Chairman of the Board Art Penn Addresses the Congregation at Kol Nidre

Address by Arthur Penn
Chairman of the Board, Park Avenue Synagogue
Kol Nidre 5774/2013

Goldstein called Rabbi Cosgrove earlier today and said, "Rabbi, I'm really upset. I know tonight is Kol Nidre, but tonight the Yankees play the Red Sox. The Yankees are in the running for the playoffs. I'm a lifelong Yankees fan. I've got to watch this on TV."

Rabbi Cosgrove responded, "Goldstein, with today's technology, you can record any important event."

Goldstein is surprised. "You mean we can tape Kol Nidre?"

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Friends, I am honored to be standing here tonight as Chairman of Park Avenue Synagogue as it enters year 131 of its existence. 131 years. At that time our founders met as we do this day to discuss our purpose, our vision, and our direction. Of course the world was different back then: Imagine a world where there were no cell phones, no computers or Internet, no televisions, no airplanes, no cars. Just a congregation of modest and humble beginnings with three things that served as a catalyst to what we all share together today, a legacy of family, faith, and community.

My family gave me the gift of Judaism. I'll never forget my bar mitzvah and my Rabbi’s charge to me. He asked if I knew what a mensch was. I didn’t. He then explained, and he asked that I try as best I can to be a mensch as a Jewish adult. I still carry this with me in all aspects of my life: for my family, as a friend, in business, and as a member of this community.

My wife Ilene and I joined Park Avenue Synagogue seventeen years ago as we were starting our family. We have educated Madeline, Andrew and Eliza at the Early Childhood Center and Congregational School. We've celebrated two Bnei Mitzvah, with a third coming soon. We have also developed many deep friendships here over the years.

Our congregation is more than 1,500 families strong. Some of your families have been here for generations; some of you have just joined us as you create a new tradition for your family. Our goal is that Park Avenue Synagogue will always be a strong, supportive and welcoming place.

Despite all the predictions of the decline of organized religion, and Conservative Judaism in particular, here at Park Avenue Synagogue we have seen a resurgence. There are many reasons for this: a welcoming membership, world class educational and programming opportunities, and – if we are talking about faith, the course of resurgence is lead by those who inspire us – our clergy.

Rabbi Cosgrove, your first five years have been incredibly impactful. During your interview weekend six years ago your sermon was themed, “You need to meet people where they are.” In last week's historic Rosh Hashanah sermon you identified this moment as one where Park Avenue Synagogue would not only meet us where we are, but would also help us return to a place called home. We look forward to your rabbinical leadership for many years to come.

Cantor Schwartz, we appreciate your engagement with our community and your efforts to make Park Avenue Synagogue the leading center for Jewish music in America. Rabbi Rein, thank you for all that you do day-to-day to make synagogue life meaningful. Cantor Lissek, welcome to Park Avenue Synagogue.

Thank you also to our Executive Director, Beryl Chernov, who keeps things running smoothly. We have an extremely talented synagogue staff that we are thankful for, including Neil Zuckerman, Eve Rudin, Carol Hendin, Matt Check, Liz Offenbach, Marga Hirsch, Aliza Cantor, Jonathan Schlesinger, John Davis, and Lawrence Conley. A special thank you to Rabbi Emeritus David Lincoln and Cantor Emeritus David Lefkowitz for their leadership over many years.

As I mentioned before, the world has changed since our founding. One thing that hasn't changed is the feeling you get when your child reads from the Torah, signifying that they are continuing the unbroken chain that has lasted thousands of years; and the feeling you get when you visit Israel on one of our sponsored trips, not just as an individual, but through the eyes of a shared group experience; and the feeling you get when you develop a life-long friendship that started from being parents in the Early Childhood Center. As the world evolves, we do need to look forward and continuously work to strengthen our services, our space, and our programs.

John F. Kennedy once said, “Children are the world’s most valuable resources and its best hope for the future.” From our vibrant Young Family Education program, which has tripled over the last few years, to our always strong Early Childhood Center, to a surging Congregational School, where we now have over 400 children enrolled up from 275 just a few years ago, we should be proud of our efforts to provide our youth a strong foundation to shape the future in a profound way.

Our adult education programs have been widely embraced by our community. These points of connection, along with our vibrant Arms, provide multiple pathways to becoming involved. Our programs are bringing more people into this building than ever before and it is bursting at its seams! We are actively addressing our space needs and later this year we will have a focused plan as how to address those needs.

While we have many programs that meet the needs of individuals in our community, there are too few occasions when we unite as a whole community, a night like tonight, where our building is full of families, friendship and faith. Moments like this, more than two or three days a year, may seem difficult with the many demands in our lives today.

Over the next year, you will be seeing a major transformation of Friday night services into an engaging, relaxing, accessible event, that is multi-generational, where you can bring your entire family, come as you are, be uplifted and spiritually satisfied at the end of the week. Additionally, we will be looking at ways to make Saturday morning services even more engaging. I encourage you to join us on our journey to create a new spirit of community where we regularly celebrate our faith together.

We are a community that is moving ahead with passion, vision, and confidence. I’m honored to be working with a wonderful group of partners including our President Paul Corwin, and officers Natalie Barth, Marc Becker, Andrea Baumann Lustig, Jean Bloch Rosensaft, Mel Schweitzer and Heidi Silverstone. A heartfelt thank you to our prior Chairmen Steve Friedman, Amy Bressman, Geoffrey Colvin, Alan Levine, Duke Usdan, Marty Milston and Joel Cohen, as well as too all of those who have served as Presidents, Officers, Trustees, and Advisory Council Members whose inspiring vision and hard work have made our community an admired one.

Family, Faith, and Community: It’s where we started from and who we are today. As we continue that legacy, I ask for your support.

I'm reminded of a story.

Seymour goes to meet his new son-in-law to be, Ben. He says to Ben, "So, tell me Ben, what do you do?"

"I study Torah," he replies.

"But Ben, you are going to marry my daughter and have children, how are you going to feed them?"

"No problem," says Ben, "I study Torah and it says God will provide.”

"How will you provide a home for them?" asks Seymour.

"No problem, says Ben, "I study Torah and it says God will provide."

"But how will you afford to educate the children?" asks Seymour.

"No problem," says Ben, "I study Torah and it says God will provide."

When Seymour returns home, his wife anxiously asks him what Ben is like. "Well," says Seymour, "he's a lovely boy. I only just met him and he already thinks I'm God."

Your generosity is critical to support the education, programming and space needs we have. Synagogue dues represent only two-thirds of our expenses, excluding the schools. Last year we raised over $2 million, which was the record amount in our history. It is a true testament to the strength and passion of the Park Avenue Synagogue Community. Your gifts ranged from $18 to $150,000. You have been supportive because you have seen the value that the synagogue has created in your lives.

Last year 61% of our member families contributed to our campaign. Our goal this year is to reach 100% participation. Every contribution matters and I encourage you to unite with the vast majority of our members to give and participate together in the sustenance of this sacred community.

As you consider your level of support, please think about what your synagogue is doing and where we are going. If you haven’t given before, please consider doing so. If you’ve given in the past, please consider moving to a higher level. Thank you for your efforts and for joining in our progress.

As I reviewed our Park Avenue Synagogue mission statement, it brought it all together for me. You should know that:

You belong to a community that seeks to inspire, educate and support our members in Judaism.

You belong to a community that aspires to foster deep connections with each other, our Torah, our God, the State of Israel and broader humanity.

You belong to a community that focuses on prayer, study, observance and acts of kindness.

You belong to a community that is warm and welcoming and meets you where you are.

You belong to a community with a legacy of family and faith.

You belong to a community.

On behalf of the Officers and Board of Trustees of the Synagogue, I pray that all of our members and their families are written and sealed in the Book of Life and enjoy a life of health, happiness, peace, prosperity, and friendship.

The ushers will now pass through the aisles for those of you who wish to show your support tonight.

Thank you.