I enter my second year as your President, a little older and a lot wiser. I have learned much, made my share of mistakes but come away from my first year more excited and optimistic about our congregation than I have ever been.
We experienced together a year of great transition and great success. We honored Cantor Aronson with events so moving, so exciting and so community building that they will long be remembered. We diligently and thoughtfully searched for a new cantor…and we made the right choice in Cantor Rebecca Moses.
Our preschool thrived, our religious school has turned the corner , is now a beacon of pride and on the cutting edge of real educational innovation.
Our religious services including our high holy day and B’nai Mitzvah services are regularly outstanding.
We had a banner year for adult education. We are now “Green Certified”. A true first thanks to our green team.
Our Women’s Connection which remains exciting and vibrant, and I am still trying to get an invitation. And the guys through our fall and spring sports events are developing real bonds and community.
Our long term investments are ably watched over by experts who make up our Gates of Israel Board of trustees.
And I am proud of our increase commitment to Israel, through the Stand Up for Israel initiative and our increased presence at AIPAC.
And this year, with the aid of a $75,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, we will become more secure.
We did all of this while remaining fiscally responsible, meeting the financial restraints imposed by our budget.
This success does not happen in a vacuum. It happens because all 3 pillars of the Temple organization, staff, clergy and lay leaders work seemlessly and unselfishly for the good of our congregation.
How fortunate are we to have Leslie Sporn as our Executive Director. Yes she sweats and solves the big issues, the building, the budgets, membership, collections, but she frets about the littlest things. Example, last Friday night, at the service for the installation of Cantor Moses, Leslie ran out in the middle of services to buy more cookies for the Oneg. That is dedication.
I need to express a very special thanks to Sunny Seglin. Not only does she make sure our Clergy are where they need to be and get done what need to get done, she puts together The Bulletin and with a smile and a poem, compels all of us who write articles, to get them in on time.
Year in and year out, our Pre School is the most exciting and innovative school of its kind. Carol Paster is one of a kind and we are so lucky to have her.
There is no dispute that our Religious School needed work, and change. It came last year with the arrival of our new Director Mindy Scheff. What a difference a year makes. Mindy has changed the direction of the Religious School dramatically. We are on our way. There is a new spirit of excitement found in the teachers, the parents and our kids. Mindy’s efforts have been nothing short of amazing.
There has been no let up on success with both an adult education and STISY programs. Tracy Horwitz is an integral part of the success of these programs and our kids just love her.
There are many of us who love this congregation but no one’s feelings for TSTI exceed that of Cantor Finn. I have such respect for her. Her role as Cantor, her voice at Saturday B’na Mitzvah, her role getting our kids ready for their big day. She is an indispensible member of our team.
I have tried over the last year to understand the needs and concerns of the parents of our Religious School children. I could never have done that without the advice and guidance of Rabbi Miller. So many temple families are moved by the beauty and sincerity she brings to every service and pastoral events both here at TSTI or at a family home during times of loss.
Now Rabbi Cohen about you I get to hear one common complaint. There is not enough of you. The teaching, the sermons, visits to the hospital, attendance at Board meeting, leading our community to AIPAC, to Israel and soon to Cuba, . Isn’t there technology for cloning you? In all seriousness, we have an inspiring and brilliant Rabbi leading us and I am fortunate to have him as a friend and partner in our holy work.
Working with these professions is a pleasure. They make our job so much easier. Our job, as lay leaders, is to respect their time: to have them focus on the most important; and make sure they get the time off to rest so that when they are working at TSTI they are always at their best.
Whatever success we have had is because so many Temple members step up and agreed to be lay leaders. I have an outstanding Executive Committee and Board of Trustees. Unlike me, many of our leaders have children at home and their lives are pulled in a thousand different ways. Yet their commitment to TSTI in time and energy is amazing. I am so excited for those who are new to leadership positions and look forward to working with them. I am especially fortunate to have so many volunteers who serve on committees. They do the work , get it done allowing me to watch in awe. Some examples: an adult education committee which produces excellent speakers and avenues for learning year in and year out; a finance committee which watches over over every nickel we receive and spend; a dues adjustment committee which acts in confidence and with compassion. And in this past year, a special committee who searched and found the perfect Cantor – what a job. And the many volunteers who helped make Cantor Aronson’s retirement such a success – a remarkable achievement.
Success does not stand alone; there are great challenges ahead. Economic times are hard and we can expect that the need for dues adjustments will be with us for many years to come. Our membership numbers have been in decline. We have cut back our staff and sometimes programming and we continue to look at tightening our belt. We need to reverse the cycle of our membership. So we have invested in professional public relation help and now have a part time membership co-coordinator, Robin Osmun, on board. We now have the tools. But we need every TSTI member to be an ambassador to our neighbors. We have something special to offer – we need to get folks in the door to see and experience it.
And we have to do more, much more, to retain our existing members; to excite them, to get them more involved so that Temple membership is not just a matter of discretionary spending but rather a center place of their family’s life.
Yes, many pitfalls and dangers lie ahead but I am convinced we will meet the challenges; we will solve the problems and we will go from strength to strength. I know this because of the people I work with every day, every staff person, the clergy and my friends who share position of leadership with me.
As for me, I know that all of you have my back, But the truth is, it is my family that always holds me up: Dara, Brad and Stephenie, I am so proud of you all and thankful for all of your support.
Ellen, who is the love of my life, and I have a routine. On Sunday we go through the calendar for the week – what night I will make it home for dinner – not often. Despite this time away, she is always encouraging. She is my sounding board for ideas and my occasional frustrations. She is my conscience telling me that when in doubt, do the right thing. She must have some secret means of communication with Rabbi Cohen – because inevitably when she tells me that I am doing too much and need to step back, the next day I hear from Rabbi Cohen saying the same thing.
So this new year is upon us. Our temple families are eager for us to lead; to make TSTI better tomorrow than it was today, welcoming to all regardless of financial circumstances ,proud of the diversity among our members; respectful of our history and tradition, but eager to improvise, to experiment, to improve. Problem will arise but they can and will be solved, one family at a time.
We are involved in holy work. Let’s all strive to be worthy of the challenge.
Shabbat Shalom and L’shanah Tovah