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Excerpts from Jerry Arbittier’s June 30 reflection on his four years as Village Temple co-president, delivered at Shabbat services

When I took this job, I thought it would be easy.  I figured that it had to be easier than running a company with 100 employees. I was wrong.  

Being Co-President of the Village Temple (and I think any Temple because I have heard this from others) was just as emotionally challenging for me as worrying about the 100 people.   

So why is that?  I think the reason is that no one person is really ultimately responsible for a Temple.  The first time that I came to this realization was 5 years ago, when we were having issues with our previous Rabbi and we had engaged a Temple Consultant for advice.  I asked him who is responsible for the Temple:

Is it the Rabbi/Office Staff that are here every day who are responsible?  Is it the Co-Presidents who were  elected to be volunteers in charge but for whom it is really a second job?  Is it the Board who votes on issues?  Is it the Congregation who pay the money and have the ultimate vote?  When I asked the Temple Consultant the question. He responded in one word – “Yes”.  In other words, we all are ultimately responsible and somehow this collective shared responsibility is supposed to make concrete decisions.

This is a very emotional place.  People get born here, Bar/Bat Mitzvah here, married here, parents allow us to teach their children here and people die here.  It does not get more emotional than that.  

The combination of the shared responsibility in making the ultimate of emotional decisions, makes this job harder than managing 100 people at work.

However, these same two factors is what makes this job so wonderful.

Every time the smallest kidl in the choir stands up on the bench each year and perfectly sings his or her solo, every time a Bar/Bat Mitzvah speech is made, the times I looked in on the soup kitchen, every sermon, seeing 600 people at a High Holiday service – When any of this happened, I realized that I played a part in making that happen.  You know something – that feels really good.

But it is even more than this, maybe more for me then for others, because I am a geek.  I mean when I was a kid, while kids were playing outside with others, I was adding up the price of every item that was in those old Sears catalogs of 1,000 pages.  I spent days doing this alone and I enjoyed every minute of it. 

Here; as Village Temple president I am in what I feel is the ultimate job of sharing opinions, emotions and ideas.  And I realized about myself that I like to Give but I do not like to Share.  And yet here I was.  I found that while this process is personally really difficult for someone like me, sharing also led me to making many close friends.  This would never have happened if I GAVE from the side lines.   Being part of a community requires investing yourself into the community but the relationships you form are worth it.  

 

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From Mensch to Mensch

This Friday night, June 30, marks Jerry Arbittier’s final Shabbat as co-president of The Village Temple. For the past three years (and a previous one year term a few years earlier), Jerry has demonstrated true leadership with his clear vision, commitment, intelligence and dedication. He helped guide our congregation through a difficult and emotionally draining transition that led us to a new beginning with Rabbi Deborah Hirsch, who has proven to be a rare and wonderful gift to our synagogue.  Week in and week out Jerry and his wife Lisa bring love and warmth to Shabbat services, classes, special events and social gatherings—and lots of fun as well! In keeping with his sense of responsibility, Jerry continues as a board member and has taken on the task of leading a newly formed group of our former presidents—12 of them!—to bring their collective wisdom to our journey to the future. Please join me in thanking Jerry!

And please welcome Fred Basch as new co-president of The Village Temple.  Fred is an architect, specializing in the design of theaters and non-profit venues; his award winning projects include the American Airline Theatre Renovation, the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre and the Central Park Precinct renovation. Fred  joined the VT with his wife Sue and daughter Emma nine years ago; his dad Sheldon is also part of the VT family. Fred has been a member of the board for seven years, overseeing our building issues, from roof repairs to air conditioning overhaul. Daughter Emma has been a member of the children’s choir for years and a regular star of the Purimspiel. He is eager to get to know everyone in the community.

 

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The Secret Ingredient

Before I became co-president of the Village Temple four years ago,  my dog Maggie and I stopped by Harriet Zimmer’s house to ask for advice. Harriet was 94 years old at the time, and had been a member of the VT for 62 years, so I figured she could tell me what I needed to know about the Village Temple.

What was the secret ingredient that has made it tick all these years?

Harriet didn’t hesitate. “It’s the people,” she said.

At first, that surprised me. Surely it was the rabbi, the music, the range of programming, the services. Surely Harriet would focus on the soup kitchen, which she ran for many years.. But recently Rabbi Hirsch introduced me to a book called Relational Judaism. The author Ron Wolfson summarizes his thesis like this: “What really matters is that we care about the people we seek to engage. When we genuinely care about people, we will not only welcome them; we will listen to their stories, we will share ours, and we will join together to build a Jewish community that enriches our lives."

Harriet has always understood what makes a temple work. So with the Village Temple approaching its 70th birthday I decided to record one of our conversations. Our educator Alex Tansky will be posting excerpts on the front page of the website, where you can meet Harriet, who is now 98 and vibrant as ever. You can hear her talk about how the Village Temple got started. She’ll tell you why the synagogue was important to her late husband Dr. Max Zimmer—who never went to services—and to her, who went every Friday night with her sons Robert and Richard. Both of Harriet’s boys became b’nai mitzvah here. Richard grew up to become a psychiatrist and lecturer at Columbia Medical School; Robert is the president of the University of Chicago.

Thank you Harriet, for being the secret ingredient who makes a difference.

Click here and meet Harriet Zimmer.

 

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A Candle and a Rose

On Sunday April 23, 2017 Rabbi Hirsch and Cantor Nancy Bach, together with pianist Hila Kulik and members of the Village Temple religious school, led a profoundly moving Yom HaShoah service. Rabbi Hirsch invited an extraordinary speaker, Max Lerner, to talk to the 100 people gathered in the sanctuary about his experiences during World War II—first as teenaged refugee from Austria, then as part of the U.S. Army intelligence forces. Mr. Lerner, who is 92 years old, is a wonderful story-teller who connected his experiences to contemporary issues of social justice and individual responsibility. Though he dealt with painful history, his humor and strength were always evident. A measure of how inspirational he was: when the service was over, he was surrounded by kids from the religious school who had so many more questions they wouldn’t let him leave!

Rabbi Hirsch began the service by asking people who lost relatives in the Shoah—or had family members who were forced to flee their homes and countries—to come to the bima and light a candle in memory. But along with each candle, she asked each person to place a rose in a vase, to remind all of us that strength comes from remembering hardship while honoring life.  Survival isn’t merely about escaping death but also appreciating life—a message that resonated in a sanctuary filled with so many respectful and curious young people and their parents.

Mr. Lerner ended his talk with a most relevant quote widely attributed to the philosopher Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  It is a message that the Village Temple takes very seriously, as we continue our efforts to find meaningful way for congregants to learn and act on behalf of social justice.

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A Room Full of Love

At last week’s human rights Shabbat, Ruth Messinger offered wise counsel on how we as individuals and a community can combat bigotry of all kinds in our country.  In her words: “Despair is not a strategy.”

That lesson has been lived by Anita Hollander, our children’s choir director and musical force, who this past Shabbat was celebrated for her 30 years at The Village Temple.  It was a perfect Anita evening—bursting with life, wonderful music, a packed room full of love.

At age 21 Anita was diagnosed with neurofibrosarcoma, a former of cancer of the nerves. After surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and 5 years of walking and dancing in a leg brace, the cancer recurred. Ag age 26, her left leg was amputated.

Anita went on to pursue her musical theater career, and became a tireless advocate of fellow performers with disabilities. She built a wonderful family with her husband, the actor Paul Hamilton and her daughter, Holland Hamilton, a gifted performer and teacher ( and former member of the Children’s Choir!). Along the way she joined The Village Temple, first providing special music programs and then becoming children’s choir director.

Preparing for Anita’s 30th anniversary celebration was a remarkable experience. The process has given us a chance to quantify (in a way) the unquantifiable—namely, what she means and has meant to The Village Temple all these years. We’ve seen an outpouring of love and respect from the choir kids and families who have learned so much from her, musically and otherwise. These feelings were beautifully captured by the Dorzback family, in a letter they contributed to the celebration. This excerpt captures the feeling shared by so many, l’dor v’dor:

Whenever our mother said  “the choir taught you this, the choir taught you that,” we used to roll our eyes -– choir seemed like just another activity.  But now we recognize the habits that we formed, the skills that we developed, the support that we received and passed on, the Jewish history and values that we learned through song, and the incredible role model that you provided.  We are proud to be part of the scores of children whom you instructed, engaged, and inspired, and we hope to be able to influence others in our careers as you have influenced us. 

And there is that large constituency of people whose children were not choir members, but who are huge Anita fans because of everything else: the beautiful music she has created for Shabbat services, the young musicians she has cultivated, all those Purim Spiels, Jazz Shabbats, Martin Luther King celebrations,  her one woman show “Still Standing,.” Et cetera, et cetera.

The groups are overlapping, which makes sense, because Anita brings people together.  All of us have been inspired by her talent, her ability to integrate the personal and professional, her courage,  her toughness,  her honesty, her tenderness.

Year in and year out she has made us better.

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