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Clergy / President's Column by President Andy Cheng

An Update on Our 5781 Strategic Priorities
Part I: Learning From Our Present to Design Our Future

This past summer, the Board of Directors and the Program Team announced three strategic priorities for our congregation during the year 5781: Racial Justice and Equity; Youth Education; and Learning From Our Present to Design Our Future, as well as attainable, one-year goals in each of these areas. We chose to determine strategic priorities in order to:

  • Create robust and clear partnerships between Beth Am’s Professional Team and its Board
  • Focus our joint leadership efforts in three key strategic areas that will strengthen our congregation in the areas of membership and engagement
  • Align our efforts for 5781 with the congregational findings that informed its search and selection of a new senior rabbi
  • Move towards a financially stable future with a sustainable income stream and an affordable operating model.

Although our three priorities provide us focal points for our efforts to accomplish our congregation’s mission, they do not encompass the entirety of the wide panoply of Beth Am’s programs and activities through which we strive to live as a holy community whose study and practice of Judaism inspires and challenges us to “do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8). As a large and dynamic congregation, we are fortunate to support, simultaneously, a multiplicity of opportunities to engage in worship, study and the pursuit of justice.

In this and our next two jointly written Builder columns, we will focus on one of each of the three priorities in order to offer a fuller explanation for the priority’s importance, and to give you an update on our progress.

The strategic priority that we have titled, The Internet is Our Temple: Learning From Our Present to Design Our Future, is led by our co-chairs, Jay Hirsh and Dana Marks, and by Rabbi Heath Watenmaker.

Why are we focused on this particular priority right now? Limitations spur creativity. In the midst of this pandemic, we are continually inspired by the resourcefulness of our members and staff, and the manifold ways that we have, together, reformulated our synagogue online. As we all experienced during the High Holy Days, we are discovering new dimensions of synagogue life. We seek to learn from these months of online get-togethers; experiment with new, virtual opportunities for engagement and education; and discover innovative ways to build and sustain our community. We anticipate that when we are, once again, able to come together in large-scale gatherings, we will continue to develop Beth Am’s virtual facets.

What have we accomplished thus far? One of our stated goals for this priority is to continually assess the changes we have made to our operations since the beginning of COVID-19, and study their impact. As we have all experienced, we are living in an obstacle-laden environment that challenges us to find new ways to engage with one another. We are reflecting on the monumental work the clergy and staff did to deliver virtual High Holy Days experiences, a first in our history. We have learned a great deal from our online services. For instance, we have adapted to our Erev Shabbat worship services several of the technological upgrades we made for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Although the High Holy Day services were produced and streamed by a professional team of outside consultants, Beth Am Executive Director Rachel Tasch and Jay Hirsh, our next Beth Am President, have innovated new and financially viable methods to produce a similarly high-quality, online weekly Erev Shabbat service (available Friday evenings, 6:15 PM at Additionally, the High Holy Days taught us about the benefits, and the complicated processes, of producing and incorporating pre-recorded video into our livestreams. The wonderful video that the clergy created for our Erev Simchat Torah service was a direct result of their experiences producing similar material for the High Holy Days. Finally, we’ve begun experimenting with an online opportunity to come together before and after Friday night services in a Zoom gathering that we are calling The Foyer. Look for more details soon.

During September and October, we also experimented with small-scale, and often demographically targeted, in-person opportunities for engagement (all were socially distanced, and carefully coordinated to ensure safety). Honey cakes were delivered to members of our congregation who are 80 years old and above;  religious school families drove through our campus in order to pick up school materials and to drop off non-perishable food for a local food pantry. We provided scheduled times to pray before the opened ark in our Sanctuary. In each of these instances, our congregants had a brief, but meaningful opportunity to interact with members of our Program Team and staff.

Over 90 members took the opportunity to visit our Mobile Sukkah which, during a two-day period, was parked in four different neighborhoods, and was staffed by our clergy. When we ran into each other at the Mobile Sukkah stationed in downtown Palo Alto, we realized that it was the first time since the Congregational Meeting in February that Rabbi Morrison and his family had met a small group of congregants in person. As we continue to confront this pandemic, we will be creating similar, small-scale opportunities for in-person engagement that abide by the Santa Clara County guidelines for gatherings during COVID-19. There’s nothing that can replace seeing someone face to face (socially distanced and masked of course).

In addition to these new methods for engaging our members in Beth Am’s communal life, the leadership of this strategic priority is considering processes by which we can guide individual congregants, throughout the term of their membership, towards continual and more meaningful engagement with our synagogue. They have also begun exploring ways to evolve the meaning of “membership pledges” at Beth Am, and to refine our efforts to engage new participants in our community.

We will have more to share with you about our progress within this strategic priority in the months ahead.


Rabbi Jeremy S. Morrison      Andy Cheng, Beth Am President

Sat, November 28 2020 12 Kislev 5781