A Vision for the Future
As we approach our Centennial, I wanted to take a moment to share with you, if only briefly, some thoughts about a vision for our future. While of course what I have in mind is shaped by collaboration and the wisdom of many voices, I am writing in the first person because what follows represents my dreams and aspirations for my shul.
As the rabbi of this extraordinary congregation and community, I think constantly about our shul and I think about it from two perspectives. First, I think of it through the lens of people. I see in my mind’s eye the faces of our members. I see their celebrations and I see their struggles. As an extension of my own family, I stay up nights worrying about them. I daven for them. I want them to be healthy and safe; hopeful and content. I want parents to be proud of their children. I want those on the margins to feel as though they have a place. I want our members to know about the treasures of the Torah. I want them to be moved by Tefillah. I want them to have endless opportunities to connect with one another and with Hashem. I want them to see themselves on a trajectory of spiritual growth. And I want them to have all the tools they need to be great Jews.
While paying homage to the grandeur of our sanctuary and respecting its decorousness, when our members walk into The Jewish Center, I want them to feel like they are walking into a neighborhood shul – into a room where everyone knows their name; where people are overjoyed to see them when they are present and disappointed when they are absent.
I want The Jewish center to be a place where the members of a tight-knit Jewish Center family daven together and study Torah together; take care of one another in times of distress and celebrate with one another in times of joy. I want our senior members to know that we treasure them. I want our children to feel as though shul is an extension of home – someplace that is warm and familiar – full of spirit and vibrancy. And I want every member to feel known, embraced and valued.
We will know when we have achieved success when it becomes obvious to anyone who walks through our doors that we are animated by an abiding commitment to halakha; a spirit of warmth, welcoming and sensitivity; the pursuit of rigorous and sophisticated Torah study; a deep love for the State of Israel; a sense of inclusivity; a desire to engage and empower women and men alike; and an openness to all comers.
WITH THE RIGHT RESOURCES AND FUNDING, WE CAN TAKE ALL OF THIS TO THE NEXT LEVEL:
- We can create personalized spirituality portfolios for all of our members to set goals around Jewish living and then set about achieving them.
- We can invite members to salons to hear directly from contemporary thought leaders about the issues we should thinking about and how those issues affect our Jewish lives.
- We can create the infrastructure to make sure that no one has to be alone for a Shabbat meal.
- We can build spaces for our children and teens to grow Jewishly ever Shabbat morning and beyond.
- We can become a hub for young families planting roots in our community.
- We can do more to proactively support the ever-growing population of singles native to the West Side.
- And we can develop an even richer array of programs and activities to be sure that everyone finds his/her niche within our community so that every person can develop his or her whole self.
At the same time, we aspire to be something much bigger. For as much as we are a local shul, we also have a global reach.
As a flagship of Modern Orthodoxy, we are dedicated to confronting the most pressing issues of our moment in the larger world – not just for the benefit of our members – but for the benefit of the Jewish community writ large. Taking full advantage of our history, geography and standing, we strive constantly to be a center and a convener for conversations about contemporary Jewish life and its future.
We are a think tank in which ideas about the future of our community can percolate. We are an incubator in which we train members who go on to be outstanding lay leaders in communities throughout North America and beyond. And we are a laboratory for the best and brightest concepts in adult education, programming for our youth and singles, chesed, outreach, political activism, and community building.
AND WITH THE RIGHT RESOURCES AND FUNDING, WE CAN TAKE ALL OF THIS TO THE NEXT LEVEL AS WELL.
- We can become the Manhattan headquarters for Modern Orthodox thought by partnering with institutions such as Yeshiva University, Hebrew University, Bar Ilan, Shalem, Mosaic and the Jewish Review of Books.
- And we can prioritize the mission of looking critically at the intersection between Jewish though.
- We can expand our virtual presence by becoming a launching pad for aspiring scholars who are thinking about and writing about the most cutting edge issues within the public discourse of the Jewish community.
The local and global elements of The Jewish Center are mutually reinforcing. That we are a shul and not a foundation creates a sense of rootedness. We can never be detached or coldly academic because we traffic in the lived experiences of our members. We need real solutions for real people. And so the global issues we face never become simply hypothetical.
And at the same time, that we push ourselves to think beyond the narrow or local concerns of the moment enriches the lives of our everyday members – encouraging us to see ourselves as part of a larger community and a larger world.
I have no doubt that we will honor our storied past even as we engage the complexities of a dynamic future; that we will continue to enrich the Jewish lives of all who pass through our doors by empowering them to be great Jews; and that like our forebears 100 years ago – with tradition as our lodestar – we will continue to blaze new trails in the pursuit of Jewish excellence.
Rabbi Yosie Levine