From Unity to OpportUNITY

Shalom Shaarei Kodesh,

It is hard to imagine, but it is now the end of my ninth year serving as Rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Kodesh.  I recently realized that I never wrote a letter of reflection to our congregation following the approval of my latest contract when I was elected to serve Congregation Shaarei Kodesh for the next five years. 

First, let me say how honored I am to be rabbi of this very special community in one of the most inspiring and unique places to be Jewish outside of the state of Israel.  Even though we are in the same location, we are in a much different place than nine years ago, and I feel I have evolved as a rabbi as well.  As I think back to nine years ago, during the height of the Great Recession, I realize how far we have come as a South Palm Beach County Jewish community.  It was a time of great turmoil for all of the Jewish organizations in our city.  Many were facing sharp declines in revenue, and many synagogues were losing families.  I came into a fractured community where agencies fought with each other and rabbis could not sit together.  But something changed very quickly; a new idea came into focus:  civility and unity.  The unity built over the years, from joint efforts, to rabbis sitting together and meeting on core issues every quarter, stellar programming including the first community wide Purim carnival and Nights of Inspiration, to Jewish Unity Days, and finally, to winning this year's Jerusalem Unity Prize.  From unity came opportUNITY.  Conversely, there can be no opportunity without unity. 

Our congregation was born again through the unity of two congregations coming together.  Two different cultures, diverse ages and backgrounds, came together in 2007 to create the Congregation meeting in a modest store front in West Boca Raton.  We accomplished great things together, building a youth group, an education center to equip our children to live rich Jewish lives, too many innovative programs to list, concerts and community wide events, and more importantly, we have been able to nurture Jewish souls through all facets of life (from the celebration of births, bnai mitzvah, marriages, to mourning and loss) as we journeyed together on a path to holiness. 

Now, the time has come for us to take our next steps into an even brighter future. 

As you know, we have a tremendous OPPORTUNITY for a new home for our holy community.  This opportunity is due to our tremendous hard work, growth, perseverance, and UNITY. 

In this week's parashah, Shelach-Lecha, we read the story of the twelve spies.  God asks Moses to send scouts to report on the land that they will enter.  The spies come back with a report of the great OPPORTUNITY, but because they do not have faith in themselves, they lead the people to disaster.  The spies famously said that the land was indeed flowing with milk and honey, but they would never be able to come to the land because there were too many obstacles in front of them.  They famously said, "we saw the Nephilim (giants) there and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them."  But Joshua and Caleb, two of the twelve spies, disagreed with the others in one major way.  Joshua and Caleb pleaded with the people to have faith in God, and in themselves.  They would be successful if they could unify around these ideas, around each other and God.  Unfortunately, that generation who had the fear to move forward died out, but Joshua and Caleb, and the next generation made it to the land of milk and honey.  When I came to this congregation, things were dire all around us, but despite a time when synagogues were shrinking and closing, our community grew in size and impact.  Our community has always been optimistic, like Joshua and Caleb.  Others might have seen us as grasshoppers, but we never shied away from our greatness.  We have a tremendous opportunity ahead of us, and I am not only hopeful, but sure that we can achieve great things in the months and years ahead as we journey to our land of milk and honey. 

Shabbat Shelch-Lecha will be my last Shabbat for the next two weeks as I leave for Camp Ramah Darom for two weeks as rabbi in residence with many campers from Shaarei Kodesh.  I look forward to blessing our children at our Camp Send Off Shabbat this Saturday as they begin their summer journeys.  Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend this year's Jewish Unity Day, but I urge everyone who can to join together for this special event.  It's free to attend, but registration is required (CLICK HERE TO REGISTER).  As we journey to Shabbat Shelach-Lecha, let us journey from UNITY to opportUNITY, together, as a holy Jewish community. 

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi David Baum

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