Rabbi’s Review – May 2021

Celebrate Freedom

Rabbi Cassi Kail


On an April afternoon, I went to the temple and was surprised by a building filled with workers going in and out, laying down materials, and taping up walls. The clangs and bangs were music to my ears. Workers were there to repair our broken elevator.

You might recall how the elevator broke a few months before the pandemic. We were forced to do all major programming on the temple’s first floor, painfully aware that half of our gorgeous building was not accessible to many members of our community. We knew the elevator needed to be fixed. The question was when.

One day last year, a community member asked if she could talk to me in private. She was not able to climb the stairs. We struggled to find a place on the temple’s first floor to have a confidential conversation. Everywhere we went, someone walked into the room. She expressed how frustrating it was that she didn’t have a way to get to my office to talk in private. The next day, I made a donation to start the elevator fund formally. Soon, many incredibly generous donors made contributions of their own until we raised enough money to see the project through. We are delighted that the elevator will be fully functional when we are back in our building.

I always understood that the elevator needed to be repaired as quickly as possible. The woman I spoke with opened my eyes to the extent of the impact of the elevator’s disrepair, and I realized swift action was imperative.

Temple Beth El is a congregation that prides itself on being warm and welcoming. This year, congregational leaders created the neighborhood connections program, provided meal trains for sick or mourning people, and other forms of support. In addition to these efforts, we have begun a Diversity Equity Inclusion (DEI) task force.

A few months ago, dozens of congregational leaders took part in a four-week training with the Union of Reform Judaism about ways to fully embrace every community member for who they are and what they bring. A diverse task force meets every other week under the leadership of Susan Brooks, with the help of Doris Jacobson and myself. Together, we are completing a thorough assessment of our congregation’s DEI strengths and where there is room for growth. Meeting with this eighteen-person task force is a delight. I appreciate hearing stories and reflections from Jews of different abilities and backgrounds. We talk about ways to support interfaith families, LGBTQIA+, Jewish adjacent, people who are dealing with chronic illness or mobility challenges, people of different economic statuses, various political leanings, or cultures. We learn so much about how we can be an even more open and welcoming community through our stories. If you have stories you would like to share (either with the group or confidentially), please let me know. I’d love to hear you. The elevator was an important step in the right direction, and we look forward to all the wonderful work ahead.