(Dvar Torah for Annual Meeting Behar-Behukotai 5777) 

The Torah promises us, in a few places: “IF you follow My laws and faithfully observe My command-ments…”(you will reap the blessings of doing so – and if not, not!). 

IF you attended services, fulfilled a pulpit honor, hosted an oneg Shabbat, contributed in any way to a fund-raiser, assisted in the Judaica shop, planted or watered plants on our premises, taught reli-gious school classes, tidied the kitchen, or spent time organizing the library – thank you for your ser-vice! 

What a difference that “if” makes. Our Torah portion reminds us that what we do – and what we don’t do – bears consequences. Your activity and commitment keep us alive and sustain us as a community. 

One of the commandments included in our holy obligations is, of course, the prohibition against la-shon hara – evil speech. LaShon Hara does not only refer to words that are untrue; even state-ments that are true, when spoken behind someone’s back, are forbidden. 

Most of you know this, and have heard me teach this lesson before – which is probably why much of it does not get back to me. Nonetheless, I have heard some rumblings, people speaking ill of our own little shul! I’ve heard that people complain about how few people attend services, and how de-pressing you find it in comparison with the “good old days.” 

Twenty years ago, thirty or forty seats in the pews represented just 16 percent of the congregation. Now that we are smaller than we used to be, 15 bodies represents about 11 percent. So nu? Where are the other 4 percent? How do we “fix” that? How do we recapture the blessings of the “good old days?” 

Some of us are working overtime to try to recreate that feeling. Our Temple Board, led by our val-iant President, Elliott Magnus; our Vice President/ Membership Chair/Yard Sale Chair/ Food Festival chair (how’s that for a loaded portfolio?), Greg Broida (with a big assist from Rose!); Irvin Pike, our Financial Secretary/ Religious Practices Chair and all-around Shammus (that’s an old-shul term for caretaker), have done the lion’s share; each of them is surely pulling more than their weight. Let me share with you some of the good things that they and others have made happen here this year: 

Jill Egland worked closely with Dr. Ron Kean, Peggy Sears, Laura Wolfe and I to re-imagine the mu-sic of our High Holy Day worship experience, and recruited fellow Banshee member Brenda Hunter and her husband, Dave to provide a fresh sound. 

Thanks to member and theatrical impresario, Hal Friedman, we hosted November’s successful weekend run of “Fiddler on the Roof,” which played to great acclaim in our social hall. Our stellar cast and crew included our own Sakina Hansford, choreographer; Tim Fromm, Marc Schulman, Mar-sha Parr, Linda Morales, Stacy Davis, and Myriam Hansford. Besides being a moment of spectacu-lar “community presence” for Temple Beth El, it was also a very successful fundraiser. Cast mem-bers and their families were especially generous – and they were deeply touched when we dedicat-ed a leaf to them on our Tree of Life. 

Greg and Rose Broida headed up the previously-mentioned Yard Sale, another fund-raising suc-cess, with help from Gail and Steve and Elliott Magnus, Elaine White, Marsha Parr, Susie Easley, and Roy and Amy Snyder, among many others. Thanks to all of you who pitched in. 

Liz Sherwyn, Elaine White, Jill Egland, Susie Easley, Marsha Parr and Echo Kniffen created our stunning new Temple Beth El cookbook – which was a well-deserved success at the Food Festival and is still available for sale through our gift shop. 

Speaking of Liz and Greg and food – let’s not forget our first Matza Ball cookoff, co-chaired by Mi-chael Freedman. Too much delicious fun, missed by too many of you! 

Our continuing efforts to warm relations with our neighbors at Congregation B’nai Jacob moved for-ward with more TBE volunteers at their fairgrounds Pastrami booth, our quarterly Joint Board meet-ings, and shared Shabbat and holiday celebrations (which included Simhat Torah, Chanukah, Pu-rim, Pesach, and Shavuot). We made essential contributions to the celebration of the one hun-dredth anniversary of CBJ and of organized Jewish life in Bakersfield. And all of this, of course, led up to last month’s fabulous Jewish Food Festival, which continues to generate positive buzz every-where I go around town. 

Again, I want to thank everyone and anyone who has contributed to the many successes we have enjoyed this past year. Thanks to you, we are still here, and much stronger than we were a year ago. 

What’s the take-away in all of this? You are the source of the miracles that happen around here – you, and only you! And if (heaven forfend) you feel excluded by that comment, then I invite you to join us in becoming part of the solution. Though we may lack a swimming pool and tennis court, we are blessed to have the Community – you. I hope that we can count fully on your loyalty, your crea-tivity, and your support to make our Temple all that it is, can and ought to be. 

As the Torah promises: IF you fulfill all of My commandments… then you will reap the blessings. I promise you: IF you fulfill your commitment to Temple Beth El, and choose to participate fully in the life of this wonderful synagogue of ours, then you will reap all the blessings being part of this com-munity can bestow.