Passover is the moment when we read the mission statement of the Jewish people. The Seder reminds us that God’s outstretched arm means hope exists even in the darkest places of our souls and in the world as whole. It is a story that calls forth from those of us who reenact it year after year a responsibility to be part of light and hope. For some, it is a story that calls on us to be active morally in the world, to be agents of freedom. For others, it is a story to be active in faith, to realize that God’s touch on the human soul is a great source of blessing and renewal.
At this moment I am also exploring what the mission statement of Kol Emeth ought to be. Our Synagogue must be a source of light in the world. It must be a place that inspires us to do good in the world and provides a platform to gather around other like minded people to fulfill Abraham’s commandment to be a blessing. Kol Emeth also needs to foster connections to the land and people of Israel so that we work intentionally to remain one people in love with our land.
At the same time, our mission ought to reflect our surroundings. Silicon Valley is an amazing place of innovation. In particular, it is innovation that comes from start-ups, a system that empowers individuals and small groups with relatively modest funding to do amazing things. There is an economic system here that enables an individual with a great idea to change the world.
At Kol Emeth, our greatest successes have been similarly entrepreneurial on the part of both staff and lay leadership. Camp Kol Emeth last November, for example, happened because two members loved camp as children and wanted to create an experience for young families that drew on those fond and loving memories. Kim Samek and Christine Tachner came to me and Rabbi Matzkin and then ran with the idea. We supported them, but they did the hard work for sure.
The Silicon Valley Beit Midrash is happening because a group of us are in love with the transformative power Jewish study can have on people. Tom Johanix, Martha Amram, and I all were talking in the courtyard one Shabbat afternoon and realized there was a great need for a place to offer serious Jewish learning here in Northern California. The result is two retreats of full day cross generational learning. Ours is the only program of its type outside of New York and Israel, and the only one of its type that appeals to large numbers of people in their 20s as well as people in other age demographics. Hosting a men’s shelter for the month of March is similarly driven by active leaders like Elizabeth Eastman. There are numerous other examples at Kol Emeth of this kind of people driven creativity.
Moses hoped that all the people would be prophets. Moses was not worried about hierarchy or his own authority. He wanted everyone to connect with the deep source of creativity and renewal we often call God. When Rabbis and lay leaders become gate keepers, we risk jamming up that divine flow and getting in the way of creativity around value and mission that bring a presence of God and holiness into our community and the world.
We need a community that values the divine image in its members, and therefore listens when they bring forth their own unique Torah. That personal revelation and creativity ought to be encouraged, supported, and given tangible form. Some such ideas may have only a short time, serving a specific moment and purpose, while others may transform our community for years.
So here is a proposal for a new mission statement, one that reflects our values and purpose and location:
Kol Emeth is an everybody friendly community for sacred Jewish gatherings. We see experimentation, Jewish learning, faith, and practice as tools to fulfill God’s call to Abraham, to be a blessing to the world with a special connection to Israel. Kol Emeth is a place to grow, to pray, and to find face to face connections. It is a place to be inspired, to find strength and insight to be better Jews and better human beings.
I’m curious of your thoughts and your ideas. What is your Torah, your revelation, that can help us better realize the promise of our own Kol Emeth community?
Rabbi David Booth