From the President


“…for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Isaiah 56:7

            This month’s Chai Times is (again) a few days late, but with good reason.  I have been doing the editing of the Chai Times for several months, and this month I was out of town the last couple of days of May and the first couple of days of June.

Diane and I were in Durham, North Carolina for the Bar Mitzvah of my oldest brother Don’s grandson Avery.  We flew in Thursday, and Friday evening Avery led most of the Shabbat Evening service (with the assistance of the Rabbi, but mostly on his own).  Avery gave his speech Friday night and on Saturday he led the Shacharit and Torah services.  Shacharit is the second section of a service, and follows Pesukei dezimra, or introductory hymns and prayers.  Our Friday Shabbat services follow this same format, as we read Torah of Friday nights as we have no Saturday service.  Avery’s father Steve led the Musaf, or additional service.  We do Musaf on the High Holidays.

Everyone did a wonderful job.  My only disappointment was that the announcements were given by the Temple Vice President instead of my niece Debbie, mother of the Bar Mitzvah boy and President of the Congregation.  But she has enough to do that week and during the service, so she deserved a break.  For the record, all Congregation Presidents deserve a break from time to time.

As is the custom, there were several aliyot for the Torah reading, and one went to my brother Don and his wife Sheila, grandparents of the Bar Mitzvah.  Don has had a lifetime of health challenges and currently uses a walker or wheelchair.  During the service he used a wheelchair to reach the bimah for the aliyah.

Near the end of the service, the Rabbi took a moment to mention my brother.  Beth El Congregation of Durham is nearing the completion of a major renovation.  In fact, just the week before the congregation marched their Torahs from the church where they had been holding services back to their sanctuary.  The Rabbi noted proudly that the new sanctuary floor was flat, without a raised bimah, and hoped to one day have a Torah reading table that could be lowered to accommodate those in a wheelchair.  Diane and I turned toward each other with a nod and a smile.

You see, some 40 years ago, when our synagogue was being built, our then Rabbi William Kramer insisted that the sanctuary be built with a flat floor, no raised bimah, as to be accommodating and welcoming to everyone.  Some 20 years ago, our Rabbi Mark Sobel found a drafting table with a top that raised and lowered during his treasure-seeking haunts.  The table looked rather industrial, and a little worn, and the Temple President at the time detested it.  Rabbi Mark approached George Davis, who crafted a beautiful wooden cladding and trim.  When the Temple President saw it, she wistfully agreed it could stay.

I am glad to see Temple Beth El begin to address making participation in Jewish worship more accessible, and I am proud that our Temple recognized the need to do so years before.

Being the Temple With a Heart means more than just being friendly, welcoming, and loving, it also means really being inclusive of all who come to us and being mindful to remove barriers of entry to our community, both physical and social.  I think we do a pretty good job of that at Temple Beth Emet, but we should also continue to seek to be enlightened as to the challenges faced by others and willing to learn to help overcome those challenges.

— IRA L. GOLDSTEIN, President