After serving as president for two years with Rabbi Roberts and five years with Rabbi Karp, I have reached the end of my final year as president. Normally, I use this space to serve as a cheerleader for Temple Beth El, expand on a Jewish position that aligns with Conservative Judaism, or inform the congregation of events or Board business. This time, I’d like to tie up loose ends.
First, we are and always have been a Conservative synagogue. Our members represent a range of Jewish beliefs and backgrounds, and this makes striking a denominational balance a little more complicated. I believe the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), the international organization of Conservative synagogues to which we belong, has been responsive to the changes among American Jews. They have developed programs and policies that are responsive to contemporary Jewish life and intermarried families. There was a time when I thought USCJ was not right for us, but they have changed and that change has served us well. Moreover, they have demonstrated their strong commitment to us, an isolated, rural synagogue, by providing leadership support, counsel to the Board, and materials and resources. As president, I am very grateful for what they have given to Temple Beth El. USCJ is a good partner for us.
Second, if you were at our memorial service for the temple shooting in Pittsburgh, you heard our friend, Omar Siddiqi, of the Osmanli Dergahi (Sufi Muslim community in Sidney Center) speak from our bimah. After chanting beautifully from the Quran, he spoke passionately about the history of Jewish and Sufi Muslims, and the similarities between Islam and Judaism. I hope everyone who was present agrees that we need not fear our Muslim neighbors; in fact, our Muslim neighbors have demonstrated that they respect and support us. I am grateful for the friendship and blessings we share with the Muslim families in our community.
Third, the strategic planning committee named “GPS,” an uber-professional team of members, is continuing to collect data from which our congregation can make decisions that will lead to meaningful changes to our synagogue’s practices. I hope people will participate fully when the call comes from the GPS for your input. We cannot move forward in a way that is informed and respectful of members’ wishes if members do not answer that call. Please be part of the process and help ensure a healthy, thriving future for Temple Beth El.
Fourth, our synagogue needs a change in leadership – starting with me. It is time for new people to rotate onto the Board. Many members of the Board have been serving for 10-30 years, have raised their children, and are empty-nesters (and grandparents). When I first visited Temple Beth El in the 1980s, there was an elderly generation of lay leaders who quite literally built the synagogue and made it vibrant in many ways. The current Board followed them and created a synagogue that worked for our children and families. It is time for new members, members who have never served, and especially members with children to become part of Temple Beth El’s leadership in order to create a new vision for the synagogue.
I am proud of our synagogue and proud to have been president. Temple Beth El is a not only a beautiful synagogue, but a warm community – and we are respected in Oneonta. I only hope my contributions to our synagogue have strengthened the institution. During a recent conversation at another synagogue, I was asked what would help Temple Beth El more, people or money. To the surprise of others, I chose people. Managing our limited resources has always been a stressor for our Board, but money can’t buy your presence, and we are nothing without Jewish souls gathered together. For Temple Beth El to succeed, you are needed. Your generous gift of time will sustain this synagogue. If we have participation, I believe the money will follow. Our future as a Jewish community depends on your participation. As my seventh year as president comes to an end, I look forward to simply being a participant and being present in the pews.
Please save the date for our annual congregational meeting: Sunday, June 9 at 2:00. We will vote on a new rabbi, hear about the state of the shul, and elect new Board members. See you then.