Rosh Hashana Speech for 5778 by Barbara Libbin, President

L'shana tova. I'm Barbara Libbin, your Ohr Kodesh Congregation President.  I am honored and proud to serve such a vibrant and dedicated kehilah. While our membership numbers are holding steady at just below 500 families, our number of young families is growing. Ask David Narrow, "The Lollipop Man," who has told me that lollipop consumption on Shabbat morning is increasing!  On any given Shabbat morning, our stroller parking lot in the hallway is overflowing!  This is thanks to our extremely hard working and dedicated membership co-chairs, Rachel Wolf, Elana Rosenfield, and Natalie Graham.  The amazing membership committee also organized community building events, including the annual CSA kiddush, shabbat kehillah dinners and our Latka and Vodka social, the latter chaired by Amy Herman and Katheryn Mozer.             

This past year, we sadly lost too many members who passed away, but thank G-d, we also had 13 babies born in the congregation.  We celebrated many b'nai mitzvah this past year, who studied under the watchful eye of Cantor Ed Gerber. We also had 2 adult b’not Torah- and it was a special moment for the congregation to witness their very first public reading of Torah. We thank Cantor Hinda Labovitz for preparing them.

We were able to share in still more s’mchot this year, as 2 (more) of our members got married to each other … which is becoming a trend here! Mazel tov to Roselle and Joel Kalman!

These s’mchaot, as well as many other weddings, funerals, and b’nai mitzvah were skillfully officiated by our beloved Rabbi Lyle Fishman, who has served our congregation for 34 years.  Rabbi Fishman has been our rock and our confidant and we are so lucky to have him at the helm of our congregation.

As you may be aware, our beloved Senior Cantor, Cantor Ed Gerber, will be retiring in June, 2018, though he will continue to complete the training of b’nei mitzvah students thru December.  We want to thank him profusely for everything that he has done for the shul during these past 35 years. He has taught approximately 1,000 b'nai mitzvah students  and the level at which they were prepared consistently instilled great confidence.  He has also taught synagogue skills to numerous members of the congregation.  He organizes the Torah readers and daveners each week and ensures the quality of all the service leaders.  We will miss his punny ways and his warm smile. But we are so glad that he and Barbara will be staying in Chevy Chase to remain part of the OKC family.

As we pave the way for the next generation at Ohr Kodesh, we are so grateful for all that Cantor Hinda Labovitz has done in the 3 years that she has been in our community. She has been working tirelessly to reinvigorate The Alvin Brody Religious School by finding new and interesting ways to teach their students,and because of that, the ABRS has grown by 50% in recent years.

We also want to thank Cantor Hinda Labovitz for her thoughtful and spiritual davening, which takes our services to a new level. Cantor Labovitz has also enhanced our shul’s musical offerings, with an intergenerational Veterans Day musical program and the Not Quite Broadway show.

           After the conclusion of Shabbat morning davening, our community gathers to enjoy a delicious kiddush.  Our Kiddush committee co-chairs, Robin Grunberger and Eric Goldscher, have worked tirelessly to provide a more complete kiddush lunch.  Thank yous are also due to Mickey Feinberg for organizing our monthly “green kiddushim”, which help to preserve our planet’s precious resources, and to Rise Ain, for organizing our Learner's Lunches, which offer opportunities to sit and learn together.

           Still more thanks to Rachel Lang, our director of youth and family activities, who has just completed her first year at Ohr Kodesh. She has worked to build up our USY chapter, whose excellence has earned them multiple regional awards.  Our youth groups have had exceptional programming this year, including our award winning “Friday night lights” program and their own Shabbat kiddush discussion sessions.  Along with our terrific youth and family committee, co-chaired by Seth Yoskowitz and Donna Meltzer, Rachel also oversees our children’s Shabbat morning programming, which is an attraction for our many young families.

           After a two year stint as our Ner Tamid Fellow, we said farewell to Jessica Wolf.  We wish her well as she continues her studies in Cantorial School.  We meanwhile welcome our newest Ner Tamid Fellow, Andy Weissfield.

             Joanie Smeltz, the director of the ECC for over 25 years, runs a state of the art, Reggio-inspired preschool with almost 100 2,3, and 4 year olds. My children loved the preschool so much, that when I rushed home early to pick them up after work, they would cry saying they wanted to stay at school longer. She has an excellent team working with her: Amy Jones, Gail Goodman, and, replacing the now retired Leslie Slan, we welcome the return of Wilhelmina Gottschalk to the Ohr Kodesh family, as the director of our summer camp and the ECC’s director of curriculum development.

We are also very fortunate to host the Moed program in our building. Working with its director, Orna Gerling, is a pleasure, as she has built up an award winning, Hebrew immersion after-school and summer camp program.

           That our building can remain looking first-rate and can operate so smoothly while hosting a myriad of programs, is due to the efforts and talented of our amazing administrative staff.  Jerry Kiewe, our executive director, has everything under control at all times and leads a team consisting of Dennis Concepcion, Ellen Feldman and Tami Lautman, who works hard on our behalf.  Heartfelt thanks also go to our dedicated and capable custodial staff, who are here bright and early and often stay late into the night: Cesar Barberena, Ever Martinez and Dannell Santiago.

           This year we want to give special acknowledgement to our outgoing Mashgicha, Hannah Burke, who served our congregation and gave everything she had to us for 20 years, or put another way … helped deliver 1,000 kiddushim!  She would work for hours on end, ensuring the kashrut of our food and making sure events ran smoothly. We now welcome our new Mashgiach, Harley Liebenson, to our community.

Thanks to the continued efforts and watchful eyes of the Budget committee co-chairs, we are happy to report that our annual finances have continued to be healthy for several years now.  Of course, that is also due in no small measure to the continued support that has been offered by all of YOU!

Our annual Kol Nidrei campaign, is an important source of funding for our congregation and we encourage all to contribute at a level that is comfortable for your family. Thank you to last year’s co-chairs, Ron & Sherry Kabran, and to this year’s co-chairs Kol Nidre co-chairs, Ann and Joel Friedman.

The Giving Circles, now in its second year, encourages and recognizes higher levels of giving. Under the leadership of Roger Browdy and Helaine Resnick, who made this vision a reality, the first year of the Giving Circles program was an extraordinary success … and we offer deep thanks to the 61 families who contributed at these higher levels!  We hope that we can count on your continued support of this program … and that others may yet see fit to follow your example.

Meanwhile, in a foresighted effort to ensure that our congregation will remain strong into the future, our Ohr Kodesh L’Olam has been making efforts to secure pledges for bequests to Ohr Kodesh … and 53 families have so far responded and we thank those families very much. Eventually these bequests will provide a long-term foundation that will sustain us well into the future. We thank co-chairs Phil Schulman and Chuck Fax for their extraordinary efforts in coordinating this program.

Continued financial health allows us to provide the high level of programming that our congregation has grown to expect.  This year Ellen Elow-Mintz organized a series of Holocaust book reviews, culminating in a talk with a hero who saved 669 children. And we continue to have a very successful and meaningful Rosh Chodesh series, planned by Elana Sandler and Marcela Kogan,  with 20 women gathering each month to learn about topics infused with a Jewish Flavor.  And then there is the newest addition to our mosaic; the brand new Mentsch club.  We look forward to the new energy … and literally, “manpower”, that this group will bring to Ohr Kodesh.  

Adult education and serious torah study are important aspects of the programming of Ohr Kodesh – and we thank Rabbi Fishman and Richard Friedman for leading many of these classes. We thank Adult Education chair Joel Schwartz for his selection of thought-provoking guest lecturers throughout the year.

Thanks to the generosity of the Washington Nationals and the Lerner Family, Ohr Kodesh went to the Ballpark in June! Over 300 Congregants and their families were again able to enjoy a game at Nats stadium, and the Nats won again!

During the past year, we have made many physical improvements to our facility. This year we have replaced much of our HVAC equipment and lighting … and these are saving energy and reducing our expenses. We improved our WiFi access and added cameras to our Chapel and Sanctuary which will enable us to live stream events. For these improvements we owe a great debt of gratitude to Michael Lerner, and the “House committee.”  Huge thanks go to Ted and Mark Lerner, who have consistently offered their expertise and resources to ensure that our facility is properly maintained.

On a somber, but grateful note, we acknowledge the service of our Chevrah Kadisha, whose work on a moment’s notice, goes beyond the call of duty.  There are many people to thank who do this sacred work, but I especially want to acknowledge the co-chairs of the committee, Gidon Van Emden and Rochelle Testa.  I also want to thank the co-chairs of our Chesed committee, Elisabeth Boas and Joan Levy, who quietly carry out the work of helping our members who need visits, meals and rides.

The Ohr Kodesh community deeply believes in doing chesed and social action work throughout the year.  Only days ago, our congregants, led by Ed Langer and in conjunction with JSSA, helped to assemble and deliver bags of Rosh Hashanah items to families in need.  When a family in the congregation has a baby or an illness, the Ohr Kodesh family immediately steps in to provide meals. People often race to the TakeThemAMeal website to sign up to make sure that they get a date to make a meal - and then people email the coordinator when there are no dates left to ask them to add more!

An anecdote that I would like to share with you illustrates the amazing generosity of the Ohr Kodesh community.  Recently, a single parent put out a request for names of babysitters for Sunday afternoon childcare, as she needed to work for series of weeks.  Instead of congregants providing names of babysitters, they offered to host the child, and within a matter of an hour, all the weeks were filled with offers! That, is the amazing volunteer spirit that we have within our walls.  

Another chesed/social action project that the shul is involved with is the HIAS Resettlement Campaign. Ohr Kodesh is helping to support the resettlement of a family that arrived from Iraq this summer. We are proud to be part of their transition to The USA- helping them to learn English, navigate life in America, secure jobs, and help the children to start elementary school. We thank Lisa Klappel, Simma Kupchan and Bob Hyams for leading this effort. We also want to thank the head of the Social Action committee, Aron Krasnopoler, for all of his work.

This chesed project brings me to an important initiative that I want to share with you:  Our learning theme for this year, 5778 is Kol nediv libo, contributing as your heart moves you. Let’s explore together how each person’s volunteer efforts helps us to build a stronger community. We look forward to engaging in discussions, classes and lectures this year about how volunteering will strengthen our community.  When we give of ourselves, we in turn, gain from giving.  Think about how much time you can contribute this year: do you have an hour to volunteer to support an activity, or help in the office? Do you have several hours to plan a program or lead a class? Contact me and let’s discuss how you can be a part of the Year of the Volunteer.

            Ohr Kodesh is a remarkable place.  It is not because of our beautiful building, our excellent programs, or even due to our inspiring religious services.  It is each of YOU who makes Ohr Kodesh a special and holy place. We have so much to celebrate and be thankful for as we enter 5778, as one community, as one family of Ohr Kodesh. I wish all of you a sweet and happy New Year. 

Ohr Kodesh Congregation

8300 Meadowbrook Lane
Chevy Chase, MD 20815
Phone: (301) 589-3880
Fax:  (301) 495-4801

Email: executivedirector@

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