Adapted from the Installation remarks on June 24, 2011
After the July 2010 Board of Directors Meeting, there was an internal workshop to help focus the Board and set some priorities for the year. We divided into two groups and spent an hour discussing our vision for the Temple. A series of questions was used to generate the discussion, the first of which was very basic and broad: What is the purpose of the Temple? Why are we here? After some structured idea generation and discussion, we voted and ranked the thoughts presented to develop some numerical analysis and the results were not surprising.
The two top concepts describing Temple Beth Sholom’s ultimate mission were very closely ranked with 30% more points than the next nearest answer. The number one concept of our mission was to maintain a house to share prayer, ritual, tradition, and celebration. The second concept, very close behind, was our current motto of to create a caring community. The terms “thoughts”, “concepts”, and “issues” are used to describe the results because they are not survey results or absolute answers. Rather they are truly ideas and broad concepts assembled by a diverse group of our Temple’s leaders representing a cross section of our Congregation.
In the first thought, I particularly like the words house and share. House, because it proscribes familiarity. Our Temple, although certainly a formal structure with a formal sanctuary and classrooms with hard chairs, is thought of by our congregants as a house or a home. It is warm, welcoming, and a place everyone is comfortable in. It is truly the ultimate compliment for any organization to be able to make a formal place of religious worship into a home.
Share also has special meaning. It implies community, friendship, and fellowship. It describes an openness to others that is unique in this world that branded a whole generation of people born over a 30-year period the “Me Generation.” It reinforces our traditions of community prayer, and innately invites others to join us. It again reflects a certain warmness and familiarity that is hard to achieve in what would otherwise be a cold, formal building.
The runner up idea, create a caring community, combines some of the ideas from house and share very nicely with the use of the two words caring and community. We are not a bunch of strangers gathered in room once a week, or more, to pray in the same physical space. We are a unified group of individuals, with common interests, linked by a common past, present, and future. We express concern over each other’s well being, help each other in times of need, and support each other physically, emotionally, and socially.
We really have a great thing going on here. If people truly understood what it was like to be a part of our community here, they would be knocking down the doors to get in. It people really understood what it means to be a part of Temple Beth Sholom, our membership would be growing, not contracting.
When I spoke last year, I talked about the need for people to become part of our community by getting involved with services and how the old saying “distance makes the heart grow fonder” does not apply to faith. In order to build the strength in our congregation, we need to demonstrate why we are a home, what sharing means, how we care for each other, and the greatness of our community. And we cannot do any of that without people giving it a chance; without people coming for a Shabbat service or a minyan; without people joining together share a meal.
We had great success this past year in getting people to come to services and feel the spirit or ruach of our congregation. With the help of the Men’s Club, Sisterhood, Adult Education, and particularly the Hebrew School we were able to re-introduce the beauty of Shabbat to some people who may have allowed it to grow distant. We were able to build community through a shared Kiddush lunch, or a festive Hanukkah meal. As Ritual Vice President Bryan Pines eloquently stated at the annual meeting, there is something very special about benching Birkat Hamazon with 30 people after Kiddush on Shabbat.
It is truly wonderful that we have been able to reinvigorate some of our existing membership; but it is not enough to sustain us. As our population continues to age, we must focus on attracting new members. As an overall trend, young Jewish families are not joining Temples. The demographic study showed us that, not only are they not joining, they largely do not exist as a demographic group. Young people are not settling in Connecticut, and young Jewish families are certainly no exception. But, we certainly know anecdotally that there are young Jewish people around the area that are not affiliated with a Temple. And our goal this year is to make every effort to find them and recruit them. The significant reduction in dues for young singles and families, coupled with the first year discount, makes joining and trying us out a very low cost proposition. We have a lot to offer younger people. We have a large pool of older members that can offer career guidance and coaching, we offer leadership positions and meaning volunteer opportunities that help people mature and grow in their personal and professional lives, and most importantly, we provide a spiritual grounding that counters the Me Generation mentality that brutally wears people down.
Over the summer, the Membership Vice Presidents have been assembling a diverse committee to assist them with this challenge. Ideally, we will have peers from all age brackets and demographics represented on the committee so prospective members will always find someone to relate to. Each of you will also be critical in this process. We all need to make sure we are referring names to the committee to follow up with, participating in membership events, and consciously representing and selling our home when we are in the community at large. It is a big challenge, but as a community we can handle it.
As I conclude my fist year as President, I would like to thank a few people. First, of course, is my family who has supported me through this year, patiently arranged rides when I was out at meetings, waited for me for dinner, and generally just put up with me. None of the success of this past year would have been possible without a great team, and I would like to thank everyone who took a leadership role this year. The list is too long to mention, so I won’t name all the names, but it really is the team effort, from Adult Education to the Youth Commission that makes this Temple so special. Special thanks to Bryan Pines who coordinated the Ritual affairs so well, Michael Brooks who was always ready to pitch in with any communications related issues, David Danilowitz who kept track of our finances and budget, Ira Kleinfeld who professionally and compassionately dealt with our financial consideration and sensitive money matters, Howard Spaner confidently took over stewardship of our facilities, and of course Stuart Katz and Shira Rosenblatt who said “yes” whenever they were asked to do something this year and were always a source of reason and sanity. Finally, a special thanks to Rabbi Scolnic for being a great confidant, advisor, proof reader, and friend.