How Do YOU Answer This Question: “I Would Feel My Legacy Was Being Honored 75 Years From Now If…?”
The following is excerpted from Michelle’s Presidential Address on Rosh Hashana to Congregation Anshai Torah in Plano, Texas.
Here is a question for you to ponder as we enter the holiest time of the year, a time of soul-searching and teshuvah: Have you EVER seen ME at a loss for words???!!! I know! Many of you are hoping that it will happen right now and I’ll just sit down and be done! Well, I want to share a recent experience, and perhaps relating it to you, my Anshai family, will help me find my words.
I recently returned from the Wexner Heritage Program New Member Institute, a 5-day intensive that marked the beginning of a 2-year Jewish study and leadership program for 20 of us in the greater Dallas community. During the course of 5 days, we studied Tanach, Talmud, and Mishnah. We pondered the writings of great Jewish minds through the ages from Maimonides to Ibn Ezra to Heschel, and we learned from some of the most brilliant teachers of our time including last year’s Scholar in Residence Rabbi Yitz Greenberg and Dallas favorite, and newly announced Scholar in Residence this year, Rabbi Ed Feinstein. We davened together, ate together, sang together and hiked together, and at times we struggled together, too. And the struggle that still gnaws most at me is the very last exercise of our Institute – creating an ethical will. Initially I sat not understanding even as some of my fellow participants expressed fear and anxiety in advance of this exercise. “What could be so difficult?” I thought. I am a “good” Jew, I go to services regularly, I volunteer in my Jewish community, and I have lots of Jewish friends, and like me, all of these people are involved and invested. And then came question number 5 on the worksheet: “I would feel my legacy was being honored 75 years from now if:”… Enter COMPLETE loss for words.
Okay, so here are the easy answers: “If I have a vibrant Jewish institutional building with my name on it.” Chances of this – NONE. As my husband tells me, “I married for love, not for money!” So then, how about “If my children’s children are living good, caring and committed Jewish lives.” Chances of this – NONE. I have no children, so I will have no grandchildren.
So what kind of legacy do I even have a shot at having? I am not nearly Judaically educated enough to speak with any authority about Jewish values, and without children, to whom do I have any right to transmit my values anyway? Can I tell you, this is a pretty uncomfortable realization. I would venture that not many of us enjoy pondering our own mortality, nor do we want to believe that our lives will have been lived for naught.
So why am I telling you this? Because I truly believe that Anshai Torah, this precious gift to our community, is our shared legacy. There are those in this sanctuary who birthed Congregation Anshai Emet 33 years ago, and many here who were founding members of Anshai Torah when Shomrei Torah and Anshai Emet merged in 1998. But our legacy started long before Anshai Emet.
There is a beautiful teaching in Pirkei Avot:
—הלל אומר, הוי כתלמידיו של אהרון
.אוהב שלום ורודף שלום, אוהב את הברייות ומקרבן לתורה
“Be a disciple of Aaron: loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures and attracting them in the study of Torah.”
And here we are today in Plano, Texas, striving to follow the teachings of Hillel, the example of Aaron. But how do we continue this legacy and ensure that it is being honored in 75 years, in 175 years? Do we have it in us to sustain what has been handed down to us?
If you listen to the pundits, Judaism barely has a chance at survival, and the Conservative Movement has its own worries. People are not joining shuls, the Jewish people have fragmented and divided themselves, our population is dwindling. But let’s look at us – this amazing community, thriving, growing and welcoming, though still in our relative infancy. We celebrated our congregational bar mitzvah just this past year, we have welcomed our first-ever “Second” Rabbi, and we are inching ever closer to being a 500-family congregation. Our preschool is thriving, and our religious school is once again bursting at the seams, with well over 250 students this year, and nearly 40 b’nai mitzvah on our calendar!
So things look good! What more can we do? Well, let’s consider Hillel’s teaching. Some commentators suggest that being a disciple of Aaron is to befriend and respect all of those in our midst. Aaron was the Kohen Gadol, the high priest, yet Hillel suggests that we should be disciples of Aaron precisely because he was a man of all the people. While his brother Moses was handling leadership duties for the Jewish people, Aaron was integrating with and serving these people, encouraging them to form community and shalom amongst themselves. Despite his High priestly duties, Aaron made time to be with his people.
So this is what I ask of you: make time to be with your people! It is the only way that we ensure that our legacy is honored. Come to services – even if it’s starting with one Shabbat a month, come! Our Friday night service is filled with children and ruach and warm and joyful community. “Oh, services aren’t for me” – you say! Well, I was the poster child for “services aren’t for me!” well into this millennium! I didn’t know people here, I didn’t know the service, I felt uncomfortable, I thought that everyone would be looking at me (they weren’t, trust me!). Did you know that we have a transliteration of our Friday night services available so that all who wish to can participate? And did you know that once you start coming to services, they really begin to feel… comfortable??!! And if you have children, what better message can you give them than to show them that our Jewish community, THEIR Jewish community matters?
I encourage you to take a step on the rung of your Jewish ladder and give our programs a try! If you have not attended a Scholar in Residence Shabbat dinner and keynote address, you have not lived!!! Okay, perhaps a TAD over-stated, but we have had the opportunity to learn with some of the most highly regarded and sought-after scholars of our modern age, right here in our own home, and around a dinner table no less!
And who says that holidays are only for services? Once you’ve been to our adult Purim party, and seen Rabbi Weinberg in tights and a cape, you’ll have a whole new appreciation for community!
And what about volunteering? I spoke of passing down a legacy to our children, and many of you have your children here in religious school and preschool, or in one of our incredible Jewish day schools. But what are you doing to further YOUR OWN Jewish involvement? As I stand here, I am looking out onto an amazing congregation filled with wisdom, passion, creativity, energy, and maybe here and there even a little bit of spare time! Do you know how much we need you? We are ALWAYS looking for another pair of hands, another great perspective, another cheerleader, another doer! It takes a village to run a synagogue.
So, “I would feel my legacy was being honored 75 years from now if:”…we ALL join together, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving our fellow creatures and attracting them in the study of Torah right here at home, at Anshai Torah.
Michelle Meiches is currently the President of Congregation Anshai Torah, Plano, Texas, where she previously co-chaired the shul’s 10th anniversary Gala and chaired the Scholar in Residence Committee during her tenure on the Executive Committee. Michelle has volunteered locally as an educator, an adoption counselor, a mentor, and with incarcerated teen boys. Michelle has also chaired Registration for the Komen Dallas Race for the Cure, and dedicates time to her alma mater, Rice University, and AIPAC. Michelle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.