RS President Hank Bernstein Yom Kippur Address 5782/2021

Good Yontif!

It is so wonderful to connect with one another virtually and in person! 

Many of us have been busy over the summer renormalizing our lives only to now contend with this recent variant wave of COVID.  However, I’m glad we can connect with one another during this sacred time. 

This is a meaningful time spiritually for all of us and for me it is a special occasion

On the High Holy Days 50 years ago, I entered this Sanctuary for the first time.  In 1971, I was a freshman at Penn and had been directed to Rodeph Shalom by Rabbi Wice’s sister, Sophie Gordon, both of blessed memory.  Sophie Gordon belonged to my home congregation, Adath Israel in Louisville, Kentucky.

While missing my family and the comfort of my family’s pew in my home temple—a soaring, monumental 1906 Neo-classical sanctuary that I had known all my life to that point—I remember entering this Sanctuary and feeling immediately at home in this place that has become my spiritual home.   

I couldn’t have imagined back in 1971 the profound impact that this synagogue, its clergy and members, its worship services, its educational programs and all its activities would have on my life.  While my parents and grandparents were fundamental in grounding me in my Jewish values, Rodeph Shalom has been instrumental in broadening my understanding on Jewish issues and leading me to pursue a life of meaning.  Through my volunteer work here at this synagogue, I came to understand that the words of the Torah and our Jewish texts can be applied to my daily life, and that each individual can make a difference in repairing our fragile world.

Just as Rodeph Shalom has had a profound impact on my life, I know that many of you feel the same about this Congregation and this Sanctuary.  All of us here are stewards of the gifts around us given by generations of members in this Congregation’s 226-year history.  My questions to you today are: What are you willing to do to ensure that the gifts that have been entrusted to us are available to the next generations of members of Rodeph Shalom?  Are you willing to act to ensure the future of this Congregation and Reform Judaism in this city?

Over the last few years, the Board of Directors and other leaders of the Congregation have been engaged in conversations to ensure the future of our beloved RS.  As you are aware, Rodeph Shalom today still maintains its important founding principle that no one is refused membership because of financial hardship; however, this contributes to the need to continue to fund the Congregation’s visionary work through four strategic streams.

Our leaders’ conversation centers on four tracks, what I call the four-legged stool.  These four legs are (1) increasing the number of members and membership revenue; (2) monetizing the use of our facilities through rental of space; (3) increasing the contributions to our temporarily restricted special purpose funds; and (4) increasing the size of our endowment to relieve pressure on RS’s operating budget.

While RS staff and leadership are now working on all four legs, we have placed a high priority on increasing the size of our endowment.  As we have learned from the pandemic, membership revenue, school revenues and facility rental fees cannot always be relied upon in the same way as funds from endowment.  A stronger endowment will ensure the sustainability of Rodeph Shalom, so that our Congregation remains a Center for Jewish Life in Philadelphia for generations to come. 

Over the last months, Rodeph Shalom leadership has been focused on the Quiet Phase of an Endowment Campaign, which is crucial for ensuring the stability, sustainability, and the future of our Congregation.

And so, it is my pleasure today, while we are gathered in our Sanctuary and in our homes, to share with you some information about the Rodeph Shalom Endowment Campaign, which we have named Keren Or, Ray of Light.  RS Past President Susan Klehr has graciously agreed to be the Campaign Chair.

The vision of Keren Or is:

  • To help provide financial stability and sustainability for Rodeph Shalom by transforming the way we fund our visionary work;
  • To continue to serve the community as the only Reform congregation in Philadelphia; and
  • To put RS in a position of financial strength and security so that we remain vibrant, enduring and relevant for years to come.

I am thrilled to say that we have Campaign commitments from 100 percent of the Board of Directors, and are in the process of obtaining commitments from our Board of Advisors.  We have been excited and encouraged by the confidence, enthusiasm and generosity of our early Campaign donors!

Together with our Campaign leadership, we are planning for a vibrant New Year, when we will officially launch the public phase of the Campaign.  We look forward to sharing more information with you about the Campaign at that time.  We will celebrate what Rodeph Shalom has meant to each of us, and will come together to secure our Congregation’s future.  During that time, all Rodeph Shalom members will be asked to participate in this crucial endeavor, and you will receive a personal and tailored invitation to support the Campaign.

I hope that, in the meantime, you will think about the questions I asked earlier—What are you willing to do to ensure that the gifts that have been entrusted to us are available to the next generations of Rodeph Shalom?  Are you willing to act to ensure the future of this Congregation and Reform Judaism in our city? 

To mark my 50th year anniversary here at RS, to show my commitment to the future of this sacred Congregation, and to express my gratitude for how RS continues to support all of us during the pandemic, I felt compelled to make an early leadership gift to the Campaign.  I hope that when you are asked, each of you will make gifts to the Campaign that are meaningful to you, so that together we may ensure a Rodeph Shalom that is financially secure and strong, an RS that you are proud to call your spiritual home, a Ray of Light in Philadelphia and to the future of the Jewish people.

G’mar chatimah tovah–may you and your loved ones be sealed for the good.