The following is my Congregational “Ethical Will” that my synagogue will include in a new time-capsule to be opened at some time in the future. My synagogue is today nearly 90 years old and we have just finished a 13-year process in which we have completely rebuilt our schools and buildings into a modern state of-the-art facility. We are a healthy synagogue community of 950 family units, but our current health is no guarantee for the future. What follows, to be opened in 30, 40, 50, or even 75 years, is a statement of my hopes for my future congregants, read perhaps following my death.
May 28, 2015 – Sivan 10, 5775
Dear TIOH of the Future:
As the Senior Rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood, I am gratified by what so many have accomplished together in nurturing our synagogue community and distinguishing it as the vital, enriched, loving, and progressive Jewish community that it is today in 2015.
We have grown three schools with an enrollment of nearly 700 students from pre-school to high school, and developed a strong Jewish learning community of adults, an inspired worship experience for individuals and families of all ages, engaged social justice activity, a Jewish arts and emerging arts education program, and strong relationships with our Israeli Reform sister synagogues, Congregation Mevasseret Zion and Congregation Kodesh v’Chol in Holon, as well as an invigorating family exchange program between our 6th grade Day School students and the 6th grade Israeli students at the Tzahalah Elementary school in North Tel Aviv via the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership. We have also introduced more than 250 adults and children to the land and state of Israel on congregational trips.
We are a strongly identifying liberal Jewish community in the heart of Los Angeles, but we know that there is still much to accomplish, much to learn, many unaffiliated Jews to draw in, and much healing of people, our community, city, county, country, and world for us to effect.
Despite what we have learned to do well, and despite the current challenges left unaddressed, I worry mightily about our collective Jewish future not only at Temple Israel of Hollywood, but amongst American liberal Jews as a whole. Demographic studies of the American Jewish community suggest a serious cause for concern.
The 2013 Pew Research Poll indicates that the American Jewish community numbers today between 4.5 million and 9 million, depending on how one defines ‘who is a Jew.’ Seven in ten Jews nationally in non-Orthodox communities are intermarrying; one-fifth of all Jews say they do not believe in God; and two out of three are not affiliated with a synagogue community. Though 90% of all American Jews say they are proud to be Jewish, 30% say they are not religious in any way. Two-thirds of non-religious Jews do not raise their children as Jews. Many of us worry whether our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be Jewish at all.
We cannot know what the state of your community will be as you read this, 30, 50 or 75 years from now. Will your generation be literate Jews? Will you know Hebrew, Torah, Jewish texts, Jewish history, ethics, and culture? Will you have faith in God? Will you increase the numbers who identify as liberal Jewish Americans? Will you have a strong sense of Jewish connection with Jews living in Israel and throughout the world? Will you be engaged as Jews in the messianic work of tikun olam, healing an unjust, hard-hearted and broken world?
I speak on behalf of our congregation, staff and lay leadership today in 2015/5775 and wish you Temple Israel congregants of the future well, and I hope for you the following:
1. That your knowledge and love of Torah and Judaism’s sacred literature, history, language, culture, ethics, and the state of Israel will be strong;
2. That you will be practicing Jews in your homes and here in the synagogue;
3. That mitzvot will be the primary business of this congregation and your lives;
4. That your prayer will be meaningful and enriching, filled with moments of personal and communal transcendence and joy, rooted in Jewish tradition’s great spiritual legacy;
5. That Torah and Jewish ethics will continue to be at the core of this congregation’s mission, that kindness will characterize all relationships in the community between staff, leadership and congregants, from the very young to the very old, that TIOH will be a model of ethical living and human decency in Los Angeles, and a place where ideas are freely debated with civility and mutual respect;
6. That every human being will be honored and valued here and outside these synagogue walls by virtue of being created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God;
7. That TIOH will be, as it is today, an inclusive community of Jews and their families (Jewish and non-Jewish) from around the country and the world, embracing the straight and LGBT communities, and Jews of color;
8. That you will visit the people, land and state of Israel with regularity, study there, support its democracy and Jewish character, and consider it your national home as it is the national home of the entire Jewish people.
May your Jewish lives be enriched and rewarding, and may you be worthy always to stand humbly before God.
With every good wish from my house and family across time to yours,
Bivracha, u-v’ahavah, u-l’shalom,
John L. Rosove
Senior Rabbi – Temple Israel of Hollywood