Wolfson inspires B’nai Amoona audience


There is a need to move from synagogues of programs to synagogues of relationships.

This call-to-action was issued by Dr. Ron Wolfson at Congregation B’nai Amoona on Saturday evening prior to Selichot services. Wolfson was in town as the featured speaker for the congregation’s second annual Rabbi Bernard Lipnick Foundation for Conservative Judaism scholar-in-residence weekend. This appeal, based on his book God’s To-Do List: 103 Ways to be an Angel and Do God’s Work on Earth, was made during the third in a series of four talks that Wolfson gave over the weekend to prepare the community for the High Holy Days.

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“I thought it would be cool if congregations would give out the book at the High Holy Days,” Wolfson said, “and read one chapter a day, since there are 10 items on the to-do list, during the 10 Days of Awe.” B’nai Amoona, through the Lipnick Foundation, did just that by issuing a copy of the book to all members of the congregation. Wolfson wrote this book in response to the popular book The Purpose Driven Life by Dr. Rick Warren. “This concept of how to do God’s work is simple, but profound,” Wolfson said. “I wanted to write a Jewish version of Rick’s book.”

Wolfson thinks the Jewish community is ready to hear the message that being a Jew goes beyond the rituals of Judaism. “We repair the world to bring God’s presence in the world,” Wolfson said. He said that everyone is born with the spark of divinity within. To light that spark, to be God’s partner, people need to be like God. And to be like God, people have to act like God.

Summarizing the key points in his book, Wolfson highlighted the 10 things people can do to become God’s partner. Beginning with the first lines of Genesis and continuing from there, he outlined a plan for partnering with God. “The first thing God did was create. So create,” Wolfson said. He urged the attendees to examine how each of them is creative and how they share their creativity with others.

The second item in the to-do list, bless, follows the second thing God did after creating the world. Wolfson provided examples of how people can give blessings in their daily lives. He continued to describe the remaining eight things people can do to be God’s partner and gave everyday examples of how to fulfill the list: Rest (honor the Sabbath), determine your call to do something, care about others, comfort people, repair the word, wrestle with challenges, give of yourself, and forgive. “The High Holy Days are about return and renewal,” Wolfson said. “You have to forgive others and forgive yourself.”

Wolfson was engaging, funny, passionate, and entertaining as he spread his serious message about people being agents of change. He also was happy to be back at B’nai Amoona where he once trained under Rabbi Bernard Lipnick, now rabbi emeritus. “It has been like a homecoming for me,” Wolfson said. “I am so honored to be back here. I learned everything I know about education from Rabbi Lipnick so to come back here to honor him and to see the new leadership is really wonderful.”

Those who attended Wolfson’s talks were equally happy with his visit. Gloria Spitzer, who along with her husband Sanford and her sister-in-law Adele Roman started the Lipnick Foundation, said the weekend exceeded her expectations. “Ron is fabulous,” she said. “I appreciate being Jewish more and more. In his to-do list he brings out a lot of day-to-day ways you can act and feel Jewish.” Lenny Frankel said that the congregation has already felt the impact of Wolfson’s teachings. “We have started to implement some of the suggestions he advocates on how to be a welcoming congregation,” Frankel said. Wolfson’s talk on Saturday morning was “The Spirituality of Welcoming: How to Transform a Congregation into a Sacred Community.”

Event co-chairs, Jane Rubin and Karen Stern were very pleased with the numbers of attendees and the congregation’s responsiveness to Wolfson. “He connected so well with people,” Rubin said. “And by having this event over the Selichot weekend it introduced so many people in our congregation and community to the service. I think that bringing in an outside speaker during such a spiritual weekend prior to the high holidays is a great idea.” She also credits the success of the weekend to Rabbi Carnie Rose. “The fact that he is so welcoming of other speakers is incredible. In fact, I’ve already received e-mails from him asking who we’re going to bring in next year.”

Rose said they learned an important lesson from the weekend: when a congregation brings in a quality program, people will embrace it. “People are seeking knowledge,” Rose said. “It was appropriate that we brought in Rabbi Wolfson for this weekend because during Elul we are supposed to learn special material to be prepared for the holidays.” He summed up the success of the second annual scholar-in-residence event when he said: “You know it’s a good weekend when the crowds grow at each talk.”