View from the President
“This is our legacy”
A message from Stuart Ratzan
President, Temple Beth Am
[The following is a transcript of Stuart's Rosh HaShanah message]
As Jews, we are a nation of leaders, each of us taking part individually in the responsibility held by the collective: a responsibility to our past, to our future and to each other.
Thank you for this brief moment to speak with you. This is the most exciting time to be president of Temple Beth Am, especially for me, a kid who was raised here in the 1970s, who enrolled in the Day School at age 8 the day after the Yom Kippur war, who grew up and raised his own children here.
I am enthralled with Beth Am, past, present and future. And I feel blessed to lead a congregation that has grown from 1,100 to well over 1,500 families only in the last few years, with a thriving day school and religious school, a Torah study class bursting at the seams, programming off the charts, the best basketball league in town, Sisterhood, Brotherhood, film festival, and on and on. We are also blessed to be in a congregation filled with the true pillars of the Jewish community and also of the overall community of Miami Dade County.
L’Shanah Tovah Temple Beth Am!
One of the leading Jewish rabbinical thinkers of our day, Rabbi Jonathan Saks, reminds us that in Deuteronomy, G-d repeatedly instructs the Jewish people to remember.
Rabbi Saks points to the vidui bikkurim, the Confession of the First Fruits, where Saks explains that in biblical times on the harvest, every member of the community was called to the Temple and commanded to publicly retell the story of Abraham’s journey from Mesopotamia, how he went down to Egypt, how the Jews grew to a great nation in Egypt only to become a people enslaved in a foreign land, then of G-d’s bringing the Jews out of slavery with a mighty hand, and the delivery of the people to the land of Israel. The entire history, and moral purpose, of the Jewish people in one short summary.
Over time, this retelling would become the obligation of every citizen of the entire nation of Israel. It would evolve into the Passover Seder.
Rabbi Saks explains we were commanded to become historians. But then he reminds us that biblical Hebrew has no word for history; the word instead is from the root zachor, which means memory. We have memory more than we have history.
For us, history is not simply accumulating knowledge. Instead, retelling our story as if we ourselves were slaves and strangers is the collective obligation of our people, it is the tie that binds and the roots of our purpose, our reason to exist as Jews in the first place.
We are all guardians of this story, of this sacred memory, and each of us holds an obligation to pass it on to the next generation. It is not a supreme leader who carries this sacred duty, but all of us, each and every one of us in this room and around the world.
It is why almost every Jew you will ever meet, no matter their degree of observance, feels a deep abiding ache to pass it on and to keep it alive.
My other favorite author and Jewish thinker of our time, Bari Weiss, in her new book How to Fight Anti-Semitism, argues that the answer to the current rise in anti-Semitism is not to cower and hide from the fray. Instead, the answer is for all of us to embrace our Jewish lives and fulfill the promise of our people.
Bari Weiss quoting who else but Rabbi Jonathan Saks, writes, “Non Jews respect Jews who respect Judaism, and they are embarrassed by Jews who are embarrassed by Judaism.” What is more attractive, Ms. Weiss asks, than people confident in themselves, grateful for their historical legacy, and proud of their culture?
Bari Weiss also identifies the most potent force for fighting anti-Semitism. She says, “That is the force of who we are. We are a people descended from slaves who brought the world ideas that changed the course of history.” One g-d. Human dignity. The sanctity of life. And freedom itself. “This is our inheritance,” Ms. Weiss explains. “This is our legacy.”
“Do we believe in our own story? Can we make it real once again?” Bari Weiss asks. She answers her own questions: “I believe that we can,” she says. “And that we must.”
Our Beth Am culture has always embraced these principles: of celebrating and embracing our Jewish lives and values, and also of passing on our story, our collective memory, to the next generation. We have always believed in building a better and brighter future, for ourselves, for our children and for our children’s children.
And so, the Beth Am community with the Beyond the Curve Capital Campaign has again committed itself to the future of our people and our values.
And that’s why our synagogue continues to grow. We understand our sacred responsibility to retell and remember the story of our people. We cannot sit idle; we must continue to lead.
By building a 21st century day school, and new religious school facilities, we insure the future of Jewish life in South Miami Dade; we inspire young children and young families to learn in an enriching environment. And we deliver a complete and outstanding education in reading, writing and arithmetic, but also an education in our rich story so that we pass it to them and they pass it to their children, much like my parents did for me when they enrolled me at TBAM so many years ago, and then like my wife Mycki and I did for our children, and so many of you have done for yours.
By building a new Welcome Center, the heart of our campus, located on Temple Beth Am’s own “Ben Yehuda Street,” we will have a pivotal gathering space for our entire community. We will grow our basketball league with a state-of-the-art athletic center, and we will have new spaces for celebrations, adult learning, prayer, performing arts and social life. We will likewise give our community a future where we will enrich all of our lives.
Every High Holy Days, we ask G-d to be inscribed in the book of life. Much about that inscription seems beyond our control. But we can all be inscribed in Temple Beth Am’s book of life. That is completely within our control. All we have to do is open our hearts and find room to give.
We have received 91 gifts and raised over $31 million to date. We owe the greatest debt of gratitude to the visionary leadership of Colleen & Richard Fain, our entire steering committee led by the extraordinary Lily Serviansky. Arnaud Karsenti. Alex Krys. Dan Koffsky. Dr. Deborah Starr, whose vision and leadership is unmatched. Bob Hersh. Dr. Kate Lampen-Sachar and Barbara Havenick, co-chairs of our Day School campaign. My campaign co-chair Rich Siegel. Our fundraising professionals Ilana Gilat and Steve Paikowsly. And of course, our entire clergy, led by the inimitable Rabbi Jeremy Barras, each of whom has personally contributed their own hard-earned dollars to this effort. There are so many more to thank, and you know who you are, especially those of you who have already made your gifts.
But we have a long way to go!
Join the Beyond the Curve campaign. You won’t regret it. Instead you will likely feel great joy as this is an immediate and tangible way — a golden opportunity — of playing your part to keep our story alive; and not just alive but sustained; and not just sustained but thriving for generations to come.
I believe that we can. And that we must.
Together, we will cherish, protect and strengthen for future generations our collective memory: that we came from a wandering Aramean who settled in Egypt, raised a family small in number, grew to a great nation, then subjugated to slavery and degradation, only to cry out to G-d, be freed with a mighty hand, and ultimately delivered to the promised land.