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These are my first annual meeting remarks—so I will start with some personal comments. I begin by offering thanks to my predecessor Jon Goldsmith, and by extension to his predecessors, the past presidents of both TBE and CBJ. As each day passes since I began as President in October, I have come to better appreciate all the work and energy they put in, and the myriad of issues that face today’s Temple Beth El. It has made me better appreciate the work of our volunteers, our hard working committee members and chairs, our Board members and officers --- who devote time, give up their evenings, take on responsibilities, and follow through on commitments. We do this not because of great honor or compensation --- -we do this because we hope to serve and better our congregation and our community. It has made me better appreciate the efforts of our Temple professionals and staff, who are dedicated to making our synagogue a successful, thriving place. I have noticed in our synagogue --- -and am first to admit I am guilty myself --- -that sometimes we can be quick to complain and critique. I hope we can become equally quick to compliment and commend. As we move forward and begin to implement some of the changes which emerged from the Community Conversations and the SP process, let’s also think about transforming our culture --- -to be more appreciative of each other, of our synagogue and our community, and perhaps most importantly, of the presence of God in our lives.
2010 was a year of change and challenges, and also of powerful progress in the life of TBE. Facing a daunting financial reality that threatens so many synagogues --- and so many Jewish community institutions, individuals, and families --- - we said goodbye to our full time Cantor, Hazzan Berke. As some of you may know, the Berke family is planning to move to Chicago in July, and we wish them the best future success. However difficult it has been to not have a full time cantor, I am pleased to report that music and spirited davening remains alive and well at TBE. Congregants have stepped up to the plate with Shabbat davening and lay chanting of Torah and Haftorah --- -more so than has been seen in many years. Many have commented how wonderful it is having a diversity of voices leading our services, making for rich and warm worship. We have continued (and actually increased) our special musical events --- Magavet in January, special services with Felicia Sloin, lively Simchat Torah and Purim evenings, and our very exciting upcoming Cantors Concert on Sunday June 12 with Alberto Mizrachi and TBE’s own Lizzie Shamash.
Finally, many of you had the opportunity to meet Cantor Elise Barber in February. Acting on the recommendations of the Ritual Committee and the Board, I am pleased to report that we have engaged Cantor Barber to serve TBE part time beginning in the fall. In addition to the High Holy Days, she will be with us for selected Shabbats and Chagim, will help tutor the B’nei Mitzvah and officiate at their Shabbat services, offer musical teaching for adults, and work closely with Rabbi Katz and Rev. Aminia. Cantor Barber has already impressed many of us with her talent, her knowledge, and her character. I want to be clear --- -we did not just hire a new Cantor of TBE. She will be with us only on a part time basis (approximately 1/3 time). Over the next year, drawing from the input of our SP process, we will be evaluating our longer term clergy needs and shaping a job description, process, and resources to meet those needs.
While I am on the topic of clergy and ritual life --- as reported in last month’s Tekiah, we are very pleased to renew Rabbi Katz’s contract for 5 more years, now through July 2016. Over the past 2 ½ years, Rabbi has brought great energy and skillful leadership to TBE and the wider Springfield Jewish community. We thank you Rabbi --- and look forward to working together in the exciting years ahead.
Acting on the recommendations of the ritual and cemetery committees, we are taking a fresh look at our policies regarding interfaith burial, last considered nearly 20 years ago. On Sunday mornings June 5 and 12, Rabbi Katz will be leading sessions exploring and discussing traditional sources about the burial of non-Jews in a Jewish cemetery. We will also learn more about how Conservative congregations throughout the country are dealing with this important question.
After several years of significant 6-figure annual deficits, we were able to finish 2010 better than our budgeted deficit, and nearly half our 2009 deficit. Full details will be explained by our Treasurer shortly, including our projected budget for 2011. Your Board is committed to achieve TBE’s long term financial stability, which necessarily requires both reduced expenses and increased revenue. Bear in mind that TBE provides appropriate dues reductions and abatements based on demonstrated financial need. Nearly half of our members (including many seniors on fixed incomes) receive some level of reduction from their full dues category. We are very proud that no one is turned away because of need!!! As a result, we must rely on the generous support of those members who are in a position to pay full or enhanced dues and make further donations. Our Centennial Campaign --- raising needed dollars to maintain our beautiful building, enhance our endowments and programs, and stabilize our current finances through debt reduction --- has surpassed $ 3 million in pledges from over 125 generous families and individuals. In these challenging economic times, this is a striking testament to our members’ love for our synagogue and their confidence in our bright future. In addition, nearly 40 individuals intend to leave a Legacy bequest to TBE in their wills --- -a powerful commitment for generations to come. If you have not yet made a Centennial Campaign pledge or Legacy bequest, please join us --- contact me or Rhoda Peskin for further information.
2010 saw the beginning of the Strategic Planning process --- our first in over 10 years. In the spring, we conducted a series of “Community Conversations,” receiving active input from more than 250 of our congregants. In September 2010, we released the summary report of the Community Conversation process, a thorough 18 page document. Participants envisioned multiple facets of an improved, more vibrant and successful TBE, building upon our strengths and challenges as we approach our second century. The report is available in the TBE Office, and by download from our website. If you haven’t already read this important document, please take a look!!
We then moved into Phase Two of the strategic planning process. Over the weekend of September 25-26, we were delighted to host as Scholar in Residence Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman,a charismatic national leader in synagogue transformation and strategic leadership. Nearly 300 attendees enjoyed several opportunities over the weekend to learn from--and be inspired by--Rabbi Hoffman. Rabbi Hoffman commented about the sense of energy, warmth, connection, and great potential he sees at TBE, and the powerful positive vision shared by clergy, staff, and lay leadership. He challenged us to imagine and create our great sacred community for the 21st century.
We then examined the ideas and comments from the Community Conversations, distilled into 3 main themes --- community, worship, and education. We created dedicated workgroups, open to all interested congregants, to turn each theme into a set of products, including prioritized goals, actions, timelines, and milestones to be achieved within the next 3-5 years. Bringing together the collective input of these workgroups meeting over the past several months, as well as perspectives obtained from other “transformed” religious organizations, we are now ready to create a practical and prioritized implementation plan, establish clear goals and allocate necessary resources and energy. Later this spring, we will present the recommendations to the Board for review and approval, and then share the results/action plan with the full congregation.
Finally, we will soon start developing plans for our 2013 Centennial celebration --- -a time to honor our proud past and embrace our exciting future. We have much to appreciate, much to be proud of --- -and also much work to do. Please join us and be part of creating a thriving Conservative Jewish presence in Springfield for the next century --- for ourselves, our children, and generations to come!
Dr. Stuart A. Anfang