Given By FJC President Heather Miller
Kol Nidre 5778 / Sept 29, 2017
If you know me, you know that I am a deeply reflective person. As I sit down and humble myself enough to dig deep and reflect on the past year, I think about the fact that I experienced some life moments that had you asked me a few years ago, I never would have seen coming. During the high holidays last year, I found out that this little person was going to be and at the center of my reflections is what I can do to be a better mother to my boys and about how I can raise them to be decent human beings. I think a lot about why I decided to take on the role of President of our community when I knew (y’all didn’t) what I would have to juggle. As a mother, a black, Jewish mother, no less. It is important that I raise my boys to be leaders and not followers, to have a strong connection to both halves of their black and white cookie, to push them to reach their fullest potential and to ensure that they are kind, giving, caring, respectful people and the type of men that someone would want as a partner one day. (And if you’ve ever seen Joshua and Caleb with Mason, you’d know they are off to a good start) As someone who walks around looking like I do every day, I don’t take for granted that the road to finding their Jewish identity will sometimes be very difficult. In their Jewish day school, my middle child has been told that his mother is brown like a cockroach and in the first week of this school year, my eldest was referred to as ‘the black kid’ and the n-word, by a kid who thought it was a funny joke. There are, undoubtedly, conversations that I will have to have with my children, that many of you won’t have to have with yours about how the world sees them; about what they will assume and believe because of who I am and because of how they brown in the summer. At FJC, though, we get to just be Jews and pray. I share this, and trust me, I don’t often, because in this day and age, it is important that we all have a safe space where we feel that we can be true to who we are and just be. As president, it is important to me that we all..our children have the space to grow up in a community where what makes them an ‘other’ outside of this tent, just adds to the flavor of our kiddushes.
Around 13 years ago, I first walked into a very different FJC. If you had asked me then, I never would have believed that we’d ever get here. And it’s not that the old FJC wasn’t a place where I felt that I would feel comfortable raising my children; but it just hadn’t reached its fullest potential. It took having a third child (a decade in mind you) to be able to remain in the sanctuary with the joyful noise of babies. And as Rabbi Lev remarked one Shabbat morning, it’s a wonderful day when we have to get pinch torah lifters because the president has a baby strapped to her chest, the rabbi has a baby strapped to his and our normal backups are rotating their minis while moms and dads alike are in the Hanid room getting their last rehearsals in for their Torah reading.
While I wasn’t here when FJC had the school that some of you attended; or when there were seats up there and services on different floors; I have been here through the growing pains of deciding what role women would have here and if they should have one at all. I’ve watched families come and move away and make homes in other synagogues (including the children and grandchildren of some of you sitting here now) all because we couldn’t decide who we wanted to be in the year 5778 and I thank those who not only stayed but put on their running shoes and became leaders with us on this journey. In the past year, we’ve had to make some hard decisions (and trust me, they were hard despite what some may assume). But we don’t get to be complacent when it comes to making the choices that will affect the future lives of the children running around this building right now. While I value the place that traditional gender roles have in Judaism and take my role as a Jewish mother very seriously, it has always been important to me that my sons (who spend half of their lives in orthodoxy) know that the superhero of a mother that they have out there is also president of the shul they were born into, brissed in (it’s a word now), will have their bar mitzvahs in and, god willing a wedding one day—can also do hagbah on Shabbat morning. And it’s important to me that your daughters grow up seeing their mothers being just as necessary to make a minyan and knowing that they too can learn how to lead a service and that Ellie’s mom, and Lila’s mom and Nessa’s mom can teach them how.
We had our first bat mitzvah for a child who grew up (mostly..i’m claiming her) in the new FJC and girl, the way you leyn has me in a trance. You should be here on Shabbat to hear her read torah, it’s truly a beautiful sound. We will soon have a wave of b’nei mitzvot as the children of the families who have played the long game have become preteens and are now about to step up to the bima themselves (sidebar: we will be having a b’nei mitzvah workshop in December for anyone who’d like to admit that this is happening and would like to join us). Though we are not what we used to be and are still growing into what we will become, it is truly a wonderful thing to be a part of.
We now have a small afterschool program. This, too, was a dream a long time in the making. Every Thursday Lizzi Mazal teaches our 4-7 year olds how they fit in to their Jewish world. We have a community lead tot Shabbat and our moms (and Lev) do an amazing job bringing the theme of the parsha alive for our tiniest of tots and our VP Dina is leading the charge and teaching our older kids to read torah. And I’ll tell ya, getting Caleb to be proud to read torah and get his kohein Aliyah is a miracle in and of itself. And to hear the haverim group come down and help daven musaf is hope personified. (and you should hear them get a little salty when someone gets to lead a prayer that they wanted to lead) Lev challenges our thinking during Lunch and Learns and the Kiddush committee works hard to keep our tummies happy every week. And those of you who come to services every week to listen to the dry humor that are my announcements make FJC the place it is today.
As we welcome 5778, I think about how I can become a better president for this community this year. I think about what I can do to ensure that our community is supporting our vision of who we want FJC to be. We are celebrating the start of our third year as a fully egalitarian community. Men and women are equal partners here; all who support the idea that no matter what your color, preferred gender pronoun, what you do for a living, who you voted for or who you happen to love are all welcome to pray here. (okay…maybe who you voted for) As your president, I impress upon all of you to reflect on what you are currently doing and what you can do better to help our community grow even further.
Consider joining us more often and making us a habit; tell a friend or neighbor that we have an afterschool program here now and have thriving tot Shabbat and haverim programs. Spread the word when you get the emails and see the flyers for Church Avenue Sessions (have you been? They are amazing..thank you to Yoshie for bringing talent to our space every month), stop by for lunch to hear what Lev is feeding our brains or come to one of dinners under the stars. But most of all, continue your membership or become members again knowing that you are part of a very special community. We come from all backgrounds and are able to find common ground here. That makes this a place where our children can develop into socially conscious Jewish individuals and not feel like they have to figure out where they fit in their Jewish community before focusing on the importance of adding their voice to our collective prayer. As Sarah Sloan and many of us can attest to, what makes FJC special doesn’t exist everywhere and we need the support of all of you to make sure that our community in this pocket of Kensington exists for generations to come.
May you all be inscribed in the book of life and I hope you enjoy the rest of the wonderful service we will have tonight and tomorrow. See you again real soon.