|I took two photos at the Gala--this is one of them.|
Tzohoraim tovim, good afternoon, it is truly a blessing to celebrate with you all tonight. Thank you to the CBI Gala committee which has worked tirelessly for the last 18 months to help CBI celebrate this remarkable achievement. Thank you to the staff and volunteers who have made today and everyday possible at CBI. Thank you to our honored guests, our elected representatives and my rabbinic colleagues who have blessed us with their presence today.
I am Rabbi Philip Weintraub, for the last half decade the spiritual leader of CBI, here in beautiful, sunny St Petersburg. At CBI, I have been proud to ensure our continuing successful operations throughout COVID, pivoting to hybrid prayer and study, while blessing the community with opportunities to gather, to pray, to learn and to grow. I have been blessed to bring new opportunities to CBI through my outreach work in our community, showing St Petersburg that CBI is a vital source of inspiration and Jewish values. I have found great joy in being a part of our members' life cycles, getting to know people from all over, and welcoming them to the amazing community that is CBI.
For one hundred years, Congregation B’nai Israel, has been a kehillah kedoshah, a holy community, in the city of St Petersburg. For a century, we have shared our Jewish values through education, prayer, charity, friendship and collaboration. We have helped to found Benjamin Tower, Menorah Life, Chapel Hill Memorial Garden, Pinellas County Jewish Day School (of blessed memory) and our successful Pauline Rivkind Talmud Torah. Members of CBI have truly built our city and Pinellas county, developing successful businesses, institutions, housing and so much for our residents here.
Many of our earliest rabbis, including Rabbis Lesserox, Salzman, Lerhrer, Rothenberg, Kaufman, Kleinfeld, Ostbaum, and Lederman, zichronam livracha, served briefly. In stark contrast, the last half century has had remarkable rabbinic stability. Rabbi Morris Chapman, of blessed memory, and our beloved Rabbi Emeritus Jacob Luski demonstrated decades of devoted service. I strive to emulate the latters’ example, innovating and helping lead CBI through the opportunities of our next century. Today’s celebration is not only of the successes of the last hundred years, but about the path we chart next. Celebrating today, we are making the commitment to be a center of Jewish values, Jewish prayer--Jewish living for all who live here. We are egalitarian. Our members love their Jewish traditions. Some came to them in adulthood, while others were born into our shared faith. Our member families may be interfaith, LGBTQ+, single, married, young or young at heart--but no matter their background, we strive to be home to all right here! Our Jewish values unite us. Our commitment to education, to Gd, to Torah, to Israel unites us. Our commitment to our spiritual home unites us.
Looking at the next hundred years, growth will continue both in the physical world, as well as the online one! We will continue to expand our educational offerings online, while ensuring many opportunities to gather physically. We will use technology to connect to more people, while not forgetting the human connection that is so vital to our faith. Reaching out to God, we will show that Jewish values ensure spiritual, physical and mental wellbeing in this complicated world. We will continue to build our partnerships with our organizations that share our values to strengthen our mission, our desire to serve the Jewish people and to make this world a better place.
The world today feels challenging. Far too many have forgotten that we are not merely partisan warriors, but that we are human beings, who all have worth not only for their achievements, but rather because we are ALL created in the image of the Divine. Every one of us, regardless of race, sexuality, faith, gender, or economic position, has the spark of the Divine. We must remember the holiness of one another in every interaction. Here at CBI, we have the potential to heal our world, to work together for the betterment of society--and the betterment of ourselves. Let us continue to pause and see the incredible blessings of this world. As strange as it may sound, we live in a time with more peace, stability and prosperity than almost anytime in our history. Let us open our eyes and see those blessings.
May we go from strength to strength and celebrate another century together!
Without further ado, I invite the rabbis to rise and recite hamotzi with me, as we prepare to enjoy our beautiful dinner.
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