Today is April 21, 2018 /

State of the Synagogue

State of the Synagogue

I’d like to thank everyone for coming tonight.  This is my second State of the Synagogue, as required under the By-Laws.   Tonight, 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 is difficult to cover all the highlights and accomplishments, I may leave some out given the Rabbi’s review of highlights as part of his Kol Nidre Appeal in front about 1000 of us. 

 

Budget:

Larry Thaler presented the budget at 2 Trustees Meetings (one of which was a voting Congregational Meeting last Spring).  While we had a surplus of approximately $54,000 this past year (FY 16/17), given a last minute unexpected drop off in enrollment in our ECC, we came close to projecting a deficit for FY 17/18. There are various theories as to why we had the sudden drop off.  We are monitoring the situation, expanding our marketing efforts and working to bring students back to the program.  Due to the hard work of Larry, Susan Lurie and our department heads, we were able to turn that potential deficit into a break-even budget without cutting programs. 

I mentioned last year that we would invest last year’s surplus into necessary capital items that would create long-term savings.  We did just that.  We saved $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 there is good old fashion cost cutting on the expense side.

We also did a review of our energy costs and discovered ConEd had not been categorizing us correctly, given our religious institution status.  As a result, we received a refund from ConEd of $55,000 after expenses. We also needed a new boiler system and were able to procure a $28,000 rebate from ConEd on the boilers for future energy savings. I want to thank Marc Karrel for his leadership in energy savings, as well as Jose-Luis and his team and Larry Thaler.

 

Schools:

Our schools are generally doing well.  As mentioned, the ECC missed its budget last year.  We currently have 84 children in the program. [We originally budgeted 91]. We are also renewing our efforts to work with Sabrina Landau 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.  

The Religious School is at 136 students.  That happens to be 3 students over the budgeted number.  Congratulations to Aleza Kulp for her efforts.  She has also been the coordinator of PJ Library.  As I said last year, 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 showed the live presentation of Sammy Spider’s First Mitzvah: The Musical.  Thank you Aleza, Louise Cohen and those involved in the PJ Library effort.

For our teens, we conducted a search for a new Teen Engagement Director and were very fortunate to find Adam Bender.  There will be more on that later.  Hebrew High School numbers are more difficult to ascertain at this point.  We have had a lot of teens check out our program.  Based on the last couple of years, we have had a number of late joiners after trying our program.  We had 39 students last year and are currently at 35 with a budget of 40.  Given that we have a new Teen Engagement Director, to be down 3 students at this point is encouraging. It is tough to tell how many will ultimately register now that the holidays are over. 

 

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 early responses are that the services hit the right chord, no pun intended. While, of course there is always room for improvement, and changes to be made, the comments were generally very positive and the criticism constructive.  I had a chance to be in the various services several times throughout the holidays.  The Family Service was at capacity on RH day 1 and if possible even more so on Yom Kippur. The main sanctuary and Study Service had a nice energy.  Thank you Cantor Goldberg for putting so many prayers musically accessible to us 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 by Rabbi Segelman over Yom Kippur.  

I have spoken in the past and written in my columns in The Review about one’s need to find connections to Judaism at WJC.  The connections manifest in different ways.  We, as leaders at WJC, need to provide paths for those connections.  Sometimes we need to develop new programming to create these connections, and sometimes, the programming is there and we need to let people know it exists.  And it may not be to the people we normally look to.  When done successfully, we foster stronger community.

Some New Faces: 

Officers and Trustees:
Last year, I had a section entitled New Administration with me as incoming President.  While the administration isn’t new, we continue blending experience with fresh ideas in the leadership of our shul. Over the last two years we have added 6 new Officers out of 17 (or 35% of the Officers) and 12 new Trustees out of 45 (or 27% of the Trustees). And with all of these new lay people at the highest levels of leadership, we have developed and implemented our 2nd Year of Leadership Orientation, Training and Mentoring.  The program helps our new leaders feel comfortable, learn the ropes to effective leadership and become better ambassadors for WJC.

Executive Director:
One of the first orders of business last year was to create a search committee to find a new Executive Director.  As expected, the search took months to complete and took countless hours to conduct.  But I am very pleased to say we found an extraordinary candidate in David Goldstein and he agreed to join us.  His bio is in the June Review.  I want to thank the committee, co-chaired by Seth Schafler and Yale Zoland.  Beginning in May, David began an intensive transition, first with Susan Lurie, before her retirement and continuing with our transition team of Sarene Shanus and Ilana Moskowitz.  David’s further integration continues through each cycle of the calendar.  We may be teaching him the ins and outs of WJC, but we are also learning from him as well.  I have already enjoyed partnering with David.  And thank you to Susan Lurie for your years of leadership and dedication to WJC.

By-Laws:
We finished a full year of implementation of our new By-Laws.  There were very few hiccups.  Thanks to the leadership of Marty Marcus and the By-Laws Committee.  It has been a smooth transition. That may sound boring to the uninitiated.  But, as I said last year, good by-laws create better, transparent governance.  We are having this State of the Synagogue, because the By-Laws call for it.  The Trustees will review and discuss goals later tonight because of the By-Laws. I will talk about that later.  The list goes on.

Clergy:
Last year, I introduced Assistant Rabbi, Adir Yolkut.  So, I guess he is not new anymore.  With the maturity and thoughtfulness of his sermons, you would never know he is a seasoned clergy of only one year. Among his innovative contributions are the Pop Up Rabbi which has a loyal following.  And Rabbi Yolkut is teaching an Introduction to Judaism:  Back to Basics, which is a way to help many of our friends get a little bit more comfortable at synagogue.

Teen Engagement Director:
Shoshi Rosenbaum did a wonderful job setting-up our new format for teen engagement. Her contract has expired, as expected and she has moved on to focus on her rabbinic studies at JTS and time in Israel starting in January. I am happy to report that we still have Shoshi working with us on a few discreet projects until her departure to Israel.  We wish her the best.

As I mentioned earlier, we also had to create a search committee for a new Teen Engagement Director.  Thank you to the committee, co-chaired by Cheryl Brause and Steve Kutno.   Adam has been off to a great start.  You can read his bio in the September Review.  Adam brings tremendous energy and ideas to the position. He looks to expand programs both in the classroom and experiential learning.  His initiatives include adding programs in leadership development, as well as continuing leading a social justice trip, this year to Houston. After hearing from both students and parents in the past, it is obvious the service trips have been a moving and meaningful experience for our teens.

Renewal Service:
Our renewal service celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and is as vibrant as ever.  I look forward to hearing Ellen, Seth, Randy, Nadav (and occasionally our Cantor) with a helping hand from Arlene Wexler throughout the year.

Participation Card:
Last year, on Yom Kippur, we introduced a new Participation Card in addition to our Social Action Card. Thank you again to Cheryl Natbony and others for spearheading this effort.  The responses to the Participation Card more than tripled this year from 40 responses last year to 142 responses this year. 

Adult Education:
The Adult Ed Committee, Chaired last year by Heather Taffet Gold and Myra Glajchen and now by Myra and Karen Everett, put on wonderful programming.  The capstone event was the Scholar-in-Residence weekend with Rabbi Shai Held, Co-Founder, Dean and Chair of Jewish Thought at Mechon Hadar.  He made complex issues of Torah seem within our grasp while making us all think at a higher level.  He visited us again recently to teach us more Torah in connection with a new book he just wrote, The Heart of Torah: Essays On The Weekly Torah Portions.  And this year we look forward to Rabbi Michael Paley as our Scholar-in Residence.  He is the Founding Director of the Meyer Scholar in Residence Program of UJA in NY.

World Jewry Committee and Social Justice Action Committee (SoJAC)
Our World Jewry Committee continued to focus on the refugee effort.  We had several eye opening events throughout the year including What Can You Do program at WJC.  Jodi Kantor from the NYT was the keynote speaker.  [Thank you to Holy Rosen Fink for all that you have done throughout the year.]

And our Social Justice Action Committee remains a shining light to WJC with its many ongoing efforts to help those in need.  (Thank you Sharon Silver and your committee for your tireless efforts.)

Youth Lounge:
The Youth Lounge was being renovated with the help of a generous gift from Sarene Shanus and her daughters through the Feuer Fund – est. in memory of Phil Feuer.  The goal was to make the room more multi-faceted and frankly a lot more pleasant to be in.  Go in and take a look now.  I think you will like what you see.  This room is a second multi purpose room for WJC.  It has wide ranging uses from Spiritual Life meetings to being used as space for our kids to hangout with a TV and area with recharge jacks for phones.

Sulam for Purposeful Living:
We had our inaugural Sulam for Purposeful Living, for members over 55.  Its goal was to target Empty Nesters and equip them with the spiritual and other tools necessary to have a meaningful 2nd half of life.  This was led by Victor Badner.

And we had a program on parenting, adult children, chaired by Joel Beckman and Janie Frieman.  It was attended by over 100 people.

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, there is a new group chaired by Howard and Judy Zweig, called JOY (Just Older Youths), targeted at the 70 and over crowd. JOY had its first event and has scheduled a speaker for its second.  They showed the award-winning movie “Larchmont” with a meet and greet by its director/author, Ben Zuckert.

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 9th Kristallnacht event with guest speaker Laura Rosenszweig, author of “Hollywood Spies”.  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 to 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 Ileen Greenberg, Raelin Cantor (who left the position of Co-President with Ileen last year) and Carol Fasman (the new Co-President) for all of your hard work for WJC and its Sisterhood.

Dinners:
We have had some successful dinner programs, as well.

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

And after a number of year’s hiatus, the Progressive Dinner is back by popular demand, on December 9.  What a great way to bring community together.  Thank you Cindy and Randy Heller and our Sisterhood for spearheading this community wide effort.

In September, we had a Rhythm and Rhuach Kabbalat Shabbat Service followed by a congregational dinner.  Thank you Pam Mizrahi for making Carlos and Gabi’s Mexican Shabbat Dinner part of our lives.  We followed with a wonderful Gallery opening or really pre-opening. (Thank you to Amy Levine-Kennedy and your committee for all of your hard work in making our Gallery special.) 

This past Friday we had the Inaugural “Guess Whose Coming to Shabbat” Dinner Program.  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 and formerly Jennifer and Betsy Goldman continues to make community wide outreach.

And of course we had our Gala honoring Randi Klaber and Susan Lurie this past spring.  The Gala remains an important community building and fundraising event.  Stay tuned for a future announcement on who next years honorees will be.

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 we introduced the new Game Night, which brought congregants together from all walks of WJC simply to have a good time.  I am happy to say we will be having another Game Night this year.  Thank you to Robin Nichinsky and David Miller for spearheading this effort.

 

COMMUNICATIONS:

I have recently informed you of some changes in Communications and will continue to update you on any other major changes.

If you haven’t looked recently, we have an updated webpage that is both more user interactive and easier to use.  It is a work in progress, but looks great.  Thank you especially to Evan Schapiro the architect behind the amazing changes. 

And if you didn’t notice, we are testing different innovative approaches to our Review.  Did you notice the redesign?  Or that we are experimenting with color? 

Hopefully our modes of communications will continue to be easier to read and navigate as well. 

 

GOALS

The last couple of years, during the June Trustee’s Meeting, we have conducted 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. 

But this year we took the next step and formed an ad-hoc committee of volunteer Trustees to take the findings and transform them into a proposed list of Goals. 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 are creating 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 and Jack Steinberg.

 

CONCLUSION

Well this concludes my second 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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