Annual Meeting: How We've Shared the past 12 Months Together

News and Views

It is hard to believe we are already looking back over another wonderful year together.

The month of June not only is the time for Sinai’s Annual Meeting, but also a great opportunity to reflect on how we’ve shared the past twelve months together. As my third year at Sinai reaches its conclusion, I am grateful to continue to commence and to deepen my relationships with so many of our individuals and families, the people who make our synagogue a true community. Our being together, for events happy or sad, majestic or mundane, is the very best part of my being a rabbi.

From my perspective, it has been another banner year for Chicago Sinai Congregation. The daily life of our temple is incredibly vibrant: starting on Sunday, Heidi Kon lovingly shepherds the future—our children—into our building where they joyfully explore their Jewish identity with dedicated teachers and madrichim. Every day of the working week, our building teems with the smiling faces of our preschoolers, whose families begin to build Jewish homes with the thoughtful care of Fern Katz. Let’s not forget that the building shines, the lights stay on, and our programs—from adult study to art exhibits to committee meetings and social events—run smoothly thanks to the dedication of Susan Solomon. And when Friday evening arrives, it is the music brought to life by the talented Scott Kumer that sets our communal tone for Shabbat.

Our year at Sinai has more highlights than I can recall.

We welcomed Rebecca Frazin as our Director of Engagement and Programming, and Rebecca has brought with her not only incredible enthusiasm, but a real ability to translate our congregation’s needs into practical programs. Under Rebecca’s leadership we had a host of meet-and-greet social opportunities for people to deepen their relationships within Sinai. We went Apple Picking at the Polsky Family orchard in the Fall, drank Scotch and Sancerre in the Sukkah, and had a great time at our first-ever Brisket competition! A truly important addition to our programming this year—under the guidance of Rabbi Greene—was our Women’s Retreat, a remarkable experience [so I’ve heard!] that has inspired and brought together our community in so many ways. And I’ll come back to talk about our invaluable Rabbi Greene later…

Our partnerships are part of what makes our Sinai experience so rewarding. This year, not only did we ring in our High Holy Days at Fourth Presbyterian Church [as well as here at Sinai, of course], but we also celebrated Thanksgiving there, together with many of our Interfaith friends: Holy Name Cathedral, LaSalle Street Church, the Downtown Islamic Center, and—of course!—Fourth Church, too! It was very special to have Sinai’s own mash-up of “America the Beautiful/This Land is Your Land” be sung in such friendship in such a holy place. We were also delighted to commemorate Martin Luther King Day in Lawndale at Stone Temple Baptist Church, and enjoyed our pulpit swap with Pastor Chris Harris of Bronzeville’s Bright Star Church. A special highlight for me was our Interfaith Seder, where we welcomed clergy and congregants of twelve faith communities to come and share Passover with us.

Sinai’s commitment to our community also shined through our revitalization of the Sinai Forum. This Fall, we welcomed former Senator Mark Kirk and current Senator Tammy Duckworth to a special Candidates’ Forum in our sanctuary, and learned of their stances on the many issues close to our congregational heart. In the Winter, our Sinai Forum reconvened for a unique evening of learning from Presidential Medal of Freedom winner, Sinai’s own Newton Minow. In the Spring, together with other city synagogues and the JUF, we co-hosted a great night of learning and community with Jeffrey Goldberg. These were all wonderful ways to share the spirit of Sinai with so many.

In smaller groups, we gathered on Saturday morning, for Sunday “Make Yourself More” sessions, on Tuesday nights, Wednesday mornings, Thursday mornings and more for our diverse programs of adult learning. Our classes ranged from Torah study to learning from Professor Kenneth Seeskin directly about his newest publication, Thinking about the Torah. Representative of our incredible group of adult learners are our 5777 Adult B’nai Mitzvah class: in May, we celebrated the commitment these six learners made to their education and Jewish identity in a supremely special Shabbat service.

In big ways and small, this past year has been a great one for Chicago Sinai Congregation, filled with spirit, energy, learning, listening, acting, and just being together. That only happens because each of us brings the fullness of our spirit to our communal home, and I hope you know how much I appreciate the energy and love so many of you carry into our building every time you enter. And speaking of energy and love, I especially want to mention our incredible Sinai staff team—DeeDee, Kris, Edna, Jill, Dawn, Elke, Harold, Ron, Dan and Arturo—for all the work and care they put in to making Sinai as special as it is. One further note of gratitude should be extended to our Board and Executive Committee for their time, dedication, long hours, and love for the values and future of Chicago Sinai Congregation. I especially want to thank Bruce Miller, who has so wonderfully served our synagogue as President these past three years, and helped steer us out of a sad and confusing period into the thriving present we now enjoy. I feel truly blessed to have been able to start my career at Sinai with such a perfect partner, and to have earned such a true friend in Bruce.

As we all know, the end of this year brings many changes to Chicago Sinai Congregation. We celebrated Heidi Kon for her 20 years of service to our congregation, and wish her the best in her retirement from life as a Religious School Principle [even as we are grateful she will remain tutor to so many of our b’nai mitzvah students!] As Heidi returns to her roots in social work, we are so fortunate that Rabbi Greene—who in short time has become indispensable to Sinai in every way—is going to bring her vision, skills and heart to lead our religious school forward into an exciting new future. Fortunately for us, Rabbi Greene will remain in her role on the pulpit, in the adult education program, with our millennials, and engaged in so many of our spiritual lives.

With our Annual Meeting, welcomed Susan Lucas as the new President of Chicago Sinai Congregation: with incredible dedication to Sinai, remarkable acuity, great wisdom and incredible grace, Susan will lead us toward an ever-improving future. I hope many of you are able to come to know Susan during her presidency, and offer her and our leadership team all the support we will need to continue to strengthen Sinai.

Continuing our transitions, soon we will welcome Rabbi Todd Zinn to the Sinai Pulpit and our congregational family. I cannot wait to see—from working with our b’nai mitzvah families, social action committee, interfaith partners and more—the many ways in which Rabbi Zinn endears himself to us and helps us deepen our connection to Judaism, the world, and each other.

As I bring my thoughts to a close, I must admit that in preparation for my reflections this year, I did look over the letter I wrote at this season twelve months ago. I do not believe it is plagiarism to copy from oneself; maybe it’s even acceptable to repeat yourself so long as you admit you know you’re doing so. In closing, therefore, I simply want to cut and paste my sentiments from last year: The most rewarding parts of this past year, for me, have been the opportunities to begin to build meaningful relationships with so many of you. Those relationships have been forged while we engaged in some of the most meaningful, and most ancient, commitments of our people.

To this, I will only add: I can’t wait for even more next year!

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