Shana tova!

I’m David Williams, president of Congregation Kehillath Israel, and it’s my honor to speak with you tonight.

After close to a decade of planning for KI’s second century, we have been busy this year translating our KI Next plan into action.

In the spring we started the construction work. This is the most significant investment in the physical restoration of our spiritual home in more than a generation. The three million dollar first phase focuses on the exterior of the sanctuary building: restoring and stabilizing it for the long-term with a new roof and gutters, new and restored masonry, and new main staircase. We’ll be finished by Thanksgiving; on time and very nearly on budget. We’ve also drawn up building plans for the much more ambitious second phase, which includes renovation of the interior and addition of a new social hall, classrooms and flexible space on the garden side of the building.

But KI Next is about much more than new and renovated facilities. It’s about creating a collaborative, multi-generational campus that provides the scale, skills, financial resources and creative energy to serve the Boston Jewish community and to set an example for communities across the country and around the world. At a time when many conservative synagogues are managing their decline, we are embarking on a bold and robust path.

What does that mean in practice? It means a campus here on Harvard Street where Jewish education and worship thrive, with multiple congregations and minyanim, educational institutions, inclusion efforts, Israel engagement and advocacy groups, business and social entrepreneurs and more. A campus where a rich mix of organizations and programs generate strength and energy from their interactions with one another, and where creative new initiatives are spawned.

When Congregation Mishkan Tefila –in existence for more than 150 years– made the difficult decision to sell its Chestnut Hill campus, they analyzed several relocation options before determining that the very best way to create a vibrant Mishkan of the future was to buy in to our campus vision and to co-locate and collaborate with us. It was a bold and surprising maneuver. Yet it’s working. Their Rosh Hashana service was literally overflowing and Yom Kippur promises to be even busier. By coming to this campus, the congregation is experiencing an energy level that it hasn’t seen in a long time.

Mishkan’s co-location benefits them, but it benefits KI as well. Their financial contributions toward KI Next and our operating budget are significant. They are also investing in campuswide programming including adult education and prominent speakers. Their women’s and men’s clubs are reaching out to our members to plan joint activities. They contribute to our ongoing functions such as daily minyan. And together we are creating exciting new programs focusing on teens, young adults, and Israel.

Mishkan is our highest profile partner, but actually we have attracted more than two dozen partners in total. These include independent minyanim such as Washington Square, social services agencies like Yachad that provide opportunities for the disabled, senior housing with JCHE, educational institutions, Israeli groups and Jewish cultural organizations. Last month, I convened more than 20 partners to discuss the long-term campus vision, identify priority areas for collaboration, and start the discussion about how to pay for it all. We’re excited to establish a campus council to get the most out of these collaborations.

Restoring our home and laying the foundation for the campus model requires investment. I’m happy to report that fundraising has proceeded apace. Since I spoke to you a year ago we have received more than $5 million in new commitments from individuals and partners, bringing our total to over $12 million.

All of that was for the year just ended. So, what are we planning for the Centennial year?

Quite a lot, actually.

We’ll be building on the strong momentum with our partners, in ways that you will see and feel. This month will bring two major campuswide events: a Simchat Torah celebration with the Israeli American Committee, Mishkan Tefila, Washington Square Minyan and others, and a visit from famed poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, author of Babi Yar, brought to us by Center Makor, our new partner in serving Jews from Russian speaking countries. (The program is in English, don’t worry.)

We will be growing our successful programming focused on young adults and on Israel. Our vibrant Friday night KICKS service and 384@KI are empowering, inclusive initiatives that are a beacon for post-birthright Jews in their 20s and 30s. Our outstanding Rabbinic interns Elizabeth Bonney-Cohen and Phil Bressler are injecting fresh, creative energy into these offerings for millennials.

While some communities are having trouble even talking about Israel, we are ramping up our engagement and support. We are building strong relationships with Israel’s next generation of business, government, religious and social services leaders, helping to shape their views by inviting them to experience KI’s brand of Judaism, and engaging in the joint project of Israel and the Diaspora to repair the world. We are increasingly working with Israelis in Boston to encourage grass roots interactions that enrich us all. Our new partnership with the Israeli American Council will enable us to cement and extend these connections.

In the late spring, we plan to break ground on the second phase of building renovation and expansion. You will definitely notice that, since it means we’ll be moving all of our functions into the Epstein wing for just over a year. I’ll share a lot more about the transition plan as we get closer to the move date.

In 2017 we’ll celebrate KI’s 100th anniversary with a variety of events, including a Centennial weekend capped by a major gala in downtown Boston on February 11. It’s a once in a century celebration and you really won’t want to miss it. As we gear up we are activating alumni networks in New York, Chicago and Florida, and inviting everyone back to celebrate with us.

For the past couple of years we’ve been collecting KI artifacts and compiling an oral history in preparation for our Centennial. We are producing a coffee table book featuring highlights of each decade, which will be ready in time for the big event. We are launching the signpost project, sharing each month a specific value that has endured throughout our history and that will guide us into the future.

As I hope I have conveyed, there is a lot happening at KI. New programming with our campus partners. More initiatives with young adults and with Israel. Our Centennial celebration. The second phase of campus construction. And much more. I feel fortunate to be surrounded by a strong board and professional staff that are taking us to the next level.

As you listen to everything that our community is doing and the innovative approach that we are pioneering together, I know you are asking “how can I help?”

Well, here are three things you can do:

  • #1 Mark your calendars for the February 11 Centennial gala and ask your friends and family to do the same
  • #2 Think about how you’d like to get involved as a volunteer with any of our programs or initiatives, and then email We’ll be happy to match you up with the right opportunities
  • #3 Our fundraising has been successful, and I want to say thank you to the more than 200 donors and the dedicated group of volunteer fundraisers who have helped us get this far. Still, we need to raise an additional $3 million by the end of 2016 to keep our plans on track. Please reflect on what the future of KI means to you and what you can invest. My family and I have done so, and have decided to stretch to by far the biggest financial gift we’ve given to any cause. I’m asking you to do the same. If you’ve been holding back to see if this plan is for real or if we’re capable of pulling it off, now is the time to come forward. If you’ve already made a generous gift, consider stretching further, or adding another year to your existing gift. Remember, it’s tax deductible and you can spread the commitment over five years. You can email me directly at or go to the KI Next site: and click Donate

Together we will launch KI into its second century in a way that honors the past and drives boldly and confidently into the future.

I know I can count on you.

G’mar chatimah tovah.