The Path Forward: Rabbi Jill Maderer Annual Meeting Address 2020

In one of Michael Hauptman’s Yom Kippur speeches, he recalled the story of the building that was made without light fixtures, so that each member of the community would feel compelled to bring their own lamp. Mike, thank you for bringing your contributions—your lamp.

Your gift to our congregation is the way you have led by example, bringing your extraordinary talents—your vision for sacred space, membership, connection groups, and financial sustainability.

Your gift to our leadership is the once-in-a-generation change through which you thoughtfully led our governance. You shaped a structure that has transformed our lay leadership, and most recently, has allowed them to act nimbly in the unprecedented challenges we face.

Your gift to me is the sacred partnership we share. Built on extraordinary time, intention, and trust, not to mention good humor, I cherish our relationship. Mazel tov on your three years of distinguished service as president of Congregation Rodeph Shalom.

Our congregation is blessed to welcome our next president, Hank Bernstein. Hank—I treasure your wisdom and our relationship. We have been studying Torah together for a many years, and I look forward to bringing that Torah into our new partnership.

Your message from your Bar Mitzvah Torah portion, Beshalach, feels as though it is meant just for us, just for this day.

For when the Israelites feel lost as they face the wilderness, and they cry out with worry, Moses says to the people—he says to us all—push through your fear, and witness the deliverance the Eternal will work for you today. Go forward!

Along with the world, our congregation faces loss, fear, and uncertainty. The message of Torah calls out to us as we today go forward. Our congregation’s path forward is unmarked; our health, our finances, and our capacity to create profound connections in this season of pandemic, uncertain.

Even still, our vision—immersed in Jewish time, guided by enduring values, compelled to moral action, we create profound connections—our vision, and our responsibility to the future of the Jewish people, remains steadfast.

On our congregation’s path forward, we are immersed in Jewish time. How powerful it has been to join together virtually for Shabbat and Pesach, soon Shavuot, even for weddings, funerals, and starting this Shabbat, B’nai Mitzvah.

Looking forward to the High Holy Days, it is not likely that we will be able to gather in person, and this is a great loss. The insights of our High Holy Days workgroup, a new partnership of the board of directors and clergy, have deepened our understanding about what is most sacred about our High Holy Days for our congregants, and will serve as a foundation for the adaptation we create.* I have faith that, in the creative adaption demanded, Jewish time will continue to bring us together in ways that transcend distance.

On our congregation’s path forward, we are guided by enduring values, from virtual Torah study to Days of Learning. Our Director of Youth Education, Jennifer James, brilliantly re-trained her faculty and transformed the entire Berkman Mercaz Limud to Zoom. And she established methodology for all of our congregational online adaptations—that is: Connection, Continuity, Content.

Enduring values remain the foundation for consideration to phase-in future in-person experiences. Our values demand that, even through the heartbreak of distance, we lift up our highest mitzvah; pekuach nefesh/preservation of life. Committed to protecting ourselves, our community, and our world, our benchmarking workgroup, a partnership of the board of directors and senior staff, is our thought leader for scenario-planning for all different aspects of congregational life.

On our congregation’s path forward, we are compelled to moral action. Through tzedakah, our moral work has already been sustained. Rabbi Freedman is leading the path towards deeper justice work with adapted versions of Breaking Bread on Broad, and Get Out the Vote civic engagement.

On our congregation’s path forward, we create profound connections. Connections groups have gone virtual and tech angels have helped members participate. Cantor Frankel partnered with Fran Martin to create a weekly check-in with clergy. I’ve spoken to so many of you in these past months, and more importantly, so many of you have spoken with each other as we have discovered new paths for connection.

As it turns out, discovering new paths is an approach for this entire pandemic. Our leveraging disruption workgroup, a partnership of the Board of Directors and senior staff, is ensuring that we not only manage crisis, we also move on a path into the future that is vision-driven, risk-facing, and clear that there is no going backwards, only forward.

The wilderness is hard. And so, it is all the more important that we get to travel this path forward, together. I am grateful for my co-clergy, senior staff, and rabbis emeriti, and for Jeff Katz’s enormously heavy lift in planning scenarios that will sustain us. I am uplifted by the tremendous work of our entire professional staff, who has reinvented with care and with pride. I am inspired by the devotion of our congregants, reaching out to each other with compassion and supporting this congregation in every way possible, even during extraordinarily difficult times. And I am grateful for the dedication of our lay-leaders and their partnership in establishing a financial path forward rooted in our vision. Board of Directors: I have faith in our partnership with one another, and with God, for our next steps on this path forward.

*As we create an adapted High Holy Day experience for the likelihood that we will not be in person, it is so helpful for the clergy to have a deep understanding of your spiritual needs. To share the perspectives, messages, and experiences that make the High Holy Days feel sacred, please contact us at

(Annual Meeting remarks delivered May 27, 2020, adapted)

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