State of the Synagogue

State of the Synagogue

I’d like to thank everyone for coming tonight.  This is my third and final State of the Synagogue, as required under the By-Laws.   It has been my privilege and honor to serve, as President and I look forward to working with you in my final year. We have a lot to do this year. As I have done in the past, I plan on covering several areas including: our financial health; the state of the schools, youth and teen programming; briefly, the High Holidays (as a separate report will be provided); and a number of highlights and accomplishments of the year. That said, as it would be impossible to review all the highlights and accomplishments of the year, I may leave some out and I apologize in advance.


Budget

As mentioned, the ECC missed its budget last year and the year before. We currently have 83 children in the program or no reduction from last year with the transition to a new director. After conducting a review, it was determined through a process governed by our new By Laws that we needed to change direction and look for a new director. I formed a search committee Chaired by Ali Abrahms and Craig Rubin. I am delighted to say we found an excellent candidate in Ann Pardes who began with us over the summer. I want to thank Ali, Craig and the entire committee for their tireless efforts. There is a positive feeling in the program and the student numbers seem to have stabilized. We hope to see growth in next year’s class. I want to thank Sabrina Landau for her service and wish her well in her future endeavors. We are also renewing our efforts to work with the ECC to welcome our ECC families into our community and continue to work to try to transition many of these families into our membership.  This is an area in which we have always had mixed results. Our Welcoming Committee is communicating directly with these parents, as well.

I mentioned last year that we would invest last year’s surplus into necessary capital items that would create long-term savings. We have been saving plowing expenses approximately $18,000 by having our own snowplow [the new truck cost $30,000]. We are saving money through our energy saving LED lighting initiative to the tune of $13,000 annually [cost of bulbs approx. $55,000]. And we received a rebate of $87,000 (the second and final year of such rebate) from Con Ed, the last for replacement some boilers with new energy efficient models. I want to again thank Marc Karell for his ongoing leadership in energy savings, as well as Jose-Luis and his team and Larry Thaler.


Schools

As mentioned, the ECC missed its budget last year and the year before. We currently have 83 children in the program or no reduction from last year with the transition to a new director. After conducting a review, it was determined through a process governed by our new By Laws that we needed to change direction and look for a new director. I formed a search committee Chaired by Ali Abrahms and Craig Rubin. I am delighted to say we found an excellent candidate in Ann Pardes who began with us over the summer. I want to thank Ali, Craig and the entire committee for their tireless efforts. There is a positive feeling in the program and the student numbers seem to have stabilized. We hope to see growth in next year’s class. I want to thank Sabrina Landau for her service and wish her well in her future endeavors. We are also renewing our efforts to work with the ECC to welcome our ECC families into our community and continue to work to try to transition many of these families into our membership.  This is an area in which we have always had mixed results. Our Welcoming Committee is communicating directly with these parents, as well.

With that in mind, I have formed a task force to look at Membership to look at all facets of membership, what we do well, what we need to improve, how we recruit, and retain members, the role of the Welcoming Committee, how the ECC and Religious School can work with us in this effort and so forth. This effort is being chaired by Michael Lapides and Sherry Thaler and is just getting underway.

The Religious School is at 146 students, up 10 students from last year and 6 over the budgeted number.  Congratulations and thank you to Aleza Kulp for her efforts, yet again.  She has also been the coordinator of PJ Library. As I said in the past, it has been a resounding success and continues to be a great program for our children and families.  PJ Library continues to grow both in terms of participants and in scope of what it provides to our children. And in conjunction with PJ Library, we also have a new program through a Harold Grinspoon Foundation Grant called ShaJam: A Music and Movement Shabbat Experience for Children Birth through Pre School focusing on Shabbat. Thank you Aleza, Louise Cohen and those involved for your incredible work in the PJ Library effort.

Adam Bender completed his first year as our Teen Director. Both parents and are teens would regard it as a big success. That said we are at 30 students, which is 10 under budget and 7 less than last year. We had thought lowering the price of the program would increase the numbers and that has not been the case and has not offset a small entering 8th grade class. We are cautiously optimistic that the work we are doing the lower grades and coordinating with Adam and Aleza will pay off with higher future registration. And the satisfaction of those who are participating appears very high.

And we still continue our great programming throughout the year for our children, whether it be our Hanukkah Party, Purim Carnival, Spring Mitzvah Project and the annual service learning trip (last year to Houston and this upcoming year to Portland, Ore, in January.


FYEC Task Force

Our FYEC began several years ago as an outgrowth of the old Board of Ed. Its goals were to decentralize and empower the school committees and bring all facets of family, youth and education into one place to discuss issues, coordinate ideas and so forth. Last year I formed a task force led by Beth Jaret and Ilana Moskowitz to look at the FYEC and assess where it stood. They did so through many methods, including extensive interviews, questionnaires and surveys, as well as meeting with the FYEC as part of their research. Their findings were reported to the FYEC. While no drastic overhaul has occurred, there have been changes made which are being implemented this year to make FYEC more effective. I want to thank Jonathan Berg and Laura Grill for agreeing to be co-chairs and start effectuating the changes.


High Holidays

Thank you to the clergy, lay leaders, professionals and volunteers who again worked tirelessly to make the holidays meaningful for all of us.  I am not going to say a lot about the High Holidays, given that you will hear a report shortly.

The responses are that the services were generally very well regarded in all respects. While, of course there is always room for improvement, and changes to be made, the comments were generally very positive. As I do every year, I visited the various services several times throughout the holidays. The Family Service was at capacity on RH day 1 and on Yom Kippur. The main sanctuary and Study Service had a nice, beautiful energy. Thank you Cantor Goldberg for putting so many prayers musically accessible to us again this year and for leading an inspirational High Holiday prep session.


Highlights and Accomplishments

I said this last year and I say it again this, in some respects, the discussion of highlights and accomplishments is the toughest section to present.  There are so many highlights and accomplishments this year.  I apologize in advance for not being able to go over all of them.  Please feel free to contact David Goldstein in the Office or me at president@wjcenter.org to add other highlights you would want reflected in the minutes.  The ones I am reviewing are representative.  And they are in addition to some of the many highlights and accomplishments already mentioned in this report elsewhere and all others that may have been mentioned in various outlets, such as my Review articles throughout the year.


By-Laws

We adopted new By-Laws over a year ago. Last year we had very few changes to clean them up to align with actually using them. We did amend our definition of member and membership to be more inclusive. Thank you to the By-Laws Task Force. There was a lot of hard work to get this just right.


Renewal Service

Our renewal service continues to be as strong and as vibrant as ever. The always-full room has a special feeling. I look forward to hearing Ellen, Seth, Randy, Nadav (and occasionally our Cantor) with a helping hand from Arlene Wexler throughout the year. I want to thank them for their commitment to such a meaningful service special to so many of our congregants.

Adult Education

The Adult Ed Committee, Chaired by Myra Cohen and Karen Everett, put on wonderful programming. The capstone event was the Scholar-in-Residence weekend with Rabbi Michael Paley, the then retiring Founding Director of the Meyer Scholar in Residence Program of UJA in NY. His theme was Enduring Jewish Values and Their Relevance for Everyday Life. And we have to look forward to learning with Rabbi Gordon Tucker, in January, as our next Scholar-In-Residence. Rabbi Tucker is the recently retired senior rabbi at Temple Israel Center. He served on the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards for 25 years.

Sulam for Emerging Leaders Is Back

After a year’s hiatus, of our most successful programs is back. Under the leadership of Larry Thaler, we our Sulam program is back. Its goal is to identify prospective leaders and support them in becoming more deeply engaged with the synagogue through a program year course of study of leadership skills and Jewish learning.

We are trying to do more for other cohorts of Empty Nesters or whatever broad term you want to use for this group. For our seniors, our JOY group (Just Older Youths) group chaired by Howard and Judy Zweig, targeted at the 70 and over crowd. JOY continued growing, bringing in speakers and crowds and providing our population with needed programing.

We had a highly successful ECC Prom, chaired by Marisa de Sa, Deborah Rubin and Amissa Rybak. More than 100 families celebrated, bringing in mostly our next generation of shul families, leaders and participants.

We had other targeted events as well for different cohorts and will continue to do so throughout the year.

Holocaust Learning Center

The HLC continues working on many important projects including the November 8th Kristallnacht event with guest speaker Professor Joram Warmund and a focus on the Holocaust’s through how its various representations in film. And HLC brings us the Daffodil Project again this year.  The Project seeks to plant 1.5 million daffodils around the world to commemorate the 1.5 million children murdered by the Nazis in Europe and to support those children suffering in humanitarian crises worldwide today.  HLC is working with our schools to use this project as a learning tool. Thank you Dan Berkowitz and your committee as well as Glenna Lee and Aleza, for keeping these memories alive and helping our children learn from them.

Brotherhood and Sisterhood

The Brotherhood and Sisterhood remain very important to our synagogue’s success with programs constantly running from Sukkah Decorating to Poker in the Sukkah, Book Clubs, Schmoozes with the Clergy, presentations from congregants sharing their expertise and experiences, such as Bobby Cohen’s experiences as president and chair of AIPAC, to the Sisterhood trips and the very important Gift Shop. Brotherhood and Sisterhood are another way to bring congregants together from all walks of synagogue life. Thank you to Co-Chairs Stu Seltzer and Craig Rubin of the Brotherhood for your tireless efforts. I also what to thank and Carol Fasman President of Sisterhood for all of your hard work for WJC and its Sisterhood.

Dinners

We have had some successful dinner programs, as well.

We had our third annual appreciation dinner for our longtime members (36 years and over) and invited our JOY club members to participate as well. Like past years, the mood in the room was almost reunion-like as many friends reconnected and reminisced about WJC.

At the end of September, we had a family Shabbat service followed by a congregational dinner followed by a Rhythm and Ruach Kabbalat Shabbat Service.

We followed with yet another wonderful Gallery opening. (Thank you to Amy Levine-Kennedy and your committee for all of your hard work in making our Gallery special.) And we have been catering more of the food in-house with the help of Patty and the Kiddush Enhancement committee. It has lowered the expenses for food services and raised the enjoyment.

We introduced the “Guess Who’s Coming to Shabbat” Dinner Program last year. We hope to learn from our experiences last year to increase participation this year. The goal is to eventually invite the entire Congregation for a Shabbat meal in someone’s home, in a private comfortable manner. It is a more personal outreach in addition to our community dinners. Our Welcoming Committee, chaired by Jennifer Winters and Andrea Lightman continues to make community wide outreach.

And of course, this past spring, we had our Gala honoring Abby and Gabby Tolchinsky and Karen and Richard Gerzberg. The Gala remains an important community building and fundraising event. Stay tuned for a future announcement on who next year’s honorees will be. I want to thank Meira Fleisch and the entire Gala Committee for making the Gala so successful this past year.

Other Successful On-going Programs

We continue to have some other excellent ongoing programming, Shabbat morning classes, Israeli Dancing and Movies, Library speakers, other Social Action projects – including Mitzvah Day and Project Ezrah, Green Committee initiatives and of course Purimspiel. And Game Night was even more fun then the year before, which brought congregants together from all walks of WJC simply to have a good time. Thank you to Robin Nichinsky and David Miller for spearheading this hugely successful effort.


Communications

We have had some changes in communication over the last year. Katie Schlientz, our Social Media Director and has taken over production of our Review in addition to her responsibilities which include development and implementation of social media strategies and marketing campaigns.

Evan Schapiro the architect behind the amazing changes to our website, had worked with Katie and Alexandra Paisley our Communications Assistant to update our Review. Have you noticed it is in color and has a little bit more punch and pizazz.

Our Program Guide is now on-line with an interactive index to help you work your way through the site. It is a way to search for your favorite activities and maybe find one or two new ones to try as well. Hopefully our modes of communications will continue to be easier to read and navigate as well.


House

We always maintain synagogue property, but there were a few things of note this year.   In our ongoing effort of safety review, we have added some new safety features to our property including shatterproof glass in the classrooms. And did you see the new walkway between the new lot and rotunda. It is attractive, convenient and safer than our congregants making their own trail.

In our dairy kitchen, our dishes will be cleaner in our new dishwasher and the food easier to cook on our new stove.

In our parsonage houses, we finally renovated the 540 Prospect Street kitchen.

And we have undergone some necessary HVAC maintenance.

Goals

We continue to use the June Trustee’s Meeting conduct a goals (“Goals”) workshop. We have had some interesting findings, which helped create and underscore the Goals for the coming year. We did this first in anticipation of new By-Laws and now because of the newly enacted By-Laws of the last couple of years.

Again I convened an ad-hoc committee to review the Goals from last year and modify accordingly. By the way, many of the accomplishments I reviewed tonight stemmed from last years list of Goals. The Trustees will have a chance as a larger body to discuss and modify Goals for this year later tonight, so I am not going to discuss them further now. The new By-Laws and adherence to them continue to create a greater voice for our Trustees. I want to thank the committee that worked on the Goals over the summer and in particular Robin Nichinsky who also met with David and I during the year to see how we were doing – a status update.

Endowment Committee

We have recently received approval from the Trustees to hire a consult to conduct a feasibility study in order to confirm and determine the size of an Endowment Campaign. Endowments help to provide for long term health of institutions such as ours. As part of the feasibility study, our consultant will be reaching out to a selection of about 10% of synagogue families, on a confidential basis, to get your input. If we get the green light, we hope to launch the campaign this year.

Clergy

As I said in my High Holiday Greetings, we are putting a lot of our efforts this year into finding a new Senior Rabbi. Please note, I didn’t use the words efforts into replacing Rabbi Segelman, because that would be impossible. But our hope is that our next Rabbi will lead us and blaze a trail for our next generation, as Rabbi Segelman did for us when he joined, following the legendary and beloved Rabbi Koslowe.   We heave an excellent search committee with representatives from different walks of synagogue life. It is co-chaired by Seth Schafler and Alynn Perl. A job posting with the Rabbinical Assembly has been posted and the Committee is hard at work. We are in the process of creating a portal where you can receive ongoing updates, in addition to periodic updates for Alynn, Seth or myself throughout the process. Thank you to the committee for taking on this important role. As we search for a Rabbi and look at who we are and what want to be, let’s use this year as an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and grow further as a community.

I had the pleasure of introducing Rabbi Yolkut in my first year as President as our new Assistant Rabbi. As he recently announced, he will be leaving us at the end of his contract in June. He has decided not to pursue a pulpit position at this time and will not be a candidate for Senior Rabbi at WJC. He and Lauren will be missed in our community. With fondness, we wish he and Lauren the best of luck in all of their future endeavors. Some have asked what are plans are for an Assistant Rabbi going forward as we are not conducting a search for an Assistant Rabbi right now. Next year, we plan on continuing to have 3 clergy, with a new Senior Rabbi and Rabbi Segelman in his new role as Rabbi Emeritus and the Cantor. Our plan is to work with the new Senior Rabbi to find an Assistant Rabbi the following year that dovetails with what our new Rabbi brings to us so that we will continue to have 3 clergy following Rabbi Segelman’s retirement.


Conclusion

Lastly, and I also, said this during the HHs, but it bears repeating. I have an historical note, thanks to Jill Caslin. In October of 1919, the Hebrew Institute of Mamaroneck began davening in a storefront. Five years later, that shul broke ground for its first permanent sanctuary on Halstead Ave. We now know that synagogue, entering its’ 100th year, as WJC. Over the course of the upcoming year, we will note this milestone in different ways. We all owe a great debt of gratitude to our past leaders who laid the foundation to get us to this day. I hope we continue to honor their effort and memory.

Well this concludes my third and final official State of the Synagogue.  I look forward to working with all of you this year and am excited about the challenges ahead.  If you have any questions or comments, please reach out to David Goldstein in the Office or to me at president@wjcenter.org.

Thank you,
Jeffrey Lavine

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