Rabbi Review – July 2021

Annual Meeting Report

Rabbi Cassi Kail

rabbikail@bethelsp.org

5781 was unpredictable in ways we never could have imagined and will certainly never forget. It was a year of struggle and loss, and challenge and physical isolation. It was also a year that offered gifts, new insights, and a renewed passion for strengthening our nearly 100-year-old congregation.

It feels fitting that I offer this annual report as we approach the middle of the book Bamidbar in our Torah cycle. Well into their journey in the wilderness, the Israelites remained uncertain about their future. As they approached the Promised Land, they remained unsure about what was in store for them on their journey and what the Holy Land would even look like when they arrived.

When they finally arrived at the outskirts of Canaan, God sent emissaries into the land of Israel. These scouts admired the land’s beauty, and the delicious fruits ripening around them and spoke about them to the people on their return. Caleb and Joshua encouraged the people to enter the Land of Israel, but the other ten scouts found themselves overcome by self-doubt. They experienced the inhabitants of the land as giants who will step on them like grasshoppers. As challenging as their journey has been in the desert, these leaders could not envision their future. They feared change and convinced the Israelites not to progress on their journey. As a result, the Israelites would wander in the desert for several more years.

When we were thrown into the wilderness a year ago, we too could have stalled. We could have thrown up our hands and declared that the challenges were too great. But we didn’t. Instead, we moved Torah school online. We created opportunities for virtual worship, from Friday night Shabbat services to daily Elul and Counting the Omer programs, meditation and sound healing classes, healing services, Torah On and Off the Trails, and liturgy classes. In addition, we provided Story Time, Cantor’s Corner, coffee talk, weekly Torah study, Taste of Judaism classes, Resetting the Table classes, Sisterhood and MENsch club events, social action opportunities, and car parades and scavenger hunts, and more.

We acted like Joshua and Caleb, who, despite appreciating the moment’s challenges, had faith that the people could adapt and meet them. Joshua and Caleb became the next generation’s leaders because they looked at the world before them, and they chose to recognize its potential. They dared to dream of a vibrant future built on the knowledge and sacred bonds the Israelites had created throughout their journey. Joshua and Caleb understood that we are defined by moments of transition, uncertainty, and challenge. In the wilderness, we received the Torah, and we became a sacred nation. In the wilderness, we discover what is most important.

This past year has been challenging, but it has also been clarifying. In times of uncertainty, we learn how strong, capable, flexible, and visionary we are capable of being.

From my perspective, there are three great discoveries from this past year.

  1. We need each other. Overwhelmed by the pandemic, we felt the need to come together just as social distancing became This year we celebrated two baby namings, eight B’mitzvah celebrations, confirmation, graduation. We had many illnesses within our community and twenty-three funerals. Though we could not mark these important moments in the ways we have grown accustomed, we found new ways to be there for one another. We organized food trains and meals of condolence and shopped for one another. We invited one another into our homes through the cameras on our computers. With the help of Open Tent, the engagement committee created a Neighborhood Connection program to foster deeper relationships between us. With the support of Sisterhood, the Board of Directors, and other donors, we provided gift packages on major Jewish holidays. Our incredible Board of Directors called members, and the Board of Education reached out to Torah School families to provide support and enable closer communication.
  2. We can be flexible and responsive when the need Despite the learning curve of technology, many of us have mastered Zoom to participate in temple life fully. When we learned that the unhoused community was being underserved, our community joined with partners from the San Pedro Faith Consortium to provide sandwiches to people in encampments every Saturday and special holiday meals through the Garden Church. We offered programs for people enrolled in Family Promise. We organized fundraisers for the Harbor Neighborhood Relief Fund (which gave small grants to families on the verge of becoming homeless). We responded to calls for laundry detergent, food, toiletries, clothing, and shoes.
  3. We’ve learned to celebrate the diversity within our Jewish community. A recent Pew study demonstrates that the Jewish community is more diverse than previously imagined. This year we engaged in conversations about race both within and outside of the Jewish community. Through Resetting the Table, we had discussions on the diversity in our political affiliations and our relationships with Israel. We began a task force to assess how well we are doing at welcoming and celebrating everyone for who they are and to see where there is room for improvement. This phenomenal committee of 20 leaders has been meeting regularly, having important discussions about uplifting people of all genders, sexualities, colors, ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, abilities, upbringings, and talents. Nearly two dozen temple members took part in training from the Union of Reform Judaism on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA), sparking important conversations with many of our members. People who have trouble getting around expressed how excluded they had previously felt from most temple events and how grateful they were that Zoom allowed them to participate in temple life more fully. Even as we can come back together in person, we will maintain Zoom connectivity to be more inclusive. We will continue to identify other goals to serve the diversity within our community and beyond.

For fifteen months, we have been wandering through a wilderness filled with challenges and uncertainties that have at times felt overwhelming. While we haven’t been able to meet every need, I am proud of how we have looked out for one another, adapted, and grown from the experiences of this past year. May we continue to go from strength to strength.

I offer my deepest appreciation to our phenomenal staff, who have gone above and beyond this year in more ways than I can count. None of this would have been possible without you, the Board of Directors, our committee chairs, the dozens of congregational lay leaders who have stepped up this past year. It is truly a blessing to be in community with each of you.