David Plass, Rosh Hashanah 2014

Good yontiff.  For those of you who haven’t met me before, I’m David Plass, your president.  I’d like to take a few minutes this morning and talk about some of the events in and around Temple Beth Am in the last year - a “State of the Temple” if you will.  

Most obviously, we have a new President — me.  Prior to being elected to this position, I was on the Board of Trustees for three years, including two years as a Vice President.  By the way, the Board is made up entirely of congregant volunteers who serve 3 year terms.

One of the board’s accomplishments this year was the proposal to reduce its own size from 27 trustees to 24 next year, then to 21 trustees starting in 2016. This is in response to the smaller size of the congregation relative to what it was 20 years ago.   Since this would be a change to the constitution, it needs to be voted on and passed at two successive congregational meetings to take effect.   The first vote, which passed, was in the late spring, and the next one will be in late October.  I encourage everyone to attend that meeting, so you can make your vote count and your voice heard. 

Some of the other Board committees include: house, school, adult education, budget, fundraising, membership, publicity, ritual, social action, and more.  Suffice it to say, all these committees are essential to the smooth operation of the synagogue.  Today, I’d like to highlight the work of just some of these to give everyone an idea of how vital they are.  Keep in mind that I could not possibly describe the dozens and dozens of programs and events that were organized and run by and for congregants and the clergy!  If I were to describe all of these services and activities we’d be here until Break Fast on Yom Kippur.  We can’t wait that long so I’ve chosen to talk about only a few of them today.  (Come to a board meeting and to hear about the rest!)

First, the physical building, which is maintained by our House Committee. The building is approaching its half-century mark, and as anyone with a 50-year old house can attest, it is starting to show its age.  We had to do some necessary repairs to the equipment and the grounds.  An air conditioning unit on the roof needed new steel supports, and the roof under it required patching.  I’m sure many of you in the back there can verify that this unit is indeed working quite well this morning.  In addition, while we wanted to repair and repave the entire parking lot, we did not have the $52,000 to do so.  With a much smaller budget, we were able to patch the worst areas, and, more importantly, clean and repair the drains to reduce further damage. We’d love to be able to do more projects in and around the building in the coming year.

Turning to the school, last year it was Temple Beth Am’s turn to host the Merrick/Bellmore community hebrew high school. This is a unique Jewish educational environment where students from different shuls — reform, conservative and orthodox — all learn together.  This year six of our high school seniors graduated from the school, in addition to six students from the other three congregations. That’s half -- not bad!

Also this year, for the first time in our history that I am aware of, Temple Beth Am had only a single confirmation student, Rachel Gershengoren.  Rachel conducted the entire confirmation service herself, including reading the Torah and Haftarah and giving 5 mini-sermons.  Note that this service is usually led by a class of 5 to 10 students so it is just incredible that this remarkable young woman did it all herself.  We hope that Rachel continues in the Hebrew High school to her graduation in two short years.  No pressure!

In the younger grades, the School Committee created a fun activity for the students to collect Box Tops for Education.  For Hanukkah they had a paper menorah. The students were asked to collect one boxtop per night and tape it to the paper.  It was a little contest and the winner got a gift certificate — which was generously donated by a local merchant.  Through this innovative and creative activity, we were able to double our Box Tops for Education earnings.  Maybe this year we can triple it! If you have any boxtops please bring them to the school office.

Our Jewish education program extended to adults as well.  In the last twelve months we were treated to adult education programs from all our clergy.  These programs ranged from Jewish humor to “Judaism & Christianity - A Sibling Rivalry” to the Jewish influence on Rock and Roll.  All of these programs were free for everyone and I’ve been to most of them — the discussions are always interesting and enlightening.

Of course, none of these events would be possible without funding.  Our budget committee and an ad-hoc committee did a careful analysis of our dues structure and budget and implemented a plan that reduced our projected deficit to “only” 50 thousand dollars this year.  When we have a deficit it means we have to take money from our rainy day fund, mostly sourced from the sale of the Shaarei Shalom building a few years ago.  But withdrawing from this account cannot and should not continue forever.  So unfortunately, this meant we had to raise dues; we know it might have been painful but it was absolutely necessary in order to maintain our vitality. I’ll have more to say about budgets and finance in my Kol Nidre appeal. Much more, actually.

Besides the board, there are three other subgroups within our congregation who do important work to support the temple: Brotherhood, Sisterhood and Chai Society.  These are the “Arms” of the temple and I’d like to highlight just a few — just a few — of the many many programs each has sponsored this last year.

Brotherhood suggested an innovative fundraiser to replace the 30-year old chairs of our social hall.  Through their seed money and their commitment to match funds to a certain amount, we raised more than enough to purchase 150 new chairs, with the extra money going towards new tablecloths.  These new fixtures make a huge difference in the onegs and other events we hold in the social hall, and will hopefully lead to more paid catering events. 

As in years past, our Sisterhood continued to light candles at Shabbat services and sponsor Onegs.  Many people might not know that Sisterhood also provides food and supplies for Hebrew School holiday events such as eating in the Sukkah, for Hanukkah parties and for Seders.  As the sponsor for our well-loved Torah for Tots program, Sisterhood provides a vital path for us to gain new temple families.

Unfortunately, Sisterhood membership has flagged this year and participation has fallen.  We hope to fortify its foundation in the upcoming year by trying new events and publicizing its meetings even more. 

I would be remiss if I did not point out that everyone is eligible to join our Sisterhood and Brotherhood and that the benefits to both their members and to the temple at large greatly outweigh the modest annual dues of only $36 a year.

The third Arm of the Temple, Chai Society, is composed of congregants who have been members here for 18 years or more — hence CHAI.  Their annual brunch was well attended and they were treated to a special edition of a discussion of Jews on Broadway, one of our adult education series.  Also soon, the security monitors in the temple offices will be upgraded using funds donated by the Chai society. They have many new and exciting events planned for this year, including some that will be open to the whole congregation.  My family will be eligible in a few years and I look forward to that.

And last but not least, Rabbi Brown took a scheduled sabbatical in the first half of 2014, and he was missed. The board planned ahead for this by hiring Rabbi Mickey Baum as our sabbatical rabbi for those six months, a role he also fulfilled in 2009. Rabbi Mickey served as both Hebrew School principal and sabbatical rabbi with his usual aplomb and good humor.  I thank him for his service, and we are happy to welcome Rabbi Brown back to the Bimah.

Now that you’ve heard just a sampling of what happened last year, some of you might be wondering what is coming up for this current year.  Well, while we do have some ideas, I can’t tell you for sure what will happen.  That’s because it’s up to everyone here to decide, plan, carry out and to ATTEND the programs, classes, services and all the other events that we’ll be having here in the next twelve months.  “Everyone” means the congregation, our board of trustees, our clergy, and even our students.  Temple Beth Am means “house of the people”  — it’s our temple; let’s all participate in its events, and in keeping it alive and kicking for years to come.  

With all that said, please please please contact me, or for that matter, any of the vice presidents or board members.  My professors used to say “my door is always open” but today I’ll say “my email window is always open”.  If you see or hear something you enjoyed or didn’t enjoy, if you have any ideas for programs for the congregation, or improvements to the shul, or, most exciting of all, if you want to help!  Just shoot me an email, send me a postcard, drop me a line, or find me at an Oneg or during other events and I’d be happy to chat.

Thank you and good yontiff.

Copyright 2014, David Plass