Annual Congregational Meeting (June 4, 2015)
Good evening and welcome to our 2015 Annual Congregational Meeting, to our 50th Anniversary Celebration Year, to the last ten days before our Anniversary Gala, to our celebration of volunteers and to only six more days until Rabbis Jonathan and Linda return…..but who is counting? This has been some kind of year with enough highs and lows to have kept a ping pong game going for a while.
First of all let me say thank you to all of our volunteers, including Deb Mock, Michael Marx, Susan Kipp, Joe Ditata and an extraordinarily long list of others who I will try to recognize in upcoming notices and programs, who have taken on so many important, necessary and time consuming responsibilities, everything from assuring the continuity of services to running the building to running the bakery, to running special programming to running the Israeli shop to supporting the school and on and on. Thank you to all faculty for a job well done under some strained leadership voids, to Johnna Maiorella, Susan Kipp and Mary Taber who stepped in so graciously to take over so many administrative/communication tasks with the school and faculty, to our Temple Administrator, Pattie Cornute…I don’t know how we would could possibly have accomplished so much or been as effective or successful as we were without her support and skills.
Some days it felt as though all we did was deal with problems these past many months, but then I had to recollect all the good things. So let me do that with you.
Temple Sinai remained vibrant while the Rabbis were away. Prior to their Sabbatical the Rabbis trained monthly coordinators and volunteer lay leaders that have shown unparalleled skill and commitment. With so many of our Congregants leading services we have had a wonderful diversity of styles and personalities…and tried a few new things that may be permanently incorporated. The congregation stepped up to the plate as well and turned out in greater numbers than ever before.
We have finally paid off our Temple Sinai mortgage! While always struggling with an extremely frugal budget we have managed to continue investments in particular to plan for future health expenses of our Rabbis in retirement.
We received close to $20,000 in grants for which we applied coupled with unsolicited and therefore unexpected additional synagogue grants from this year and the prior year. With the synagogue specific grants we have been able to fund new Holiday books and purchase beautiful new Sanctuary chairs. We have had donations of over 100 banquet chairs by Bob Israel, a beautiful new Oneg table and a large refrigerator for the kitchen both by the Openneers. We had a beautiful hand carved Judaica art piece in traditional design made and donated to our synagogue by local artist, Gary Holzman.
We had a donation of funds to clean up the basement, refurbish a beautiful children’s bathroom for our youngest congregants and install extensive shelving for storage.
We had a Purim Carnival that hundreds of TS and community families enjoyed and a sold out community Seder. We had community partnerships for interfaith programming, Christmas dinner, blood drives, the Victorian Stroll and have continued partnerships to work with local Churches, Congregations and Chabad in both Saratoga and Clifton Park and Skidmore Office for Jewish Student Life. We had increasingly successful adult programming with Hebrew classes, Torah Study, adult education, meditation, Jewish Community Arts, book club readings and so forth.
Havurah Vatik, a gem created and continued under the auspices of TS, challenged by loss of leadership was reenergized with a new Temple Sinai volunteer.
Our Temple Administrator continues to grow in her role, and even as she was asked to assume responsibilities that normally would have fallen to the Rabbis or to stretched volunteers….she accepted these and other add-ons, including stepping up to help with the administrative side of the school, taking on the production of the Tablet, supporting fundraising, supporting Havarah Vatik, preparing and writing announcements, recommending and implementing the use of new database software for the synagogue…..endless…. With Pattie’s support we were able to put out an enhanced Memory Book with appropriate prayers and poetry for Yom Kippur, give timely notice to families that they might order Yahrzeit plaques and have them installed before the Holidays and be attentive to cemetery usage and related paperwork….again endless support. We just have to make sure we don’t add that straw that breaks the camel’s back!
Our Annual Appeal surpassed expectations through great congregational support. We have worked hard to keep communications open and regular from the Board to the Congregation….I’d like to think that was a success…..but that is for you to judge. In the new year we will be publishing Board minutes for the Congregational use.
And I think the piec de’resistance, a very strong slate of new officers and trustees to offer to the Congregation
So what have been our challenges?
Well, we had our initial hopes dashed for the start of a new era with our Education Director who unfortunately fell ill early in the year and tried to push through. We had to deal with a separation on this front under difficult circumstances. We had to impose on a group of volunteers and Pattie to take up some of the slack….yet there were still too many pieces that fell through the cracks. In a brief time frame and with the support of Federation and referrals for supportive counsel who has worked with Board members of Federation and their synagogues we accomplished what needed to be done. Again through Federation we received a goodly number of qualified referrals for interim school director and successfully hired a strong candidate we felt was right for us at this point in time. We know there are challenges ahead…rebuilding confidence, rebuilding the youth programs, demonstrating sound leadership and recruiting for a permanent director to take us in the educational direction we outlined two or more years ago.
We experienced a break-in…a lucky one at that, as there was no major harm done to our building or its contents. Lucky? We were reminded that we need to be more prudent in our contemporary world. Business and congregational donors replaced the contents of our raffle basket which had been rifled through, with even more generous gifts. As a result of the prompt response of the Board and the unbelievably capable knowledge, time and commitment of Building Committee co-chair, Larry Novik, security issues we have talked about and angsted over for years are being acted upon now. There’s always more to be done, but we have heeded the warnings and are moving forward. As we speak new security and fire safety systems are being installed.
Many of you don’t know but we were advised of a demonstration to be held on the night of the recent Federation Saratoga/North Country Event. The Police Chief stopped by and when I called later he provided me with a personal cell number and took concerns seriously. The group that protested was a known group and did not represent any threat; however, the Chief did have concern about outside groups joining in with whom he might not have any familiarity. The City Center and the Police worked with us and the evening went smoothly…..with an excellent program brought in by Federation. This speaks to the relationships we maintain with key contacts in the community.
While we are doing much, offer even more, and held an over the top Annual appeal, we still have a very frugal budget to meet growing needs. We have a very beautiful and beloved, albeit old and “needy” home on Broadway. One of the very helpful things is donations to help meet our goals, whether it is general donations or a targeted donation such as Al Mossman’s donation of over 100 new High Holiday books and the Horner’s project to renovate the basement level of our building so the children have a clean space to enter and an appropriate bathroom on their level or the group effort to renovate space for our beautiful new library through grants and donations.. This month’s Tablet lists a range of potential donor projects that would be a wonderful addition to Temple Sinai.
We do not turn away our Jewish community from either our synagogue or religious school because of money. We have one of the most modest fee and dues schedules among synagogues in the greater region. We count on every dollar. Our definition of member in good standing is very liberal….up to date with payments or if a financial accommodation is requested and in place, just meet the plan agreed to. Nonetheless, we still struggle with lack of timely payment.
Let me clarify. Most congregants pay in a timely way; if anyone requires a financial accommodation they can request it with no questions asked. However, we still have too big a number who do not pay timely or do not pay at all or who do not request an accommodation with a payment plan. This puts an undue strain on us all.
It costs to keep the lights on; it costs to have rabbis, it costs to run the religious school (fees do not come close to covering the expense of the school, but the school is the source of not only educating our young people, but of encouraging participation in synagogue life and ensuring there will be more practicing Jews in generations to come). So, we must remain extremely frugal and still do those things necessary to make our synagogue worthy of your support, attractive to new families by its offerings, current and progressive with systems and curricula and a “Jewish community home” for us all. So, hopefully you will understand when we have to also come to you with modest dues increases to take some of the immediate pressure off and not begin cutting into what we are trying to achieve.
Thank you all for being here and for your ongoing support of your volunteer leadership.