President David E. Williams’ Remarks:  KI Kol Nidre Service, 2015

Shana tova.

It’s a great honor and privilege to speak to you as President of the Board of Trustees. For those who don’t know me, I began attending KI with my wife Nyna soon after Rabbi Hamilton joined. Our children, Harry, Dafna, Seth and Eli range in age from 10 to 17; all have grown up at KI and are here with me tonight.

I started to become more active at KI a few years ago. With my background in business and experience on boards, the obvious and straightforward path was to become a board member. I did that, as VP of development, but also decided to challenge myself by growing Jewishly at the same time. I learned to read Torah in the adult bar mitzvah class just three years ago, something I never thought I’d be able to do. I still find it daunting to stare at the Hebrew words of the scroll with no Trope and no punctuation, but I also find it extremely meaningful and fulfilling to participate fully in the life of the shul.  If you’re [here] in the Epstein Auditorium tomorrow I’ll be leyning the maftir.

It’s my goal as president to meet everyone in the congregation. So please find an opportunity to introduce yourself, in case I don’t beat you to it.

Our Jewish calendar provides the gift of the High Holidays –a wonderful opportunity for profound reflection. At KI, we have spent a lot of time reflecting on our purpose and on where we are headed as a congregation.

The KI of today and tomorrow is rooted firmly in our tradition, but we are not falling back on nostalgia.

At KI we know what we stand for

  • We stand for Empowerment: You see that in congregants leading services alongside the professional clergy
  • We stand for Inclusion: We embrace the dignity of difference, with the knowledge that authenticity comes in many flavors
  • We practice partnership: We partner with more than a dozen Jewish organizations. As examples: we host independent minyanim, New England Yachad, which enables those with disabilities to participate fully in Jewish life, and the Jewish Venture Mentoring Service –which brings mentors and entrepreneurs into the shul; many of whom would never set foot in a synagogue otherwise
  • We stand with Israel: We travel there and we voice our support, but we do more. We open our doors to Israelis in Boston, such as the Wexner fellows, inviting them to experience KI’s brand of Judaism. We are building strong relationships with Israel’s next generation of leaders, helping to shape their views and engaging in the joint project of Israel and the Diaspora to bring ever increasing goodness to the world

These principles are strongly held, and are firmly embedded in what we do. The moral memory speakers we heard on Rosh Hashanah and tonight are amazing examples of our principles in practice.

I’m unequivocally proud to be a member of this congregation.

We are also blessed with a fantastic location in Coolidge Corner. It’s right where people want to be. But as you can see from your surroundings, even though our principles and practices are aligned for the present and the future, our physical infrastructure is holding us back.

Five years ago, we started to look toward KI’s 2017 centennial. We challenged ourselves to aim high and to define what a model 21st century synagogue should look like. We sought to produce a robust and compelling concept, true to KI’s heritage, and then to translate that model into physical reality.

Our collective answer is the plan we call KI Next: Building Our Future

KI Next has two objectives:

  • Refurbish our buildings. Make them more flexible, accessible, green, coherent and secure, and make room on our campus for anchor partners who will reinforce our mission and provide ongoing revenue streams
    • Let me emphasize that we are retaining our entire campus; we are not selling any land
  • Develop and sustain fresh Jewish programs that inspire, build Jewish identity, promote Jewish learning and literacy, and increase engagement with Israel

I invite you to view the architects’ renderings of the new KI displayed in the lobby and in the KI Next brochure, to understand how the campus will evolve. Let me highlight some key features:

  • We’ll restore and repair the sanctuary and chapel and make them accessible
  • We’ll add a new social hall that can seat 300
  • We’ll bring the nursery and pre-school classrooms together with direct access to the garden and playground
  • We’ll enlarge the kitchen, add flexible meeting space and enhance security
  • Meanwhile, we’ll build on our existing partnerships by adding new, anchor tenants. Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly plans to build an affordable senior housing facility where the Epstein auditorium now stands
  • And we are in advanced discussions with a major Jewish agency to locate its young adult programming and innovation space at the new KI

Our plans have generated excitement and enthusiasm in our immediate KI community but also throughout Boston and beyond. You may have seen articles in the Boston Globe, Jewish Advocate and in national and international Jewish publications.

Synagogues from all over the country have been inspired. Last month, Rabbi Hamilton and I led a webinar about KI Next that was attended by more than 40 congregations.

The planning and fundraising for KI Next have adhered to our fundamental principles. It’s been an empowering process, with lay leaders taking responsibility for the concept and strategy. It’s been inclusive, drawing on voices from across the KI spectrum. And we’ve involved our existing and prospective partners along the way.

Getting to this point has taken a lot of work, and I’m pleased to report that we have made impressive progress:

  • We’ve nearly completed the architectural design to achieve our vision, and we have been prudent in budgeting as we developed these plans
  • And we have made great strides with our fundraising efforts
  • I’m very proud to report that thanks to a dedicated team of lay fundraisers and the contributions of 122 generous donors –including every single one of our board members– we have raised more than $9 million to date.
  • That’s right, 122 donors and over $9 million. When some people hear that dollar figure they assume the funds must be flowing in from alumni from KI’s heyday, but in fact essentially all of the gifts are from current members
  • As heartened as I am by our progress to date, I must tell you that frankly we are not there yet. A project of this scale requires us to raise a total of $15 million, and in truth we need to raise approximately $4 million toward that amount over the coming months so that we can begin the renovation work in 2016
  • It’s a crucial time now, and we must tap into an ever widening circle to turn the vision into reality. So just in case you were thinking you could sit back, listen to an interesting plan and then watch others make it happen, I’m here to tell you that the principle of inclusion applies to fundraising as well

While our minds are focused during this time of reflection, I need to ask you to do three practical things

Number one:

Make a stretch gift yourself, if you haven’t already done so. You can pay for it over five years and it’s tax deductible. If you’ve already made a one-time commitment, consider extending it over multiple years.  No gift is too small; and in fact no gift is too large either. If you are worried that you don’t have the capacity for a major gift, and won’t be able to move the needle on the project, I encourage you: Think again.  Every gift matters –and the largest donors are inspired by the smaller ones to maximize their own contributions. 100% participation at the grassroots level motivates large donors and the extended community to step up

Number two:

Let us know about KI alumni and others in the community who will be inspired by KI Next. Look around the synagogue at the plaques and memorial windows. Think about the families who made those dedications and who should know about our project. Maybe you are in touch with some of their descendants and can help us share the KI Next plan with them

Number three:

Consider what skill set you can offer to the KI Next project. There is much to be done over the next two years that can benefit from the talents of everyone: architects and interior designers, communications experts, lawyers, financial planners, and anyone who’s willing to help.

 

When Yom Kippur ends, start the year right by sending an email to me at president@congki.org, calling the KI office, or visiting the KI Next website to use the contact form

Let us know three things: 1) what you can pledge, 2) the names of others who should hear about KI Next, and 3) what volunteer skills you can offer

KI Next represents a once in a generation opportunity. This is the time to build the model synagogue for the 21st century and to extend KI’s leadership for the next hundred years. If the whole community steps up and does its part, together we will build on our century-long track record as an innovative and prominent Jewish voice, and we will inspire the generations that follow us.

I know I can count on you.

G’mar chatimah tovah.