Kol Nidress 5777 Remarks — Andrew Ergas

October 13th, 2016

Good evening.

Abraham Maslow, the renown psychologist, suggests that we have a hierarchy of needs with food, shelter, protection at the base of the pyramid. The next layers of that pyramid of needs include a sense of belonging to a social unit and to receive praise. At the pinnacle of the needs pyramid is self-actualization – a feeling of having a purpose in the great scheme of life.

This is what the High Holy Days provide for us. Opportunities to sit atop this pyramid, to self-actualize and to grow.

On Yom Kippur, we suppress our baser, animal needs – food, shelter, protection – so we can concentrate on that which allows us to be truly human. We gather to worship, to belong, to link ourselves together with Jewish communities past, present, and future. We gather to grow and build meaning.

And on Yom Kippur, we move beyond focus on self-growth towards concern for the growth of everyone in our community.

For our prayers are in the first person plural:

  • Kol nidre – all of our
  • Ashamnu – we are guilty.
  • Al chet sh’chatanu – For the wrong we

On Yom Kippur, we declare we are committing to one another, that our growth and the growth of our community are interdependent.

At its heart, JCP is the downtown instrument for this type of declaration.

  • The J calls out to welcome all to be a part of this Jewish effort for change and renewal.
  • The C places the collective at the center, reminding us how important it is that we do this together and for one another.
  • The P invites experimentation, an open-source effort that celebrates a hands-on approach to building community.

As the executive director of JCP, I am afforded a unique platform to see this shared project growing in so many ways:

  • JCP is growing in terms of numbers as more and more families and individuals make us their Jewish home.
  • JCP is growing in regard to the depth and maturity of our program, serving children of every age and providing adults with opportunities for meaningful engagement.
  • And JCP is playing an ever growing role in the revitalization of downtown and its return to being an epicenter of vibrant Jewish community.

Let me say that again. An epicenter of vibrant Jewish community. Lower Manhattan, the home to this city’s original Jewish community, is for too many known solely as a tourist destination to engage the Jewish past.

Individuals and families seeking innovative approaches to Jewish life often first think of the Upper West, Upper East or even Brooklyn. But now in our second decade, JCP is reshaping the face of Jewish New York, changing both perception and reality as we attract so many seeking Jewish community that reflects uptown quality and downtown sensibility.

Our growth and vision for the future has led us to take action; we have begun the process of creating a permanent home for JCP, a project that will represent the first physical space dedicated to Jewish community and congregational life in lower Manhattan in over half a century.

Imagine our own building with a large open space for our children to run or our community to gather at points of celebration or sorrow. Our using that space for our own sanctuary, with a bima that your daughter uses for her Bat Mitzvah, surrounded by this sacred community. Imagine a new space where in addition to state-of-the-art preschool classrooms, we also have space for our youth and teens and adults to gather and build community.

Over the past year, leaders of JCP have started meeting with people individually and in small groups to discuss plans and get input. The support and excitement has been inspiring.

In the coming months we will increase our efforts toward this vision.  When the time is right we hope to come to you to share our plans and ask for your participation.  We hope you will be as inspired and motivated as I am about this historic.

So as we gather together on this most sacred evening, let’s reflect on our collective vows to not only improve ourselves as individuals but to also ask one another to commit to this JCP community, this revitalization of Jewish life in the triangle – or perhaps pyramid? – below Canal.

  • In this new year, let us expand JCP as our Home for Learning, celebrating the extraordinary work being done in our school programs as our youngest children grow in the extraordinary ECC and our older children embark on Jewish journeys in our Hebrew School Project;
  • In this new year, let us expand JCP as our Home for Community, setting aside time as parents and spouses, partners and friends, connecting with people who share our values and inviting in others who also seek a home;
  • In this new year, let us expand JCP as our Home for Jewish Living, assembling on sacred occasions like today, at joyful Shabbat, and at holiday gatherings.

May this new year bring us all sweetness and growth and may this vision of our JCP home inspire us to continue to build something powerful and compelling – and allow us to self-actualize, together.

L’Shana Tova!

Rabbi Andrew Ergas is the Executive Director of JCP