Congregational Update

by Lynn Urbach, President

September 15 marks six months since congregants were last in our building. Our religious school was closed on March 15 due to COVID-19. That same day, the board held its annual retreat; that was the last time I, or any non-staff person, was in our building. Normal is a word that is not part of our regular vocabulary these days.

We are in the middle of our High Holy Day season; religious school is about to start; the Board of Trustees voted to accept guidelines developed by the Reopening Task Force (RTF); the garden committee is busy keeping our grounds in great condition; we have introduced some new initiatives. There is a lot to report.

Seasonal Update

High Holy Days Observance: All our community worship and observance will be virtual this year. Hopefully, you have pre-registered for all services you might wish to attend (if not, you can register here before Friday at 9:00 a.m.). We will not be able to accommodate registration during services. Rabbi Saks and the gabbai committee have worked to shorten the services while retaining their essence because we have all learned there is a limit to how long we can focus online. You will notice other differences, such as fewer congregants being involved and fewer honors given. Creating a spiritual space in your home, a mikdash m’at (see Rabbi Saks’s blog), may contribute to more meaningful worship for you.

Religious School: Religious school started online on September 13. In October, classes for grades 1-6 will start to meet in our building on a rotating schedule, with two grades meeting each Sunday approximately once every three weeks. We will use two large classrooms (room 205 and the social hall) to allow for physical distancing. You can read more details in the RTF document (also described below).

The Business Side
Life and Legacy: I am very excited to announce that we will be participating in the Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s Life and Legacy partnership program. Normally an expensive, four-year program for large Jewish communities, Grinspoon is, for the first time, offering this abbreviated version—two years and free—to smaller communities. We, along with several other Jewish organizations in the area, will get training, materials, advice, and financial incentives to promote after-lifetime giving. Our committee has already attended the first training session. While participation in this program will not solve our immediate financial challenges, it will help us build an endowment to assure future stability. A formal announcement will be made later this month.

Balance-the-Budget Task Force: For years, the board has worked to reduce spending and increase income. If you read our treasurer’s reports, you know that we haven’t made a lot of progress in this arena. We run a very bare-bones budget. There isn’t anything of substance left to cut. The Balance-the-Budget Task Force will begin, as our treasurer, Mark Stone, likes to say, by throwing some spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks. They will entertain every idea; everything is on the table. Many ideas will be unpalatable, some more than others. After discussion with the board and some whittling down of the list, we will hold focus groups with you, our members, to determine what our next steps will be.

In-Person Gatherings
Reopening Task Force (RTF): The RTF, chaired by Emily Siegel, worked tirelessly through the summer to create guidelines for returning to in-person gatherings and to our building. On August 25, the board voted to accept these guidelines. Accepting their recommendations does not mean we will do everything in the document, but rather that we will move (actually, already have moved) forward in reopening, using this document to guide us. Some of the recommendations will be straightforward and inexpensive to carry out, such as providing masks for students and volunteers who don’t have them and screening all who enter the building for risk factors. Other recommendations will be quite expensive, such as replacing our HVAC filters twice as often with more expensive filters. In addition to that cost, the new filters, being more dense, will shorten the lifetime of the ventilation fans. The approximately $37,000 to make these changes will be reviewed by the board at its next meeting.

Worship and B’nai Mitzvah: I regret to say that we will not be able to worship in the synagogue in 2020. Bar and bat mitzvah services will remain online for now. The Torah scroll cannot be removed from the building. The board and RTF are actively working on policies address these important issues

In-Person (Finally!): We are planning an off-site, outdoor, drum circle as our first in-person non-school program. Save the date: Sunday, October 11! Details will follow.

Many people have been working behind the scenes to keep our vibrant Bet Ha’am community moving forward. To those volunteers who have been offering online social and learning activities, collaborating with Rabbi Saks to develop meaningful High Holy Day worship, moving us towards financial stability, helping to develop a roadmap for in-person gatherings (and planning those gatherings), and supporting our community in many other ways, thank you so, so much. We couldn’t do this without you.

Please reach out to me or any board member if you want to learn about how you can step in and help out.

L’shanah tovah u’m’tukah, may you have a good and sweet year.
Photo by Peter Feghali on Unsplash

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