Shabbat Shekalim 5780 – Rabbi Miriam Berger

Shabbat Shekalim – February 2020

Thirteen years ago, this community was rather different. We were a community of 500 households. We had 12 B’nei Mitzvah that year and we weren’t challenged with Shabbatot like this one with standing room only. This weekend alone, FRS has celebrated an affirmation of faith with a new convert last night, and two B’nei Mitzvah this morning, we will with mourn with one family at a stone setting tomorrow afternoon and another family at a shiva tomorrow night. All this, along with milestone birthdays, anniversaries and the bread and butter of people just wanting to celebrate Shabbat.

From 500 households of then to 910 households of today, our community and its needs are changing, and our building simply has to change with the times.

You think: this is a fundraising appeal! Perhaps you think it’s inappropriate to ask on Shabbat or abuse this moment on the bimah? Well, it is Shabbat Shekalim and therefore it would be a waste of a Jewish heritage gift of such a theme – but just saying “please give” would be too simple a message. Target wise, money-wise we are doing really well. We are edging ever closer to our fundraising target of what we think we need, whilst waiting for the tender documents to come back to put a real price tag, rather than an estimate, on this wonderful project.

But it really isn’t the amount we have pledged that is worrying me. My worry comes in the form of a much more problematic statistic. So far, the money raised has come from 22% of the community. It’s incredible that with the help of only one fifth of the community we have together managed to raise so much – and yet, that number makes me very worried about the 78% and what their relationship is to their community.In creating community, we are given narratives that speak of collective responsibility every step of the way. The night before we escape from Egypt, we sacrifice lambs per household so everyone gets the appropriate share and everyone is fed. This Shabbat, our narrative tells us every Israelite was to give half a shekel. Not too much so that some people couldn’t afford to give at all, but not also not a sum that gave anyone an excuse not to give.

We have a few more months of fundraising to ensure we reach our target and beyond. Really substantial fundraising, to help us get to the actual cost of the build, along with all the other expenses involved with moving out and moving back into a building which is kitted out in a way we can be proud of and feel comfortable in, without cutting corners. We also need to fundraise to get us to a point where we don’t leave the community of another 13 years’ time struggling with debt; we need to allow exciting and innovative programming in the no-longer-so-new building to be the priority for the community of 2033.

So why am I using this sermon slot, a time which should be used for Torah study and reflection, to badger you for money?  Two reasons, and both found in those few verses of Shabbat Shekalim.

Firstly, its insistence on everyone playing their part by contributing. I want to be the shul where 100% of members say, “I gave what I could because it’s my shul, my community, my future”. We started by asking those who could afford large donations to get us going; but now the 22% have got us this far I want the 78% to get us over the line. It’s not about saying we will leave it to those with the biggest houses, the best job titles, the greatest influence, to do this for us. 100% buy-in would be extraordinary and would truly show the pride that I know so many people feel for this place.

Whether it’s the gratitude for the wonderful start the community gave your kids, or the joy in bringing non-members to life cycle events and showing them the FRS way. Whether it’s celebrating the work we have done for the homeless, the Somali Bravanese or those with dementia. Whether it’s the beautiful melodic earworms after services or the knowledge of the support you will get from the people you sat next to if you needed it. For me it’s not the amount people give, it’s the amount of people who give.  It’s the hope that, with their gift, comes a statement about FRS: be it a place for prayer, a place of social justice or a place of relationship, the FRS is an important part of their lives and they want to see it continue to flourish in the years to come.

The second lesson we take from these few verses is that everyone over the age of 20 had to pay their half shekel. You see, I fear for many of us who made the leap from records to CDs to downloads, we feel young because we are keeping up with the times (even if we secretly owe that to our children). I fear we have a sense that the “real adults” will be the donors for such a project. We buy cakes at a bake sale; real grown-ups respond to appeals. We are always looking for the generation who “can afford it”. It scares me to think we have become that generation; that WE are the grown-ups who need to say “that’s me”.

Apparently, I’m reliably informed, we’ll never feel like the grown-up, responsible ones, who are able to be the big philanthropists – so we just need to feel obligated to make it work.  The adult response isn’t about innumerable zeros at the end of numbers; it’s knowing that if we don’t help, in any small way, we have the paralysis of a generation looking for other people to make it happen. It’s about recognising that as long as everyone plays a part, no one single person will be burdened with giving more than they can afford.

This isn’t about how much; this is about saying on Shabbat Shekalim we ALL need to pay our half shekel. It’s our way of saying, “I belong”. We live in a transactional world where we are used to asking, “What do I get for my money?” but the half shekel isn’t about paying for something; it’s about buying into something. It’s about saying, “I want to be part of a future that I helped create. I want to be part of a community going from strength to strength, changing lives, looking at the world around us and accepting responsibility.” We can achieve so much as a community but only when people say “here’s my half shekel I want to be counted”.

Rabbi Miriam Berger

 

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In Hebrew, the letters that correspond to the number 18 make the word Chai – חי,  meaning ‘Life’. We are asking you to breathe new life into FRS with your important donation.

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