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President's Column by President Andy Cheng

President's Remarks from the 65th Annual Congregational Meeting
To view video-recorded remarks made by Andy Cheng and other leadership at the 65th Annual Meeting, please login to your ShulCloud account and visit betham.org/65annual-meeting-recordings.

I’d like to thank all of you for giving me the honor of serving as Beth Am’s President.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the URJ, offered some perspective on the current crisis. He said, “While there’s no definitive guidebook for the challenges we’re facing, our sacred community have always leaned on the Torah for guidance and stood on the shoulders of our leaders.”

It’s comforting to know that during times of uncertainty, we have a long history of leadership and tradition that continue to guide our congregation. Without all of you we would not be able to accomplish the work we’ve done together.

In addition to the four board members who have completed their service, Past President Mark Holtzman completed his five-year term as the endowment oversight committee chair helping us effectively navigate our funds with his sharp financial acumen. And I’m pleased to share that Past President Ben Lloyd has agreed to serve as the next chair.

Next, we will be renewing the terms of three outstanding board members: Barry Asin, David Crankshaw, and Bob Frankle.
We will also be bringing in the following board nominees thanks to this year’s nominating committee members: Alison Barnstable, Amy Gerstein, Dana Marks, and Barry Zwarenstein.

Their biographical sketches were included in the letter we mailed out to the congregation last month. (Log in to access the document posted online.) Each nominee offers unique gifts that will help fill the most needed skill sets for our congregation.

I’d like to recognize Past President Bruce Ives for chairing this year’s nominating committee and would like to ask him to make the first motion. (Login and watch the recording that includes the voting in of board members.)

As we finish out the board update, I’m delighted to report that Jay Hirsh has agreed to serve as president-elect of Congregation Beth Am. He served on the Oshman Family JCC board before serving as the president of Beth Am Men and then becoming our Board Treasurer. Jay has been involved with almost every operations-related project at Beth Am, including video streaming which has become a critical tool during these times.

I’m also pleased to announce the other board officers for this upcoming year. Rachel Gibson and Micaela Hellman-Tincher as Vice-Presidents, Tina Rosenblum as Secretary, and David Crankshaw as Treasurer.

As I round out this leadership update, the clergy and staff is of course the heart and soul of our congregation. I’m thrilled to share that Rabbi Jon Prosnit whose contract terms were set to expire this summer has agreed to renew with Beth Am. As a vital member of the program team, Rabbi Jon continues to lead with passion, empathy, urgency our Tzedek initiatives and The Orchard, our young adult and young family initiative.

This past February, our community ratified the appointment and three year contract term of Rabbi Jeremy Morrison as Beth Am’s next Senior Rabbi. Because you can never thank someone too many times, I’d like to express my gratitude to Mike Kaplan and the transition committee for developing our blueprint for the transition process. As well as the Search Committee co-chairs Rachel Gibson, Bruces Ives and the members of the search committee for their masterful work.

If all we focused on this year was the Senior Rabbi transition that would’ve been enough. But we had other priorities, each involving the partnership between our program team and lay leaders:

  • One of our major priorities was our From Strength to Strength campaign led by Mandy Eisner and Loree Farrar. Total commitments have been: $7.15 million from about 200 households, taking place a little over two years. The campaign and its vision have been very well-received, and our campaign cabinet has worked incredibly hard to undertake 200 face to face meetings. I’m deeply grateful to entire campaign team and for our many generous donors. Your contributions have never been more keenly felt or appreciated. Campaign contributions are already at work in key areas: Endowment funds to support annual operations, housing assistance for our professional team, and until we moved to virtual programming security, youth education inclusion support, and The Orchard, our program for young adults and young families.
     
  • Another goal was re-envisioning youth education and the first step was onboarding  Sarah Lauing, our new Director of Learning and Educational Innovation. Within a few months, Sarah had outlined her vision for our programs moving forward. Also many thanks to chair and board member Debbie Mukamal and all the committee members who supported her in partnership through this process.
     
  • I’d like to recognize Bob Frankle, Rachel Tasch and the Security Working Group for their outstanding work, assessing Beth Am’s specific security needs, consulting with experts, and developing plans and actions to provide greater safety for Beth Am’s members and guests. They’ve also developed the first comprehensive Beth Am Emergency Preparedness and Response Handbook, an initiative led by Jay Hirsh.
     
  • Since last fall, Rabbi Heath, in partnership with our lay leaders formed a task force to examine how to best serve Beth Am’s large and diverse membership as well as engage new members. A lot of great thinking has gone into this and even more exciting next steps to come.
     
  • The Orchard led by Rabbi Jon, board members Taylor Epstein and Micaela and the leadership cabinet have continued to engage our young adult and young family audiences with fun, creative, and meaningful programs and events.

Of course, the one priority we did not plan for was COVID-19.

Our sacred Jewish text teaches us about the disasters and crisis that the Jewish people not only have endured but our capacity to rise up and overcome those challenges. And that’s what the entire Beth Am team has done—they’ve been able to rise to this challenge. They’ve chosen to adapt, pivot, and innovate in a major way.

There are so many examples of how our people — clergy, staff and lay leaders — responded quickly and creatively. So I’ll mention a few:

  • Rabbi Marder has been the driving force behind our messaging to our congregants, reviving the Social Action Emergency Fund to support congregants in need, and developed a new way to offer Torah based reflections to our congregants via email.
     
  • Cantor Jaime has turned her living room into a bima, leading worship, offering twice-weekly sessions of Music and Meditation, and working tirelessly with families to figure out how to reschedule their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and/or develop new ways to celebrate via Zoom.
     
  • Rabbi Sarah provided outstanding teaching and pastoral care, along with leading our Zoom Seder, which drew a huge turnout with even out of state attendees and got rave reviews. Along the way, she managed to find a computer for one of our members to allow their participation in Beth Am's virtual programming.
     
  • Rabbi Heath launched a virtual story time, songs and Shabbat for families. With the help of our operations manager Kelsey Cole, he also organized with the membership task force and lay volunteers to call every member of the congregation to check on their needs.
     
  • Rabbi Jon, in the midst of welcoming in a new baby, has continued to be the driving force behind our Tzedek initiatives like our Hunger and Homelessness campaign where this past Spring, we distributed over $30K to ten different organizations. Your support is more essential than ever so your generosity is much appreciated.
     
  • Sarah Lauing, Alex Lyon, developed a variety of resources for families to learn remotely, offered T’fillah to families every Sunday, moved Sunday and Hebrew Programs online, and offered parent focused events along with Nirit Zandman.
     
  • Our Youth Advisor, Molly Roston launched a high school chat and continues offering events for teens to connect.
     
  • Vicki Streeter along with the team, organized the Frontline Heroes Campaign to collect thank you cards for our community caretakers.
     
  • Rachel Tasch along with the help of lay leaders scaled Beth Am’s video and web capabilities, worked with Liz Vaisben to develop a Virtual Beth Am site within days of closing the campus. Her finance team, Karen Wilkinson, Talia Turkenitz have been working with lay leaders Jay Hirsh and David Crankshaw around the clock each day on our finances as well as helping Beth Am secure the Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program loan. Kelsey Cole, Bria Silbert, Rachel O’Ryan have also been staying on top of all the administrative needs.
     
  • Mandy Eisner have been working incredibly hard with the campaign cabinet to assess what our congregational needs and challenges will be in the coming months. As a result, we’ve decided to pause the community phase of From Strength to Strength campaign. We hope to resume smaller community fundraising for one component of From Strength to Strength before June 30th — the Marder Endowment for Living Torah, a fund that was established to honor and thank Rabbi Marder and to fund future programs and opportunities that are inspired or aligned with Rabbi Marder. More on that soon.
     
  • As things started getting even more serious, we recognized there would be many decisions impacted by coronavirus that couldn’t sit with just one or two people. As a result, we established the Crisis Response Team. The group is made up of our Executive Committee and rotating committee member Miriam Ben-Natan—these are individuals with experience in HR, finance, communications, programming. We have been meeting every week and I’m grateful for all their support.

I’m in awe of the Beth Am team’s spirit and ability to stay positive, motivated, and flexible while creating innovative and new experiences so our congregants can stay connected with each other. The team have been hard at work around the clock, participating in endless conference calls during the day and evenings, trading texts and emails late at night.

Moving forward, we’re beginning to think about what a recovery strategy would need to look like for Beth Am. In doing so, there are two areas we’d need to consider:

First, gather enough facts to lead us where we need to go. This includes:

  • Keeping a close eye on local, state and federal guidance—tensions between these bodies won’t make it easy
  •  Continuing to reach out to experts in the medical field—infectious diseases, epidemiologists
  • Monitoring global resurgence trends of other diseases as well as discoveries around immunity and vaccines
  • Leveraging the URJ’s tremendous resources including content, webinars, and network of Jewish leaders

Second, it’s recognizing that each congregant is facing different needs

  • With a large congregation we have diverse audiences and situations
  • For example, we have families who are thinking about bar/bar mitzvahs, members who are at higher risk for severe illness, individuals who are isolated
  • How can we create a hybrid experience that’s inclusive of those participating virtually and in person?
  • We’ll need to factor in how comfortable our own clergy and staff feels, their family needs and level of risk we’re willing to put them in when providing services to our congregation.

Most of all, the real question isn’t when we should begin moving back. The question is how we could potentially move back. What do I mean by how?

It’s exploring things like a health checklist and what that would look like? Would we need to consider testing? What types of social distancing policies and group size requirements would we need to implement? Clearly not everyone would be able to go back at once so developing virtual, in person and hybrid options.

I also believe there’s a really exciting opportunity in front of us. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the UK recently mentioned on his webinar, "What has the coronavirus pandemic allowed me to do that I couldn’t or wouldn’t have done otherwise?”

And what have we learned from all these changes we’ve been forced to make that we can carry with us post COVID-19?

Recently I heard another leader in our movement share that before coronavirus, she was convinced that people needed to meet face to face in order to have effective small group interactions. But she’s been surprised by how well online meetings have worked and how much easier it is for people to participate—expanding her perspective on what’s possible for congregational life.

This isn’t the first time Beth Am has overcome significant challenges. We’ve been able to do so over the past 65 years because of the compassionate, collaborative people that stand behind our congregation. I also believe we’ll be able to look back to this moment in time where we came together to form a more healthy and hopeful future. Wherever we are, and even when we’re not physically together on campus, we’re all part of one Beth Am.

Going Forward

While there may be uncertainty, the congregation continues to plan for the future.

The transition committee have started thinking about the onboarding process for Rabbi Morrison. Also, the current program team have had some preliminary conversations with Rabbi Morrison on topics that need attention now that will impact him after July 1st.

One of these topics is around High Holy Days. Because we won’t be able to return to Redemption church, we’ve started exploring what it would look like bringing HHD back to Beth Am. More to come.

Last but not least, and I’m sure it’s something on everyone’s minds — Rabbi Marder’s Thank You weekend in June. The first time I set foot on the Beth Am campus was Rabbi Marder’s first year as Senior Rabbi. It’s only fitting that on her last year, I have the profound opportunity to help celebrate everything she’s done for the Beth Am community. We’re actively adapting our plans and I’m sure it comes as no surprise that there are many thoughtful stakeholders including the transition committee behind this process. We still plan to have a series of events that will honor Rabbi Marder in the best possible way as well as provide the congregation an opportunity to wish her well. We hope to share more with all of you soon.

L'shalom,


Andy

Sat, May 30 2020 7 Sivan 5780