Members’ Voices

Nicole Berglas’ Rosh Hashanah Speech 

What The Reform Temple of Putnam Valley Means to Me

L’Shana Tova. First I would like to thank the Rabbi’s committee for inviting me to speak to you about what this temple means to me; an honor that I am humbled to have been offered and nervously accepted. When I listened to Betty’s message she said she had a quick question. I thought it was about a recipe – not this. I was told I have three minutes to speak. Go ahead and time me because it looks like you are getting two speeches for the price of one.

Growing up in Great Neck there was no shortage of synagogues. I loved the old sanctuary at Temple Beth-el. It was warm and intimate. I remember hanging onto the words of Rabbis Rudin and Davidson’s sermons. They made me aware of ourselves and injustices going on around us in the turbulent 60s and 70s and that we were obligated to take action to fix them.

For the 4½ years I lived in West Berlin I was also part of the temple in the Pestalozzi Strasse. Women sat apart from the men, the voice of the Hassan was nothing short of breathtaking. I also learned that by sticking cloves into apples on Yom Kippur and just smelling them it would help to stave off hunger. The scent was sweet. I went every Friday night because I knew that I could be a part of this community. That was important to me.

Maybe the good measure of a synagogue is how children come to learn. Maybe the measure of a synagogue is how one is welcomed. Certainly a measure of a synagogue is the knowledge, wisdom, and warmth of the rabbis and the music of the cantor. It is measured by the warmth and dedication of the congregants. This synagogue may lack size but it does not lack any of these.

It was my mother’s intention to be a part of my children’s Jewish learning but she sadly passed when David and Isabelle were 4 and 2 years old. I had no family nearby. No connections. I did not know how I was going to impart to them who they are without her and without a community. It felt overwhelming and sad but also critical and urgent.

Even though I passed this temple all the time, I first came to this temple by way of a former member who raved about RTPV. My former neighbor and friend, Elaine Sanders, then told me about the history and suggested I call and go to a holiday workshop. It didn’t hurt that it was only four minutes from my house. However, joining and belonging are two different measures and the latter was not a slam dunk. It was made smooth by the likes of Ed. It was after a potluck dinner that I attended with David and Isabelle that I left feeling disappointed and apart. Ed happened to come outside to the parking lot as we were leaving and asked me enthusiastically how I enjoyed it. He did not expect my earful. His response was an inimitable Ed response. He asked me if I wanted to join the education committee. It is hard for me to be taken aback but I looked at him flabbergasted and gave him the only response I could think of and said “sure.” Immediately I felt connected. I felt like I belonged. Committees, teaching, Chanukkah Hootenannies, the board and mitzvah projects, friends, regular Friday night services, a bar mitzvah and the bat mitzvah that followed, all became the threads that wove our lives together. I can only describe RTPV as a community like no other.

The most effective way to speak about this temple is to include David and Isabelle because my life here is certainly entwined in their experiences.

RTPV is a House of Learning: David and Isabelle were never pressured to attend school. They were never pressured to attend Friday night services. They just attended. Maybe it was because they could stay up late. Maybe because during family services they could dance in the aisle and play instruments and hear Rabbi Darnov’s stories and watch him act them out. Maybe it was in anticipation of what was going to be on the oneg table. Anyway, at first David would promptly fall asleep at 8:00 pm and he would wake up just in time for the oneg. That was always a miracle. They came because they wanted to. They came because they were able to meet other Jewish children in an area where Jewish children are not a given. They came because their teachers motivated and inspired with art projects and Mr. Pollock’s strange and unusual plays that were always the highlight. Isabelle learned her lessons so well, in no small part thanks to Faith, that she continued to come on Yom Kippur without me to read her parshat.

RTPV: Fixing the World: David and Isabelle came because they were able to learn that doing mitzvot was a way to learn about the greater community. It was time spent volunteering at the food pantry, and animal shelter for Isabelle and for David asking people to sign the back of their driver’s license for organ donation, or simply baking an apple crisp for the homeless shelter. Maybe in part all of this inspired David’s sense of volunteerism beginning with the junior ambulance corps and now his enlistment in the Navy. I believe it has also inspired Isabelle to be a leader in her anti-genocide club at the University of New Hampshire.  

RTPV: House of Gathering: I had always told David and Isabelle that by belonging to this community and understanding their place in the world as Jews that they could be anywhere in this world and if there was a synagogue they could be a part of a community and they would know what to do, just as I did in Berlin. They know this now.

One more quick story… On a Saturday morning last year in Cold Spring, I bumped into Dan Sussman. We were talking and he told me how great the new rabbis are and suggested/told me to come back and that I was expected. I did my homework and checked with my sources, Tia and Scott, who verified this information. I was told that we have two new rabbis who were approachable and creative and that they felt strongly that the temple was in good hands. So to finally answer what this temple means to me is that it is not only a house of worship and spiritual growth and development, it is a home with roots. It is a home where if you leave as I did for a few years to go back to school and to figure things out, it is there to welcome you back with open arms, kindness, belonging, community, and friendship. It is a home where people’s lives unfold in both joy, fear, and tragedy and during those times each of us can be embraced and supported. I am grateful for the direction, ideas, teaching, and love that Rabbi Levy and Rabbi Altarescu provide for our home and spirits as well as Annece’s music that enhances our services. I am completely confident that my mother would be so pleased. I want to again thank the Rabbi’s committee for this incredible honor. L’Shana Tova. May all of you and your loved ones be inscribed in the Book of Life.