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Don's 2014 (5775) Kol Nidre Appeal Speech

10/03/2014 11:42:00 PM


Good evening everyone.  Welcome to the temporary home of The Shul of New York. 

Before I begin, I want to thank our outgoing Co-President, Kenny Bookbinder, for his years of service to the Shul.  I’d ask him to stand and be acknowledged but unfortunately he could not be here this evening.  Suffice it to say that we miss him tonight,  just as we will miss his work on the Board. 

My name is Don Brancaccio.  I am the Shul’s webmaster and recently, to my great surprise, I was invited to join the Board. 

Now I know, Web-Master sounds pretty impressive, but really, all it means is that I’m responsible for making the Shul’s website work.  It also means that I manage the Shul’s database.  So, I’m kind of like the Shul’s NSA -- You don’t know me, but I know you. 

If you like the website and you enjoy using it, please feel free to let me know.  You can email me at webmaster @   I’d love to hear from you.

And, if you hate the website or if you find it difficult to use, also, please, feel free to email me at What? Everything should be perfect? @

I’m married to the lovely and talented Shul Co-Treasurer, Joan Brancaccio.  I’m sure many of you met her on your way in tonight.  We have a son, Max, who is 29 and making his way in the world.  And we have a daughter, Isabella, who is 20, in college, and living at home.  With us.  Oyyy. 

Joan and I also manage the tickets for the HHD.  We work very hard to ensure your tickets are waiting for you when you arrive.  If there was a problem with your tickets, I’m sure it was my wife’s fault.  She’s right back there.  About this tall.  Blonde hair.  Glasses.  You can’t miss her. 

When I sat down to write this speech, pencil in hand, staring at my blank legal pad  (Anyone here under 30 --  you can ask your parents what that means).  I was transported back to a moment from high school -- to another time when I was lost and staring into space.  I had a lovely teacher who, in those moments, would came up to me and say:  Who am I?  Where am I?  Why am I here?  And then he would hit me with a big stick.  I’m kidding about the stick.  It wasn’t that big. 

So, who am I?  As you may have heard, my name is Don Brancaccio, but actually it’s Donato Brancaccio,  so it may not  come as a shock for you to learn  --  that I am not Jewish.  When I was a child, I did not hear the words punim, nunie or pulkies.  I didn’t eat gefilte fish, or kreplach, or kasha varnotchkas, vernushkies, uhh, you know what I mean, the bowtie pasta with the gravel?   

And despite the fact that my wife tells me I am well on my way to becoming an old Jewish man...  I don’t know where she gets theses fakakta ideas. 

And despite the fact that no less than our own Rabbi Burt has told me that I make the best latkes he has ever tasted --  I’m not Jewish.    

In fact, I was raised Roman Catholic.   I attended 12 years of catholic school -- all the way through high school:  an all-boys,  Catholic,  high school.  Our Lady of the Perpetual Tsuris.  In grade school I was even an altar boy.  And the answer to your question is No. 

But wait, there’s more -- I’m also an atheist.  When Rabbi Burt starts the High Holidays by saying we welcome everyone from A to Z -- he means it.  I’m the proof  --  I’m an A.  Or, as my son says, “Oh yeah, Dad, you’re definitely a big A.”

So, to recap, I am the non-Jewish atheist on the board of The Shul of New York, standing before you to deliver the Kol Nidre appeal for 5775. 

This brings me to my next question:  Why am I here?

The easy answer is that my wife and I have very dear friends on the board.  That 20 years ago my wife became an adult Bat Mitzvah with Rabbi Dennis.  That my son became a Bar Mitzvah with Rabbi Burt.  That my daughter became a Bat Mitzvah with Rabbi Dennis.  And that I know with the addition of Rabbi Matthew Reimer, there are now three rabbis looking at me and thinking, “One of these days...”

I think the answer to “Why am I here?” is the same as the answer to “Where am I?”   We are in a very special place --The Shul of New York.

It isn’t special simply because we are so very moved by the words of Rabbi Burt, and by Rabbi Matthew.  Or that we are so very uplifted by the music of our wonderful Shul Band.  And it’s not just that The Shul of New York is so, NOT, your run-of-the-mill New York synagogue.  But there is a reason. 

As an atheist, I get asked:  If you don’t believe in god, what do you believe in?   I usually answer:  “Nothing.  There are things I know and things I don’t know.  But I don’t believe in anything.”

That’s a glib answer that I use to make a point.  But to be honest, it’s not entirely accurate. 

I do believe in something.  I believe in us.  I believe in the power of a community like this Shul. 

It is a fact of biology and evolution that diversity creates strength.  And while we are certainly a diverse group of people, and the Shul is stronger for it, that’s not what makes us special.  We are a community that doesn’t merely practice tolerance.  Frankly, tolerance isn’t all that great.  We tolerate mosquitoes.  So, merely tolerating our differences isn’t much of an accomplishment. 

What’s special here, is that we come together in acceptance of each other:  rich or poor, gay or straight, atheist or believer, black or white, Jew or Gentile.  We do not tolerate our differences, we accept them.  And more importantly, we accept that we are more the same than we are different. 

I believe it is our acceptance of our commonality that makes us special.  It may not sound like much, accepting what we have in common, until you realize how much we share. 

Of course, we share what all people share -- a desire to live in good health and in peace.  But it goes deeper than that.  What we share goes beyond a common heritage, beyond a common belief system, beyond a common homeland.

We, in fact all of humanity, share more than 99% of our genetic code.  Literally, physically, what we all are, is identical. 

Genetically speaking, the differences between us are infinitesimally small.  And therefore, meaningless.   

And yet, looking at our world, it seems all too easy for us to focus on those miniscule differences rather than accept that we really are so very similar.  Sometimes it seems impossible. 

But it does not feel impossible here. 

Here, in this Shul, there is acceptance.  I feel it.  I feel accepted here.  And it is out of this feeling, this acceptance, that flows the compassion, the kindness, the understanding,
and the love for each other that we create here. 

We create it when we support each other, when we care for each other.  We create it when we share life’s moments of joy, and of crisis, and of mourning.  I believe it is in those shared moments that we are elevated.  We become more than a Shul, more than a community.  We become family. 

Why am I here?  I’m here because you are my family. 

That concludes the kumbaya portion of my remarks. 

Now I can get to the real reason I’m here:  I want your money. 

The simple truth is this Shul will not exist without your help.  As you know, we have no membership fee, no dues, no building fund.  And while lot of people volunteer their time and energy to make this Shul work, we cannot survive on good intentions alone.  We need your help, your kindness, your generosity.  We need your financial commitment to the idea that we will be here next year.  Well, not here. You know what I mean.  Heeeere.

It only takes about 20 seconds to make an online donation which you can easily do at  I hear it’s a lovely little website. 

Of course, the easiest way to help is to donate here, tonight.  At this very moment, there are lovely people in the lobby ready to gratefully accept whatever you can give.  No donation is too small.  I mean that.  Or too large.  I mean that, too.  And to make it even easier, we will come to you.  Volunteers will be walking among you right after this speech.  You’ll know them by their flowers and by their looks of pathetic desperation. 

We accept cash, checks, credit cards, jewelry, houses, cars, boats, hedge funds, really, we’ll accept anything.

Well, almost anything, as a non-profit organization, legally we cannot accept:  small animals, islands in the Pacific, bales of marijuana, or your first-born child.  It seems there’s some history about that last one especially, but that’s a story for another day. 

Thank you for being here tonight.  Thank you for listening.  Thank you in advance for your kindness and your generosity.  And thank you, for accepting my family into your family.   

Donate to the High Holiday Appeal.


Wed, July 15 2020 23 Tammuz 5780