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President's Messages 2022-23

You will find recent messages from the Beth Am Board President posted here.


Sunday, October 9, 2022
Subject: Shalom Bayit in 5783

Dear Friends,

What a joy it was to see so many of you panim el panim (face to face) over Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur! What a blessing for people near and far to be able to join our worship on the live streaming!

In his Yom Kippur Kol Nidre sermon, Rabbi Morrison mentioned that his initial three-year agreement with Beth Am is in its final year. I thought, therefore, that it would be helpful to share some information about the extensive process that the Board of Directors is undertaking as it considers an extension to Rabbi Morrison's employment.

Rabbi Morrison's contract as our Senior Rabbi is for a three-year term ending June 30, 2023. While we are committed to being as transparent as possible, Rabbi Morrison is entitled to our kavod (respect), which includes privacy and discretion about details of the process, just as any of us would want to be treated.

The board has been following the guidance of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) advice for evaluation in their Guidelines for Rabbinical-Congregational Relations [pdf]:

In considering renewal, some Congregations have undertaken to evaluate the Rabbi through the use of questionnaires and surveys which the general membership is asked to complete. Specialists in the area of evaluation have concluded that the scope of the Rabbi's responsibilities is so broad that an objective evaluation cannot be accomplished in this manner. Moreover, experience has demonstrated that polling the entire Congregation can be destructive to relationships between the Rabbi and the congregants. Therefore, such practices are to be avoided. Rather than resorting to polls and surveys, the elected leaders of the Congregation should rely upon their own perceptions and their personal observation of the quality of the Rabbi's ministry in making their recommendations.

At every step the board has been, and is, working to enhance shalom bayit (peace in the home), to treat everyone in our community – congregants, staff and clergy alike -- with respect and dignity, and to ensure a vibrant future for Beth Am. I can say that I have witnessed all 18 of our fellow congregants who serve with me on our board act with high levels of dedication, respect, and care for the wellbeing of each and every member of Beth Am community, including the clergy and the staff. I am humbled and grateful for everything that they have done, and continue to do, for our beloved congregation. Of course, Rabbi Morrison has been frequently briefed on the process and has directly engaged with the board on multiple occasions.

Early in the process, the board recognized that congregant perspectives would be among the multiple factors to be considered. Over 200 congregants have shared their perspectives on Rabbi Morrison’s leadership with board members. If you would like to add your thoughts, please send them to me at president@betham.org or to reach all board members directly, you can send an email to board@betham.org by Sunday, October 16th.

I hope to see you over the upcoming Sukkot holiday. I hope the experience of dwelling – temporary, perhaps even metaphorically – in our flimsy huts will remind us all how challenging, and how valuable, the work of building something can be. We have, together, built a remarkable congregation and a loving community. I am confident that we will, together, continue to go from strength to strength.  


Warm regards,
Jay Hirsh
President, Congregation Beth Am


Friday, October 14, 2022
Subject: Shalom Bayit -- An Update

Dear Friends,

Moadim l’simcha!  I hope you are enjoying the Sukkot holiday, and finding joy in your celebrations.
 
After reaching out to our congregation on Sunday, I am pleased to share that so far the board has received additional emails from about 100 congregants. Most comments are consistent with previous input we had received from congregants, clergy, staff, and outside experts. At the same time, some additional themes have also emerged:

  • A number of congregants, regardless of their position on the question of contract renewal, are concerned about rumors and misinformation. Our board members share that concern in a deep and serious way. We take special care to keep our discussions rooted in truth and fact, avoiding rumors and speculation, and we hope our entire community will do the same as an extension of our common Jewish values.

  • Confidentiality is a concern for a number of community members who have contacted us with feedback.

  • Congregants are interested in better understanding the Board’s process.

Several congregants asked for more information about the process that the Board is engaged in around Rabbi Morrison's contract renewal. I can share that we start each session with a prayer and study of a Jewish text, to remind us of the sacred work we are doing and to inspire us to conduct ourselves according to our Jewish values. The words of our prayer for the meeting conclude with:
We pray that our meeting will be without personal vanity, devoted to a higher purpose, and conducted in harmonious friendship; that we will listen to each other’s voices; and that we will be granted wisdom and intuition to succeed in our goals.
 
The contract renewal process is rooted in the work that was done as part of the original hiring process for selecting our Senior Rabbi. One of the touchstones the board is using for considering Rabbi Morrison's performance and fit for our congregation is the 2019-20 Beth Am Senior Rabbi Search Application (download pdf link). This insightful document offers a concise guide to what makes Beth Am the treasured community we love. That document was based on extensive work done to gather input from congregants. For example, when considering alignment of values, the board members can reference the values that are listed as the enduring values our community holds dear, and make us who we are:
 
Collaborative Partnership
An Egalitarian Culture
Delight in Jewish Learning
A Culture of Civility and Respect
Community of Compassion and Care
Service to the Community
Commitment to Israel
Excellence and Innovation

By grounding our process in Torah, and keeping Beth Am’s special nature in mind throughout, we have been able to consider all dimensions in an organized way which is thorough, balanced, fair to all, and consistent with our Jewish values.

I appreciate the opportunity for me and our board members to respond to the questions we’ve received, while balancing that with the confidentiality expected of us as an employer and as a board of directors. We are maintaining confidences to respect those who have shared sensitive stories with us, and to respect Rabbi Morrison. Holding large public forums on sensitive matters is simply not a responsible way to maintain that confidentiality, or to conduct an even-handed process. It would instead provide fertile ground for just the opposite to occur, sowing further discord in our community through excessive campaigning, the potential amplification of inaccuracies, and a proliferation of uncivil exchanges. We seek to treat everyone who is part of this process with care, and to maintain Beth Am's cherished culture of civility and respect.
 
I am grateful for the continued hard work of our Board of Directors who have given so generously of their time and energy to fulfilling their responsibility to conduct this contract renewal process fairly on behalf of the entire congregation. To learn more about each of our 19 congregant board members, feel free to check out their updated biographical information at this link: https://www.betham.org/board-of-directors.html
 
There is still time to contribute your thoughts. Please send them to me at president@betham.org or to reach all board members directly, you can send an email to board@betham.org by Sunday, October 16th.

This is such a joyous time on our Jewish calendar. I hope I’ll see you at Beth Am over the upcoming holidays. We will be dancing with the Torahs on Simchat Torah (Sunday night) and celebrating Kindergarten consecration this Friday night at Shabbat services.

 
Warm regards,
Jay Hirsh
President


Friday, October 21, 2022

Subject: An Important Message for Our Beth Am Community

 

Dear Beth Am Members,

As we begin the New Year, I write to share some important news.

When Rabbi Morrison joined Congregation Beth Am we agreed, as is customary, to a three-year contract.  The Reform Movement recommends an initial three-year contract because it takes time for a congregation and a rabbi to discover if they are, in fact, a good match for each other.

Rabbi Morrison’s contract will expire at the end of June 2023, and after extensive deliberations and a multi-month process, the Board has decided that Rabbi Morrison’s service to Beth Am will conclude when his contract ends. You should know that the Board has regularly communicated with Rabbi Morrison about its process and the likely timing of its decision. This morning, we talked with Rabbi Morrison and shared with him the results of our vote.

The Board is deeply appreciative of the hundreds of congregants who shared their views with us.  Those communications were sincerely helpful to us as we engaged in our process, and we greatly valued each of them.  

We realize, of course, that this decision will not please everyone.  As your comments made clear, there is no decision that could please everyone; and we have been deeply aware that some portion of the congregation would experience disappointment, even anger, no matter which decision we made.  While we care deeply about the experience and feelings of every member of our community, our responsibility was to make the best decision for the congregation as a whole. We are confident that we have done just that. We look forward to working with all of you to find ways to help the congregation move forward -- together, as one community, regardless of our individual positions or opinions about this decision.

We have reached this decision with sadness, but with our eyes fixed firmly on Beth Am’s future.  It is clear to us that, despite his strengths, Rabbi Morrison is not the right rabbi for Beth Am at this moment.  We appreciate the valuable work that Rabbi Morrison has done during his rabbinate, and we wish him nothing but success in the future.

Why have we reached this decision?  As is typically true in a situation like this, where a complex evaluation of alignment with spiritual and community values is required, there is no single factor that dictates the outcome.  Rather, our decision arises from a consideration of multiple factors related to Rabbi Morrison’s ability to unite the congregation as a kehilla kedosha (a holy community).

We do want to speak specifically to one suggestion that has been raised, and which we considered in some detail: that Rabbi Morrison be given a one-year contract extension.  Although that idea is appealing on the surface – Who would not want to give someone more time to respond to concerns?  Why not allow more time because COVID was unforeseeable and made connecting more work?  Who would not want more time to make a crucial decision? –  We have learned from the experts we have consulted, however, that such an extension is almost never successful in bringing the congregation together.

We expect that Rabbi Morrison will remain at Beth Am until the end of his contract in June.  We want to be absolutely clear: even after Rabbi Morrison’s departure we are confident that our clergy and staff will be able to provide the exceptional leadership and dedicated service that we all so deeply appreciate. The Board is considering a number of approaches as we think about a new Senior Rabbi, and you can expect regular communication as that process goes forward.

We realize that this news may come as a surprise to some of you, and that some of you may have questions about the decision and what it means for Beth Am’s future.  If you would like to have a member of the Board call you to discuss your questions, please leave a message with Bria Silbert in the synagogue office (650/493-4661).  A Board member will get back to you within a day or two. In addition, we will be creating a variety of opportunities for listening and discussion in the coming weeks.

Friends, we are optimistic about the future of Beth Am.  We hope that you share that optimism.  We know that what makes Beth Am special is not any one of us.  It is the unique and vibrant community we have built together.  

We look forward to our remarkable community going, together, from strength to strength.

 

Respectfully,

Jay Hirsh
President
Congregation Beth Am of Los Altos Hills


 

Monday, October 24, 2022
Subject: Join us for a Beth Am Special Membership Meeting on December 15th at 7:30pm on Zoom

Dear Friends,

I hope you will be able to join us for a Special Membership Meeting of the Beth Am community on December 15, 2022 at 7:30pm on Zoom for congregants to ask questions and provide input regarding the Board’s recent decision not to offer Rabbi Morrison a new, additional contract.
 
This meeting will be a critical part of the important work of shalom bayit -- achieving peace in our house -- that lies ahead. That work has, of course, already begun; Board members are currently having one-to-one conversations with congregants.  Between now and December 15th, we will be facilitating a series of small group meetings, to provide opportunities for meaningful dialogue in a more personal way. There will be both Zoom sessions and in-person sessions, at various times of the day, to maximize the opportunity for our community to join together and talk with each other about Beth Am’s future. Members of the Board look forward to joining you in those conversations, and to working together towards the future of our beloved House of the People, Beth Am.

This Special Membership Meeting is being called as required by Section IX(B) of the By-Laws of Congregation Beth Am.  It was requested in writing on October 14, 2022, by fifteen percent (15%) of the membership units of our community. The purpose of this meeting, as noted above, will be to provide an opportunity to ask questions and offer input regarding the Board's recent decision related to our Senior Rabbi's contract.
 
To be as inclusive as possible, and in consideration of the varying levels of comfort regarding COVID cautions in our community, we will hold this meeting on Zoom. Please register to attend this Special Membership Meeting by signing up at:
https://www.betham.org/event/SMMDecember15
Please register no later than noon on December 15th. Once you register, you will receive the Zoom participant information in advance of the meeting. All members who wish to attend this Special Membership Meeting are welcome; no one is required to attend.
 
The entire Board and I look forward to the opportunity to engage in these conversations, which will culminate with the December 15th meeting.

Respectfully,
Jay Hirsh
President
Congregation Beth Am of Los Altos Hills


Tue, Nov 1, 2022
Subject: Continuing meaningful dialogue at Beth Am

Beth Am President Jay Hirsh  
 

Our ability to engage in machloket [disputes] while maintaining a sense of derech eretz (i.e. civility, level-headedness, graciousness) is absolutely critical to the advancement of society and the world.… [R]egardless of the topic … Jewish wisdom and teaching are clear: for our debates and wrangling to have any enduring value, we must frame our positions, l’shem shamayim [for the sake of heaven].

Rabbi Dr. Dvora E. Weisberg, Rabbi Aaron D. Panken z''l Professor of Rabbinics; Rabbinical School Director; HUC-JIR

November 1, 2022

Dear Friends,

I know you have heard from me a lot in the past few weeks. These are hard days at Beth Am, and the Board members and I are absolutely committed to ensuring that you are kept as informed as possible. At the same time, we know that there are some in the congregation who feel disconnected and that they have not had an opportunity to share their input with the Board.

That is why I am inviting you to participate in a three-stage process to get the entire congregation on the same page and moving forward:

1. A Congregational Briefing, 6pm-7pm Thursday, November 3, 2022

I hope you will join us on Thursday night at 6:00 PM for a Congregational Briefing. This will be an opportunity for the entire congregation to hear from the Board about its process, its decisions, and its plans for the future.

As I said previously, we know that there are many rumors circulating.  This Briefing, which will be held in the new format of a Zoom webinar to allow as many people as possible to participate, is designed to make sure everyone has accurate information going forward.   

Click here to register for the November 3rd Zoom webinar.

I should be clear that we have listening sessions planned, but that this meeting is intended to be a Briefing, not a listening session.   We believe that listening is best done in smaller groups, where all participants have an opportunity to be heard, and where discussion is more likely to be constructive.  We are, as detailed below, fully committed to such listening.

2.  Board Listening, November 4 - December 12, 2022

After the Briefing on Thursday, we will be providing opportunities for you to join Board members in small group conversations.  Each session will have two Board members, and a maximum of 14 participants.  (Why 14?  So that those meetings which are held on Zoom will fit onto one screen!)  

We have scheduled more than a dozen meetings on different days and at different times to make it possible for as many people to participate as are interested.  We will add as many sessions as necessary to make sure that anyone who wants to can participate in one of the meetings.  We are scheduling some meetings on Zoom, others at Beth Am, and are looking to meet members off campus too. We are working hard to make it as easy for you to participate as possible.

You can find more information and click here to sign up to participate.  

3. Special Membership Meeting, Thursday, December 15, 2022

I have already written you about the Special Membership Meeting called for December 15, 2022 and will share more information as the meeting draws closer. The previously announced purpose of this meeting will be to provide an opportunity to ask questions and offer input regarding the Board's recent decision related to our Senior Rabbi's contract. Click here to register.

(I have heard from many of you who would prefer that the meeting be held in person rather than on Zoom. I absolutely understand that desire. Nevertheless, we believe the best way to provide for full participation is to use Zoom. Yes, it’s imperfect. But increasingly our membership appears to prefer being able to participate in events from home, some due to COVID concerns, family needs, or simply convenience; over the High Holy Days, for example, more than 1,000 joined remotely versus about 500 who came to the sanctuary. As for a “hybrid” meeting, in practice that typically makes for an unsatisfying experience for everyone in a large setting. At a minimum, it creates a hierarchy of participants, which is both unfair and ineffective.)

▪    ▪    ▪

I want to add a word about Rachel Tasch’s announced resignation as Beth Am’s Executive Director. Rachel has been an invaluable part of the Beth Am community for many years. We are grateful for her service. She, like some others in our community, questioned the Board’s recent decision not to renew Rabbi Morrison’s contract. Rachel and Rabbi Morrison have worked together very closely since his arrival at Beth Am, and we appreciate how this is disappointing for her. I’m sorry that Rachel has decided to pursue other interests, but that does not diminish either our appreciation for her leadership or our commitment to move forward as one community and mend the fabric that is frayed. I hope to be able to invite you to celebrate Rachel's numerous contributions to the congregation at a future date.

Thank you, again and always, for your commitment to and support of our congregation.

Respectfully,

Jay Hirsh
President
Congregation Beth Am


Mon, November 28 2022 4 Kislev 5783