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From Our President - 

Hello. I’ve known for a while that I would take my turn and that this moment would arrive — my first Monthly Connections article as president of Congregation B’nai Shalom.

How did I get here? My first Jewish community was Camp Naticook beginning in 1971. It was there that I first met Sharon Brown (Goldstein). No, we weren’t a couple. Yes, she was singing beautifully even then. As was another camper you all know, Lisa Marcus (Jones). Working at camp was Sharon’s mother, Abby Brown, who would become Congregation B’nai Shalom’s first full-time Education Director.

Sharon and I now live in Hopkinton and have two grown children, Evan and Kaila. We joined B’nai Shalom in 2004 when Evan was starting first grade. That first year Eileen Samberg asked me to join the Communication Committee. I’ve been involved as a lay leader ever since, serving on committees, and as a board member since 2009. It has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.
I’m a Techie. It’s what I do when I’m not at the temple — and a lot of what I’ve done at the temple over the years: the lobby displays, office computers, servers, wireless network, sound, and video systems.

When I accepted the honor of becoming president-elect, I looked forward to spending my time as president encouraging creativity, experimentation, and innovation. I could not have imagined that as the day approached, we’d be focused on moving all our programs and rituals online.
In the book of Exodus, we have detailed instructions on how to assemble and transport the Tent of Meeting as we wander in the desert — 3300 years later we find ourselves exiled from our communal buildings and the physical presence of others. The transition was so sudden we had no time to plan. One weekend we were in temple celebrating a young man becoming bar mitzvah and 48 hours later we were locked down in our homes, wandering the social and spiritual desert of cyberspace.

That first week our Executive Director, Steve Winer, kept referring to building the 747 while flying it. Suddenly we had sixeen users in our Zoom account, and the rabbis, teachers, office staff, and volunteers were re-tooling everything to be online and conducted from home. While outwardly this appeared to be an almost seamless transition, it was a huge undertaking, so far involving Hebrew and religious school classes, Shabbat services, B’nai Mitzvah tutoring, Torah study, youth programming, a Passover seder, Havdallah, Shabbat family candle lighting, check-ins, expanded CBS Cares, social events, shiva minyans, a baby naming, and a memorable online bar mitzvah.

This is a “plan for the worst, hope for the best” moment. I’d love to believe this will be over quickly, but I think we are much closer to the beginning than the end. We will need to continue to be creative, to experiment, and to find ways to build familiar feeling spiritual and social engagement online. At some point, we will be able to use the building for small numbers of people. We don’t know when, or how many. Ten, twenty, fifty? We will likely have periods when we function in a hybrid mode with some congregants in the temple and others online. As the coronavirus ebbs and flows in the coming months and years, so too will the form of our gatherings change.

This is not new. Throughout the history of Judaism, we have changed our modes of gathering and of observing ritual to accommodate our circumstances; the Tabernacle of Exodus, the First and Second Temples, diaspora, the rise of modern community temples like our own. Over its long history, Judaism has never remained static for long. Throughout that time, l’dor va’dor — from generation to generation — the core values of Judaism have bound us together; Torah, prayer, education, community. As before, we will adapt to our circumstances, we will develop new traditions, we will thrive.

Drawing from expertise within our congregation, we have launched a task force to help guide us safely through the period ahead. We will leverage the wisdom of doctors, lawyers, epidemiologists, social workers, clergy, and lay leaders, along with guidance from the CDC and local officials, to generate plans and conditions for in-person gatherings. Our intent is to be cautious and deliberate. Our primary concern is the health and wellbeing of you, your family, and our community.

Years from now we’ll tell another generation about this coronavirus plague and our time in cyberspace. Then we’ll eat. Next year, together, in our sanctuary. Shalom.

Steven Goldstein

Sun, August 9 2020 19 Av 5780