.

This Shabbat is a celebration of beginnings and endings. Oliver’s baby naming signifies his Jewish beginning (and my beginning as a grandmother)! This warm and magnificent Shabbat dinner celebrates an ending to a chapter in my life which will remain precious to me forever. The theme of my remarks tonight is my profound sense of gratitude to everyone here and the entire RS community.

Thank you to Fran Martin, Julia Engel, Michael Hauptman, Hank Bernstein, Rabbi Maderer, Alicia Broudy and all the Connection Groups  for organizing this delicious, warm and special evening Thank you to Jon Broder and Dan Seltzer for sharing your musical talents tonight. Thank you to Bill Tapper and BrewRS for the libations. As Bill knows, it’s the only beer I like!

A little over 12 years ago Rabbi Bill Kuhn and Rabbi Jill Maderer invited me to lunch to talk about coming to Rodeph Shalom as the Director of Membership and Programming. Although I had known and collaborated with Rabbi Maderer for six years prior to coming to RS – and she knew my soul so well and I knew the brave and visionary leader she was – I was moved by hearing about their commitment to you, your happiness, and your connection to one another. At the time I was hired here there were not too many positions like this in synagogues. It was a credit to our clergy to have had the vision and wisdom to invest resources this way. 

I underestimated, however, the influence rabbis Kuhn and Maderer and later Rabbis Fuchs and Freedman and Cantor Frankel would have on me. My time with you has been profoundly transformational both professionally and personally in ways I never could have imagined. I would not be here nor been able to do what I have done without your guidance and mentorship. Each day, it was my honor and privilege to try and live up to the trust you placed in me to do this work. Thank you for your faith in me.

I have many people to thank for so much. When I look around the room, I am reminded of so many stories. Our work together never felt like work; it often felt to me like we were making our dreams for RS become a reality:

Thank you to my Membership and Philanthropy Chairs over the years, Michael Hauptman, Fran Martin, Hank Bernstein, Mike Valoris. and Jon Broder. Your full partnership continues to be invaluable and a blessing to me. 

Thank you to all the staff who do so much to make what appears so seamless work so well. Community engagement relies on all our office staff for the warm welcoming way that they offer that first point of contact and attend to the many communication and administrative needs of our community.  Marcia Biggs, Alicia Broudy, Alyssa Geller, Debbie Hill, Candice Nemoff, and Benay Stein.

Engagement relies on the people who work hard to prepare the variety of spaces in which we gather. Peggy Pratt, Elwood Hines, and Jeanette Watts, as well as Gloria Rodriguez, Bebe Rodriguez, Francisco Orsinio. Taly Ortiz, and Zack Marcum.

Engagement relies on security who work hard to ensure our safety while simultaneously understanding that we are commanded to be a house of worship for all people. Thank you to Jeff Katz, Paul Snitzer, and the security team. 

Finally, thank you to Alicia Broudy, Dina Horowitz, and Shelley Saunders who have been my partners as we learn the most meaningful and relevant ways to carry out the work of communal and philanthropic engagement.

Thank you all for your great care with this work!

Standing beside me and showing unwavering support are family members who never receive recognition for the sacrifice they make to enable us to serve the Jewish people on many evenings, weekends and holidays. I am deeply thankful to my family, many of whom are here tonight. I am particularly grateful to my husband, Richard, who has been by my side for the last 20 years when I changed careers to become a Jewish professional. Thank you for standing by me. You are my rock and our family is my greatest joy. I look forward to spending more time together!

Thank you for this sumptuous spread that all of you prepared tonight.  You all brought heartfelt gifts to make this beautiful and delicious Shabbat dinner. Your gifts didn’t just emerge tonight, however.  Your gifts have been making RS what it is for a long time. Everything and anything that I may have accomplished in my 12 years at RS depended on your partnership and the many and varied gifts you brought forward to make engagement come alive authentically.

For example: the Connection Groups, which make certain we are hearing the voices of all our people to create opportunities that speak to the lives of our diverse members. Thank you for leveraging the power of each of us to share, hear, and respond to the needs of our prospective members and congregants

Shabbat Greeters, critical to making people feel warm and welcomed from the moment they walk in. No matter how inclusive RS may be, if one is not made to feel authentically welcomed at the door, it leaves a stain. Thank you for understanding this critical role.

The Ambassador Program, caring for the integration of each new member family. Thank you for showing our newest members what it means to be part of our family.

Caring Community, showing love to our families when they might otherwise feel isolated.Thank you for your trust to be vulnerable and caring for each other. This is the real stuff of what being in community means.

In addition to the initiatives that I mentioned above, there was the work of one-on-one conversations with prospective and new members of which I estimate there have been about 1500 in the last 12 years. Alicia and I have learned much from you, I have loved getting to know you and your families and watching as you find meaning and community.

Standing on the shoulders of Tom Perloff is a team who worked to ensure RS’s financial health while bringing meaning and deepened community engagement in the area of philanthropy. Every member household contributes financially and I want to thank you for being part of this team. Each dollar you contribute goes a long way to enabling RS to remain the visionary, vibrant community it is.  I am deeply grateful to everyone who has put RS among your top philanthropic priorities, as I have done as well.

Thank you to the dedicated task forces over the past 2 ½ years since I became Director of Philanthropy.  You helped strengthen planned giving, endowment, targeted philanthropy efforts and philanthropy opportunities such as the celebration of our Presidents and our 90 years of our Sanctuary.  In addition, there were other opportunities open to the wider community such as The Soap Myth, Dancing with Giants, and the upcoming Getting to the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Judaism inspires a very precious brand of community, indeed. What makes Rodeph Shalom so good at realizing this powerful form of authentic community is that we have clergy who inspire us and empower each of us to uphold our part in a sacred partnership between clergy, staff, lay leaders and members to do this work. Together we have contributed to strengthening a more welcoming and inclusive culture and an increased feeling of belonging and becoming. At Rodeph Shalom we can become our best selves so we can do our best work inside and outside our walls.  I think I speak for everyone when I say it was a labor of love! I know it was for me.

Although I am retiring from my current role, I am not retiring from the responsibility to the Jewish people and Rodeph Shalom, as there is still much to be done to engage people inside and outside both communally and philanthropically.

In the spirit of Michael Hauptman’s words on Yom Kippur to encourage us all to “bring your lamp” to support Rodeph Shalom in ways each of us feel is passionate, my husband Richard and I are donating $10,000 to seed a new fund called The Community Engagement Innovation Fund.  The purpose of this Fund will be to provide financial support to offer the Senior Rabbi, President, and community engagement leadership space and resources for bold thinking and action with the ultimate goal to ensure that Rodeph Shalom remains a joyful place of belonging and becoming for all people.

This Fund and the success of engagement will rely on all of us continuing to share our varied heartfelt gifts of resources, time, passions, and/or skills.  It is my hope that this fund will inspire financial contributions and grow large enough over time to become an endowed fund, as endowment giving is so important to ensuring the sustainability of all the meaningful work we do at Rodeph Shalom.

I will miss many things about being in my role here. Without a doubt, though, the best part are the relationships I developed with you and watched develop between you. Many of you shared nodal moments with me which opened up ways for us to share our lives. Thank you for trusting me.

I will also miss the thoughtful, creative, and often playful process we went through to create ways for deeper connection. Some efforts worked, and some did not.  Some we had to sunset, and others are still a work in progress. What was a constant was that our relationships and work grew from each encounter.

Now I look forward to the next chapter in my life. I am not sure exactly what lies ahead, but for now it means more time with my family, and my new role as Oliver’s Bubbie.

Thank you all for honoring me tonight and for the love and support you have shown me over the past 12 years! I have complete faith in RS, our clergy, leadership, and you to take us to the next level in engagement. 

I love you all.