Several weeks ago during a particularly intensive time for board work, I was the Shabbat Bimah representative, which happens frequently but hadn’t that month for various reasons. In the business of governance, packed with meetings, emails, texts, writing, and planning, I must confess that my spiritual connection to Jewish practice had been, well, lost in the shuffle. And I want to further confess that I didn’t even know it was lost because time in governance and planning the very special event with Jill Rich, honoring the holy work of Ruth and Steve Dickstein, had been importantly up front and center.
But on the Shabbat Bimah, I reconnected to the “why” of my work and it’s purpose: strengthening Judaism and spiritual bonds to people in our community, embracing all who carry the ner tamid within, and tikkun olam, healing the world.
As I highlight this year’s crucial governance activities I do so with the invitation to remind us all as to “why” we do this significant work.
We commenced the year with a most audacious statement of hospitality: the High Holy Day Be Our Guest initiative. Some felt this open door policy might be a “risk”, others felt there should be no barriers to visiting or unaffiliated Jews, particularly at the High Holy Days. This was a change in culture for our community and even nationally according to feedback I’ve received from colleagues. Financially, our high holiday donations from our guests actually exceeded the amount compared to when we would essentially sell tickets to services. And the most significant result: We had the opportunity to practice welcoming guests for whom Judaism is important; we want to nurture and embrace potential new members and visitors in our community.
In October, your board, Rabbis and Executive Director participated in a retreat facilitated by our URJ representatives. We worked 7 intense with the goal of prioritizing and “planning to plan” for Temple’s future. One of our identified initiatives was leadership development. We are fortunate that Vice President Steve Shawl has assumed the lead and has successfully convened a talented task force of congregants representing all member age cohorts. They will shape and implement a leadership development program for our membership this Fall. This is a fabulous start to nurture future leaders and we are thrilled about the “yes” response by a committed planning group. Thank you Steve and the entire task force.
How can we clearly impart our identity and our message to demonstrate our spiritual and social value and relevance to potential members in today’s environment of electronic noise and competing dollar needs, and even renting rabbis? How can we convey the value Temple adds to our lives individually and in community? How can each of us be proactive ambassadors for Temple and reach out in a variety of creative ways? Donna Beyer will soon be convening an expert marketing task force including Senior Rabbi Cohon.
Dr. Jason Feld, President Emeritus has agreed to be the board liaison to that group. Those are questions the task force will grapple with; what are we doing well, (such as “taste of Judaism”) with the intention of action planning to further address these challenges.
Jim Jacobs and the membership task force facilitated a wonderful membership fair in the Fall to demonstrate who we are, and plans are to create a synergy between the membership task force, the marketing group ,follow up to potential members, and how we present ourselves. Additonally this year Carol Blatter has been fabulous in matching new members with continuing members as ambassadors and guides.
Alvin Feingold began a project of compiling material from “Conversations with Congregants” with Sallie Tofel and other lay leaders and staff, to recommend future direction for our Temple. What value do we add to our current congregants; how can we communicate this value?
In July, your board will participate in another retreat to continue the visioning and the concomitant action planning around mission, membership, marketing, and financial sustainability for the future. We’ve made a great start ; there is more work to be done.
In the stirring haskeveinu, we sing a line about “giving us shelter from life’s storms” . 15 or so years ago we were blessed that a generous congregant paid our mortgage. Through the advocacy of Board member Cary Marmis, and through clearly visible evidence in this space, our building needs repair and replacement of aging and worn out elements. We as a community must be responsible for our physical and spiritual home and we cannot take for granted this space of Judaic practice: simcha’s , prayer, learning, and other life cycle events, or ignore building issues until there is a real emergency. The board has seeded a building reserve fund in the budget as well as voting to include contributions to this fund as part of our membership commitment. For each of us it is about $8.00 per month or $100.00 per year to respectfully help sustain and care for this holy space.
For stability, continuity, and ongoing innovation for our Temple Emanu-El community, in December the Board re-negotiated and extended both of our Rabbis’ contracts. I’m very glad to report that Rabbi Educator Batsheva Appel has agreed to serve through at least June 2017. And our Senior Rabbi Samuel Cohon has agreed to continue to serve us through at least June of 2022.
We again congratulate both of you. For so many reasons our community is blessed that you are our rabbinic team!
Other highlights of this year were: reinstating 3-4x per year printed Temple Times, a gratifying response and vote of confidence about our congregation through the Chai Campaign, Chanukah , Purim, Shmita observances, Pesach celebrations, and the beautiful Dickstein event honoring two menschen in our mist.
Now some public thank you’s are in order.
Our lay leadership from the Youth Education ,Adult Education ,Bilgray and Ritual Committees, the Men’s Club, the Women of Reform Judaism, the spirituality group, social action, the ushers, greeters, candlelighters, drash writers, and kiddish groups are the lifeblood of our Temple. It is a privilege to be part of a such a vital wonderful community of good people. We deeply cherish and appreciate , Lyn Henry and the terrific ECE team, our wonderful Marjorie Hochberg , Linda Chrisler, Mila Vasser, Lindsey O’Shea, Becky Hutchison , April Bauer, Libby Quinn, Oleg Shishtovsky and the building staff. All work hard day in and day out for our congregation.
Of course, Donna Beyer is very much appreciated. She continues to work tirelessly and with deep loyalty to our congregation
Rabbi Appel has been a terrific Rabbi, role model for so many, and inspiration to our children for her hand’s on Judaism philosophy and practice. It’s been a pleasure to closely work with her over these months as she has ably led us when Rabbi Cohon was on sabbatical, and we look forward to continued inspiration and innovation at the Kurn Religious school.
Rabbi Cohon again, welcome back! We missed your presence, your energy and your teaching, and I want to personally say how much I profoundly appreciate the privilege of our continuing partnership of mutual respect on behalf of this congregation.
I want to thank Norm, my first mate. He makes everything possible.
Last year I said that Jewish governance is Jewish Practice, so I’d like to ask members of our board to stand and be recognized:, Scott Arden, Amy Beyer, Harold Blatter, Jason Feld , Jill Rich and Steve Shawl from this year’s executive committee, and Temple directors: Richard Baim, Jeff Bickart, Jerry Cohen, Norma Cohen, Alvin Feingold, Mona Gibson, Jim Jacobs, Cary Marmis, Vicki Otto, Simon Rosenblatt , Rachel Rheingold, Seth Ruskin, Sallie Tofel, Jerry Shulman. Soon we will welcome a new slate of board members joining us. As busy as we can get, we are doing holy work.
Again, what is the purpose of our work together?: strengthening Judaism, build spiritual bonds to people in our community, to embrace all who carry the ner tamid within, and tikkun olam, healing the world-together.
Thank you to each member for being here, your presence is important, and valued.