Good evening and thank you for joining us. Looking back through the life of our congregation this year – it has been filled with challenges and solutions, controversy and debate, sensitivity and sorrow, excitement and triumph. Similar to other synagogues and akin to many years in our own history, this year was a test of our character, fortitude and vision. And we have faired very well.
We have ably weathered a changing economy, instituting both savings and revenue raising ideas that will hold us in good stead in the coming years. We successfully launched new initiatives in the areas of education, membership, retention, finance and social action. Amidst a sea of activity, we learned from an incredible array of scholars, balanced our budget and lent our congregational and individual voices to important issues in our community, our region and in support of Israel.
Our year was filled with amazing services, programs and events. Among them, we completed and began to use our own beautiful new Torah, gathered our snowbirds in Florida, invited our youth group leaders to the Board of Trustees table, established a new prayer garden, successfully completed the first year of our GreenFaith Certification, stocked and staffed the interfaith food pantry, paid our construction loan in full, became the first ABLE awarded congregation in Metrowest, ran our first congregational 5K, made it possible to make tributes and pay our bills and fees on line via credit card and, in the next few weeks, we fully expect to close on the sale of the Montrose House.
Our goals for this year compelled us to analyze our structure, remain fiscally prudent, find innovative ways to attract new and retain our current membership; to become ever more environmentally conscious and to continue to move our congregation forward. We established an organizational effectiveness committee that worked tirelessly to bring us thoughtful recommendations on structure, positions and priorities; re-vamped our finance procedures, engaged the URJ in successful negotiations, increased events and activities with the rabbis for prospective and current members, and ramped up our social action initiatives. As always, our ongoing underlying objectives are to facilitate easy communications by, between and among us, to maintain and enrich our community and to be and make good Jewish families.
As you will hear in a few moments, our results are solid and will hold us in good stead for the coming year. To ensure our congregation’s continued financial stability, we took some very specific actions for the 2011-2012 fiscal year. First, we successfully concluded negotiations with the URJ for substantially reduced MUM dues for a three-year period beginning in 2009 and taking us through 2012. This agreement, which we believe will be formally ratified by the URJ at its June meeting, saves the congregation significant sums, meeting our budget forecasts for last year, this year and the coming year. Second, we analyzed our staffing structure and looked at the congregation’s priorities for the years ahead. In this regard, we are going from fixed to variable costs for one position and lowering the cost of another. In addition, there are two other position changes in the works, which will be identified and implemented before the new budget cycle begins. We recognize that this part of the solution is difficult for both employees and our Temple families – and are doing our best to be sensitive to these realities. Third, we addressed revenue raising by beginning a sustaining membership approach, initiating web advertising and instituted an earlier, better and more consistent dues collection process. Fourth, through David Baum’s leadership, Gates has instituted a new investment policy to protect and better manage our funds. In addition, although we have tried hard to hold dues steady and were able to do so last year, this year, there will be a small increase.
Amidst a sea of competing priorities, we had to choose some and forgo others; and our officers and trustees were up to the task. Our partnership with clergy and senior staff helped us to make good decisions, mitigate impact upon our membership and stay true to our mission statement. It also helped ensure that our congregation continues to grow, advance and innovate.
My sincerest thanks go to the OE, finance and executive committees, who jumped into these important issues, showing true leadership from all corners. Unafraid of debate, willing to listen to many differing opinions and able to see the issues on many levels, the clergy, Leslie and the individuals sitting at the executive committee table focused on one common goal – that which is in Temple’s best interests. They are a dedicated, well meaning, talented and undaunted team – and we were so lucky to have them to lead us this year. And, to the Board of Trustees – many, many thanks. Set before you this year was an enormous range of complex issues for which the solutions were not at all readily apparent – and you have responded with important questions, poignant comments and progressive thoughtful decisions.
To use a famous quote – “it takes a village” to successfully run and maintain a congregation like ours – to meet our needs, engage our children, care for those who hit difficult times… to ignite the spark of learning, to be a warm and inviting congregation and to build for the future. It is always a huge risk to publicly thank individuals in an organization like ours, which has the great fortune of benefitting from so many inspiring volunteers. The danger is that someone will feel left out or forgotten –something we try so diligently to avoid. Our congregation benefits from and we are grateful for the gifts that so many of you and countless others give to this community in time, talent and energy and to all of you- we offer our heartfelt thanks.
Some are more visible than others. Some of the work is more glamorous, interesting or publicly recognized – and some is not. In fact, much of what helps us to be the very special community that we are, is behind the scenes, time consuming and at times, thankless. So I could not let this risk preclude us from shining a light on a few unsung heroes, whose consistent, tireless and not necessarily glamorous work we might be tempted to take for granted, because they do it so well, so humbly and with little fanfare.
Hats off to Jesse Bayer, Max Weisenfeld and Joel Scharf for their tremendous attention to our finances.
Kudos to Debbie Bernstein, who played an integral role in so many things, including the successful launch of our online payment system, her total mastery and dedication to our 5K, and her willingness to sensitively and carefully led shiva minyans for members of our congregation.
More than 400 thanks (one for each child K-8) to Andrea McCauley, who runs carpool line through rain, snow, heat and some difficult parents/caregivers, keeping our kids safe week after week. We need no accident or near miss to recognize the magnitude of this contribution.
Our appreciation also goes to Marcia Weinstein, who devotes hours to running the gift shop and is a cornerstone for Women’s Connection.
And to Jed Nussbaum, our numbers guru for both Religious and Preschool – whose insights, attention to detail and great skill have so positively impacted the budget, and the broader scope of these two enormous communities within our congregation.
Some of our best tikkun olam lessons come to us from Ray and Bettye Green, who quietly but incredibly consistently care for and about so many of our members, touching one person and one family at a time. They bring and drive others, shop for people who cannot do it for themselves, reach out, check in – and ensure the wellbeing of our members as though they were part of their family. In this regard, they are very real role models for all of us.
Speaking of models – a tip of the hat to Andy Nadel, who had an idea for an event to bring the men of our congregation together and who did everything there was to do to make it happen. He conceived of this notion, persuaded his friends to help him, organized, scheduled and planned it—and brought more than 50 men together to celebrate March Madness with Rabbi Cohen at Temple. Like Nike – Andy is the epitome of “Just Do It.”
And finally, to Matty Goldberg, whose dedication, efforts and fabulous spirit reach across the entire gamut of synagogue life – week after week, month after month and year after year. Know it or not, almost all of us have been touched in some way by Matty – and for this, we are very grateful.
It has been an honor to watch, work with and learn from these quintessential volunteers.
Turning to education at all levels:
Beginning with the Iris Family Center For Early Childhood Education, which we affectionately refer to as Preschool: What can I say about Carol that has not been said before? Perhaps it is that she truly embodies the imaginative, playful, and energetic characteristics of a preschooler combined with the intellect, passion, and talent of a great Educator. There is so much activity in preschool that it could literally take up my entire report. Just a sampling: this year, through an anonymous donation, we “seeded’ a Learning Garden for digging, play, planting and learning about the environment; our preschool was selected for the PJ Library Goes to School pilot program, which sends free Jewish books monthly to children ages birth to 5 ½ years old; the 4’s took a virtual trip to Israel; the entire school learned hands-on about Habitat for Humanity, and we ran 5 successful Saturday morning Shabbat Story time programs. Carol has also helped build a much-needed and appreciated bridge to religious school, teaching kindergarten this year. I could go on – but suffice it to say that our congregation truly knows how very blessed we are to have Carol as our Preschool Director. Kudos and many thanks to the PS Board, chaired by Carrie Nussbaum and Erica Barton, who programmed and fundraised all throughout the year, finished with a terrific Spring Fling last Saturday, upgraded preschool communications to parents and the overall temple community and enhanced our preschool’s reputation in a myriad of ways.
Turning to the Linda and Rudy Slucker Religious School, also a hub of activity: Under Pia’s direction, we educated more than 450 students in grades K-12, had a wonderful K-3 library program organized by Shelby Ozer; and installed a new computer lab for individualized Hebrew learning and Judaic studies research. The 7th graders participated in a life skills learning series, which included programs on public speaking, cyber bullying and etiquette for their upcoming simchas. Our RS students raised more than $750 to help Friends of Israel Firefighters in response to the Carmel Forest fires; and they consistently filled the food bins competing in our Bring One challenge to help replenish the interfaith food pantry in Orange. In fact, to finish the year strong, between Purim and the end of the school year last Sunday, our RS students had donated more than 1,800 food items for the food pantry.
With much pride, we welcomed 55 new b’nai mitzvah into our community. Two weeks ago, we sang and laughed and prayed with 12 amazing seniors as they led the service that marked their graduation from Hebrew High School. And in a few short weeks, on Shavuout, 15 fabulous 10th graders will lead us through their confirmation service. The bonds that are forged in these two years, the connection to Temple, to Judaism, to one another- send a searing message to our kids that although they are soon off to take their places elsewhere, this is a community to which they can always come home.
While Pia will be leaving us at the end of this school year to pursue other aspirations, we are indebted to her for her leadership and hard work throughout her tenure; and we wish her much success in her next endeavor. Our search committee has completed its interviews and we had several strong choices from which to select. I am delighted to announce that we will be making an offer to a new RS Director this week.
As you know, youth group is such an important part of the educational and social component of Temple. Our Junior Youth Group was part of the 8th grade Religious School program; and this year, our Hebrew High School Senior class created, implemented and led several activities for the 8th grade class .
STISY has had a fabulous year. With 14 board members representing all of the high school classes and 4 different communities, STISY members staffed High Holy Day Children’s Programs, had 4 pizza parties in conjunction with Hebrew High School; and held monthly events advertised to more than 150 teens. A few highlights include great leadership opportunities and mentoring, a sold out Midnight Run to homeless friends in NYC and the annual retreat at Camp Bryn Mawr, attended by more than 40 teens. Many thanks to Tracy Horwitz and Rabbi Miller for their incredible work with ALL of our kids.
Our Adult Ed Program is surely a great model for our kids in the area of life-long learning. Chaired by Laurie Landau and Susan Siegeltuch, the committee brought us three moderated films and five authors and speakers who engaged us in dialogue on Middle East politics, reinvigorating Jewish life, Tikkun Olam in the developing world and Jewish resilience. Notables among our scholars were Ruth Messinger and author Anita Diamant – both of whom completed this wonderful series on very high notes.
The year in review would not be complete without a word about Women’s Connection. It remains a cornerstone of the congregation, inviting and including women of all generations to pray, cook, exercise, read and celebrate together all year long. This year, Women’s Connection had two book clubs, brought us a spa evening, a beautiful Chanukah service, Passover cooking and of course, our wonderful WC Seder. WC helps adorn the tables at our simchas, offers scholarships that send our kids to Jewish summer camps and most importantly, weaves its net and relationships throughout our community so that all are welcome.
Under the leadership of Judy Epstein, Rabbi Miller, Cantor Finn, Ellen Blake, our Social Worker Beth Sandweiss and the caring community, we continue to integrate tikkun olam and social action into the fabric of our community. We continue to watch over and try to fill the needs of our own congregation on many levels. And then we reach out — Our drives have truly benefited the food bank and interfaith pantry, the latter of which is run by the infatiguable Janet Schwamm on the last Wednesday of each month. Thanks to Lisa and Rob Ozer, this is the 13th year that we were able to provide hundreds of turkeys and trimmings to less fortunate families at Thanksgiving. Once again, our members built houses through Habitat for Humanity, spent time with young disadvantaged children at St. Ann’s, answered the needs of the Orange fire victims, and performed a multitude of mitzvot in animal shelters, homes for the elderly, hospitals, schools and agencies.
Our leaders, committees and boards bring us multiple ways of reaching out and into our member families to draw them in, keep them involved, get to know them and make sure they get to know us. Not in spite of, but because of the size of our congregation, there are so many ways to interest and involve people here. We recognize that one size does not fit all. Meditation, minyan services, committee work, torah study, school board, mid-winter socials, programs and projects of all shapes and subjects abound here. And tomorrow, we will come together as a community to honor some outstanding temple members – Barbara and David Stoller, Mimi Braun and Breena Fishback, for their spirit and dedication to Temple. There is something here for everyone – and it is not hard to find.
Of course, the clergy is the biggest draw for our congregation. Ever apparent and even more so when we are in need, as we are right now, when our congregation struggles with the loss of three wonderful young adults in a period of less than 6 months. While we all have our own reasons for respecting, admiring and wanting to be close to our rabbis and cantors, I am sure that each of my predecessors would tell you that what you see in our clergy from this chair is even more humbling and, reinforces just how lucky we are to have this very talented and devoted team. Their warmth, wisdom and personal attention fill our lives in so many situations – adding to our joy and lessening our hardships. They lead us to considerate and well- reasoned decisions, counsel us to be gracious and teach us to look beyond that which is closest to our reach. Having had the good fortune of sitting with Cantor in many private meetings this year – it is so very clear as to why we want him to remain in our midst through retirement – as he is such an integral part of the fabric of our congregation.
None of what we accomplished this year happened in a vacuum — and none of it would have been possible without a true partnership among those who teach, lead and help us, both spiritually and functionally, and those whose skills, talents, ideas and persistence were voluntarily and graciously lent to us without reservation this past year. As a result of this partnership, the state of our union – our congregation is steady and strong.
No temple president succeeds – or even survives without a strong and thoughtful voice in the Executive Director’s chair. We are incredibly fortunate, not only to have Rabbi Cohen at the spiritual helm, but to have Leslie at the administrative helm as well. Our Temple meets its everyday challenges because of Leslie. Our lay leaders can succeed in their objectives with her help. Our administrative and custodial staff can help us because she leads them. And she is truly devoted to this congregation.
We all come to this job with different backgrounds, ideas and expectations. But we each come to our terms as president with at least one premise in common—we hope to leave the Temple a little better than we found it – offering something of ourselves that we hope will benefit the congregation –– no matter how large or small the impact. And, I would imagine that like me, each president finds an unexpected gift—that we have received from this experience and the congregation so much more than we could ever have hoped to give back.
Thank you for the opportunity to lead this awesome congregation. It has been an experience I will never forget.