President’s Monthly Message

Presidents Message - October 2018

Excerpted from President’s Erev Rosh HaShanah Speech

I’d like to take a minute to tell you a little about my personal Jewish journey.

I converted to Judaism in 2004, but my journey began in 2001, in the weeks right after 9/11.  My sister’s husband was killed that day, while he was working at the top of the World Trade Center.  In the weeks directly after, as my family and I were at my sister’s side, dealing with all that ensued, I had what others have called a crisis of faith.  I felt seriously adrift.  During my brother-in-law’s memorial service, on the bank of the Hudson River, with their friend Pete Seeger singing and playing his guitar, I heard person after person commit to making some significant change in their life to honor his life.  I have to say that I felt kind of hopeless--that sounded so righteous and I wished I could say the same, but I had no idea what change could possibly be meaningful enough.  What could fill that void?

That very day, someone brought me a couple of books.  I had asked her if I could borrow something on the basic concepts of Judaism.  We were bringing our boys up in the Jewish faith, we were attending family services here at Beth HaTephila, and I was more and more curious.  And, as weeks passed and we struggled with the personal impact of 9/11 on our family, I started to read.

When I showed up at Rabbi Ratner’s door with my books in hand, I had one basic question.  Is what Milton Steinberg wrote about Judaism back in 1947 true?  I showed him Rabbi Hillel’s famous quote, totally new to me at the time.  When he was asked to describe Judaism in the few moments he could stand on one foot, Hillel answered “That which is hurtful to thee do not do to thy neighbor.  This is the whole doctrine. The rest is commentary”.  It blew me away in its simplicity.  It felt like a step forward.

I can’t describe how fortunate I felt to have all of those oneon-one meetings with Rabbi Ratner, as I studied for my conversion and I slowly learned some of the ‘commentary’ that Hillel referred to.  But, the truth is that I was ‘in’ from the beginning.  This was a religion that encouraged me to think on my own, and at the same time spoke to me, deep in my soul.  It filled that void.  I’ve heard others who have converted say this--there’s something inside me that feels like I was always a Jew.  And, in fact, I have since found out that my family actually has some Jewish roots.

I’m not the first president who is a Jew by choice, and I’m not the first female president, but clearly, if it wasn’t for our movement’s and our temple’s ‘audacious hospitality’ – a central tenant of acceptance and welcoming – I would not be standing here today.

My sons grew up in our religious school and became bar mitzvot here.  Rabbi Meiri married Ed and me under the Chuppah here.  I take my commitment to this temple, which I call my home, very seriously.

I guess this is my way of telling you why I was prepared to do what had to be done, when I asked Larry Weiss to once again be our treasurer when I started my presidency, and he helped me understand the financial situation we were facing.  It was clear that, even if it wasn’t going to be a popular move, even if it was going to cause some confusion and mistrust, it was the executive committee’s responsibility to make sure that the board of trustees and every one of you understood where things stand AND to ask you to step up and help.   And, so many of you HAVE helped.  Of course, you have, you also have so many reasons to love this community, as I do.

Last year’s special assessment raised much-needed cash, and as annual commitments started coming in for this year, it has been gratifying to see so many people increase their gift.  One hundred and thirty households have increased their annual commitment by some amount for this year, and 37 households have given at our new ‘Enhanced Giving’ levels.

Looking ahead, I am both excited and challenged by what lies before us.  There is still opportunity to help, both in your annual commitment and in upcoming fundraising events.  Not only is HardLox nearly here, but a grassroots group is planning several special fundraising events whose goal is to ‘close the gap’.

I couldn’t be more proud to be a Jew.  I couldn’t to be more proud to be among the leaders of this amazing congregation.  I couldn’t be more inspired by Rabbi, our executive director Craig, the staff, the executive committee and the entire board for embracing this challenge. And I couldn’t be more grateful to all of you for listening, for asking hard questions, for offering suggestions and for taking action.  Thank you


Karen Hyman, President


If you would like to send a comment to the President, please fill in this form and hit send.

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)


Your Message

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

Previous messages from the President

President’s Message

Our new Annual Commitment structure sets a base commitment amount as well as commitment levels for a range of income levels.  This new structure has raised an interesting question from some of our families.  They say that they just don’t ‘use’ the temple that much.  They may live far away, or they just don’t choose … Continue reading President’s Message

Posted in President | Comments Off on President’s Message

President’s Message

A strong board of trustees in an essential element of a successful non-profit organization, and we are no exception. Even in the best of times, officers and trustees need to be engaged in both the short and long-term issues that impact their organization. And, when facing a crisis, it is all the more important for … Continue reading President’s Message

Posted in President | Comments Off on President’s Message

President’s Message

Last month I had a chance to spend some extra time with our religious school families, teachers and staff at both the May family service and the teacher appreciation ceremony on the last day of religious school.  On both occasions, I was reminded of the amazing effort put forth by our teachers, our madrichim, our … Continue reading President’s Message

Posted in President | Comments Off on President’s Message

President’s Message

I sat in the back at temple on a recent Friday. Not in my usual spot near the front, and not on the bimah; someone else was taking a turn. We were expecting a call from one of our kids, who was coming home for the weekend and would need a ride, so we wanted … Continue reading President’s Message

Posted in President | Comments Off on President’s Message

President’s Message

It has become axiomatic that to be a Jew is to care about the world around us. To be a Reform Jew is to be engaged in the ongoing work of tikkun olam, striving to improve the world. The ancient command to seek justice has led to a long and proud tradition of political activism … Continue reading President’s Message

Posted in President | Comments Off on President’s Message

You're at Home Here! An Engaging, Inclusive, Reform Congregation in the Blue Ridge Mountains