A Year in Review

by Lynn Urbach, President

Our Bet Ha’am Annual Meeting was just a couple of weeks ago. We probably broke any previous attendance record—we had sixty-three log-ins to our first virtual annual meeting, and eighty-nine people voted! If you attended the meeting and read the committee reports, then most of this article will be a review.

I have been president of the Bet Ha’am Board of Trustees for a year now. Here are some of the many things that have happened in that time. 

Before COVID-19 

· Our Garden Committee is always busy. In addition to constant work keeping up our spectacular garden, they grew vegetables and donated over 250 pounds of fresh produce to Wayside Soup Kitchen! Toby Rosenberg has stepped down as chair and Catherine Share has taken the helm. 

· At our High Holiday services last fall, we instituted new security strategies which included, among other things, training board members and others in security tactics and requiring everyone, including Rabbi Saks, to wear a name tag. We were pleased to greet every worshiper individually. 

· Family Promise accommodated eight families during their three successful hosting weeks before COVID-19 temporarily shut down the program. They are always looking for help, including donations of Hannaford gift cards and quarters for laundry. 

· Pledges to our Capital Campaign are on track to be completed this year with a stellar completion rate. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has delayed the planned mounting of some honor plaques. Thank you to all who have or are about to complete their pledges. 

· Our youth group has held a variety of activities, both social and tikkun olam, repairing the world. The board of trustees is thrilled that Kate Siegel, our youth group co-president, has joined the board as a non-voting member. 

During COVID-19 

· It was a stroke of luck that we installed a new Wi-Fi system in the fall and migrated from a physical server to the cloud, which in turn allowed us to update our security cameras. The upgrade was to improve our very poor Wi-Fi access for teachers and students in the classrooms and for parents hanging out in the library during school, as well as to improve office function. However, now that virtually everything is virtual, it has been of critical importance. Our staff has been able to run the office efficiently while working primarily off-site and the cameras allow us to keep an eye on our property. Rest assured that Ivan Gonzalez and Chris Skidgel have been working on the premises, as have other staff members as necessary. 

· The 2019–2020 religious school year didn’t play out as any of us expected. The school, under the incredible leadership of Sam Spinrad, was able to quickly pivot to remote learning in response to the coronavirus. The committee worked with the director to switch to remote learning and explore the tech challenges associated with it, including how to keep students engaged, how to celebrate our teachers’ hard work, how to plan for what school may look like in the fall and moving forward, and how to accomplish other administrative tasks. 

· The Tikkun Olam Council is re-evaluating their framework. In the meantime, a sub-group is actively working on increasing voter engagement for the November, 2020 election. Requests for action, advocacy, support, partnering can be submitted to tikkunolam @ bethaam.org. 

· The planning committee for our annual fundraiser, A Storied Affair, was forced to regroup and rethink this event which has been both great fun and critical to our budget. The virtual version, A Different Story, was a resounding success, raising almost $30,000! On top of that, the winner of the raffle, Amy Brusselback, donated her entire $5,000 winnings back to Bet Ha’am—a handsome addition to our coffers. $1,000 of that donation was put in Rabbi’s discretionary fund to use for COVID-19 relief. 

· Lots of other exciting things have been happening in our community—way too much for me to detail here. All services and Torah study are now virtual as are some B’nai Mitzvah services; congregants have come forward to create virtual song sessions, discussion groups, and schmooze time before Friday night Shabbat services; Rabbi Saks has been hosting weekly check-ins open to everyone; Jay Sherwin has coordinated our Mitzvah Corps with over seventy volunteers helping congregants as needed during this challenging time; the Adult Library has begun curbside borrowing services with the help of our office staff; and Rabbi Saks has joined other Maine rabbis to lead state-wide Shabbat services. 

Looking Ahead 

· A re-opening task force, chaired by Emily Siegel, has been formed and is charged with making recommendations to the board as to the criteria that will be used for making decisions about reopening our building. This group includes physicians, an attorney, congregants and lay leaders, as well as Rabbi Saks and Rachel Lefkowitz. 

· Our observance of the High Holy Days 5781/2020 will look different than what we are used to: everything will be virtual. Rabbi Saks and the Gabbai Committee have begun to consider what this will look like. Stay tuned for more information. 

Do you read my articles? Please send a brief email to me at president @ bethaam.org to let me know you have read this. My husband and I have a bet riding on this, so please email me! You can just say “read it,” or you can let me know what you would like to see in this space in the future or make any other comments or suggestions.

Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash

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