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Temple Beth El

Offering Conservative Jewish worship since 1935

83 Chestnut Street/POBox 383
Oneonta, NY 13820
Phone: (607) 432-5522
Email: TBEOneonta@gmail.com

President’s Column – December 2017

Last month, the Rabbinic Review Committee (RRC) sent out over 70 invitations to Temple Beth El members to complete a survey about our synagogue, and nearly 40 members responded (a very high return rate). The questions addressed many aspects of synagogue life, from general strengths/weaknesses to satisfaction with the Rabbi and the Board of Trustees. The RRC is now in the process of interpreting the data, and will share details with you this winter. At this time, I can share one conclusion, and it is very clear: everyone values a synagogue in Oneonta. 

This is encouraging, especially now as Temple Beth El’s membership is the smallest it has been in the past 30 years. With fewer than 60 member units (individuals, couples, or families), we face critical challenges. Aside from the obvious concerns about the finances required to repair the roof, pay the utility bills, continue a relationship with Rabbi Karp, keep the Hebrew School functioning, and maintain our necessary insurance policies, there is another pressing concern: our members.

We are largely a Baby Boomer synagogue with many veteran members who have been active for years or decades. Unlike most aging Conservative synagogues in the United States, we manage to maintain a Hebrew School, and one that runs with volunteer teachers.  (Thank you Hollie, Faye, Bob, and Anne.) Some members have even volunteered in various capacities for two generations. While this is wonderful and desperately needed, our model is unsustainable. At some point, the elder members in leadership roles or with annual tasks that we all have come to take for granted will eventually step down or move on. Then what? Many of the Board’s conversations about Jewish continuity and the synagogue’s future focus on finding the next generation of leaders and Jewish families in Oneonta. How do we attract young families? What should we offer? What do “they” desire in a synagogue? These questions have not yet been answered. If there is a way to attract more young Jewish members (with or without children), we have not discovered the secret. From my conversations with younger Jewish people, including those in mixed faith marriages, I believe there is very little interest (if any) among them for institutional Jewish life.

Therefore, we must face Temple Beth El’s future by preparing for the impending dilemma of dwindling leadership. Who will comprise the next generation of synagogue leaders?  I have no answer to this question, but we do not have very long to find an answer.

Please mark Sunday, February 18, 2018 on your calendar for our annual renewal vote on the Rabbi’s contract. This vote has been conducted in the summer, but that is too late in the year. The Board understands that February is not an ideal time to meet, but it is the more appropriate time in terms of conducting temple business. Please save the date so you can attend.

Until then, join us for Shabbat services and events at the synagogue. Our November Israeli film was very well-attended, and we enjoyed one another’s company as well as another interesting film from Israel. Don’t forget our annual Chanukah celebration on December 15. Bring your menorah, candles, and matches, so we can celebrate together. Your presence is valued in our synagogue; please join us for as many events as possible!

Ken