Shana Tova and Gmar Hatima Tova to you all. I’m Helen Pinsky, and for a second time it is my extreme privilege to address you on erev Yom Kippur, to personally wish you all a happy healthy New Year, and to ensure that you are all informed of the “state of the Union” at Congregation Beth Israel from my perspective as President of the Board of Directors.
It still feels like an incredible honour to act as your president. Tonight, I want to thank the wonderful people that work and serve at BI and acknowledge their contributions. I will tell you what activities go on here. I will share some high points of this year and next. My ultimate wish is that the telling will make you want to be involved in all that happens here, and to be part of our success.
Our synagogue cannot operate without its outstanding staff members. I continue to be impressed and amazed by the high quality of the people I have the pleasure of working with here, and the more contact we have, the better it gets. I’ll start with our inspiring clergy. Rabbi Infeld has the respect of the entire congregation, and he gives us his heart with everything he does. He, together with Rabbi Stein and Debby Fenson, create a most meaningful shabbat service every week. Our holiday services are rich and full. Programmes and celebrations featuring Rabbi Infeld and /or Rabbi Stein and/ or Debby continue to capture our interest and our hearts. I’ll go into more detail in a minute.
From Esther Wood, our extremely warm, extremely efficient executive director, through the full staff component, we owe you dedicated people a debt of gratitude for the ways in which you make the shul function. You are the people who take a building shell, fill it with warmth, spiritual richness, learning, programming, laughter, song and fellowship, and make this synagogue alive. Words cannot express our gratitude, but I’ll try. Thank you. You mean the world to us. I want to acknowledge Nicki Fried, adult programming; Gaynor Levin; facilities and rentals, Adi Hayun, administration, Suzanne Gumperich, friendly front desk, Lito Manalo, accountant and Chuck Partridge building and properties manager, all of whom work in the office area. Chuck is also Cemetery Manager. I want to thank custodial staff Melody Boyboy, head of house, Hymie Doton, Purita Mallari and Julieta Appari. Our sparkling physical environment and delicious food with smiling service are all thanks to them.
I am pleased to announce that Rabbi David Bluman has assumed the role of Director of young family programming. That is in addition to his job as Director of Youth Engagement, including running the BI Hebrew School and our youth groups. Rabbi Bluman supervises quality staff including 8 Hebrew School teachers and 6 Chai School teachers and a USY programmer. Yasher Koach to those who serve our youth. We also have a huge number of occasional staff who childmind, work with food, and help with various programs. Thank you to all of them.
I also have words of gratitude for the many volunteers who add to the quality of the Beth Israel experience. To the executive and members of the Board of Directors, I am held in awe of the commitment you make to the business of governance and the way in which you conduct yourselves. You deliberate and discuss, always with the best interests of our congregation in mind. I continue to learn so much from you.
Committee chairs and members, each of you has an area of interest or expertise that you are willing to commit to for the sake of the synagogue. We have established a strong, broadly based committee system that includes finance committee, ritual committee, art, security, membership, nominating, human resources, Hebrew school, USY Board, a TnT taskforce and a policy and procedures task force. Each meets as needed, and gets a job done well. We also have a BRCA committee which will host a program in the coming year about the BRCA gene and those who carry it. This year our new formed security committee has been working extra hard to meet increased concerns. As well, we are putting in place a new policy and procedures manual to replace the one that hasn’t really been updated since the early 90s. In addition, some of you volunteers assist with visiting the ill and shut-in, and organizing and executing many of our programs, especially those involving our kids.
To our fundraisers, it’s a tough job but some of you recognize the need for the synagogue to remain fully fiscally responsible. You make phone calls and you bring people out to events. You innovate new fundraising ideas. We can’t balance our budget without your support.
Our greeters, parnassim, lay readers, daveners, choir members all make shabbat and holidays more meaningful and run more smoothly. You grace the services with your dedication.
It’s impossible to name you all, and I dare not put myself in jeopardy of missing out key players, so I must simply say this. The past year has been a very active one, and each one of our volunteers – there are many in this room, has made a difference and added quality to our sacred space. Your participation and dedication is inspiring and it is my hope that others will be encouraged to participate by your lead and example. Thank you.
Last year’s activities
From Sept. 2018 – Aug. 2019:
On the first day of Rosh Hashana over 1700 people attended services here. And by the way, please come back during Succot, when we have so many more programs for members of all ages.
On Shabbat mornings when there are no special events, we average 120-140 daveners.
Purim attracted 600 kids and adults to the synagogue, with excellent programming and a delicious meal being big draws. Conceived and directed by Jonathan Berkowitz as always, this program was held jointly with Beth Tikvah this year. Rabbi Infeld’s Lunch and learn continues to average 40-50 participants every week. The Jewish History series that he gave involved 50-80 people each time. Our Shtisel program averaged 80 participants on each of 2 evenings.
An innovative Law and Learn Seminar, providing legal credits for Continuing Legal Education had 90 attendees, and raised $15000. Selichot was well attended and a great program, with 150-200 people in attendance. We conducted futher joint programs with other synagogues for Tisha B’Av, and for Shavuot. It provided a different perspective on some areas of Jewish thought. As always, I for one came out of the programs feeling very comfortable in my commitment to Conservative Judaism. It suits who I am.
Our Syrian refugee family was introduced to the congregation, and we receive regular updates on their progress in their new home. Our volunteers continue to commit themselves to this worthy project. BI Neighbourhoods, which I introduced to you last year, is doing well. Last program had 60 participants.
We had 27 new member families join the congregation. There were 22 b’nai mitzvot, 11 conversions, 12 weddings, 8 baby namings and brit milah, 23 funerals and 13 unveilings. We had 37 member rentals of the facilities, and 18 other rental including weekly ongoing rentals and 2 movies.
2019 was a very successful year for Shabbat with a Difference with over close to 1200 people attending 4 services and 520 people staying for the dinners. We have seen many new attendees joining our regulars, including three generation families with grandparents, children and grandchildren. In April we were able to offer our members a final chometz meal before Passover and in May we partnered with March of the Living. We ended the year with our traditional BBQ. Next year we will be celebrating five years of Shabbat with a Difference and our original committee, spearheaded by Ramona Josephson, is already working on a very special program for 2020.
Fundraisers this year were interesting and different. As promised last year, we honoured Rabbi and Phyllis Solomon at a Gala, as celebration of the tribute they received from the Rabbinical Assembly. The dinner was gorgeous, Rabbi and Phyllis attended via Skype, they were feted in a musical production led by Sandy and Yale Chernoff. Kudos and kisses to the mother daughter team of Marcy Schwartzman and Leatt Vinegar for chairing the gala, which included 180 guests and raised $75,000 for the synagogue.
Earlier in the year we held a Casino Night, chaired by Mike Harris & Robert Down. It was a first for us, and it was a blast! From the great programming to the tasting bar, this event was a winner. We raised $8,000.
Last year I promised you that our executive director Esther put in place more financial safeguards and more precise budgeting models so that our dollars are accounted for. Well, she has done all that and more. Each dollar we have raised has her blood, sweat and tears on it. And each dollar that goes out is accurately weighed and measured. We have sharpened our pencils and I’m proud of the way in which we handle our resources.
As your president, last year I made a commitment to transparency and communication. For a second year now, the congregation received a letter from your president and last time from your vice president, after every Board meeting, letting you know exactly what we discussed, decided, and received as information.
What’s coming up
Meet the newest program at BI – the Veggie club. Its objective is to bring our community together with a view to helping feed Jews in need. New participants welcome. It’s a soup kitchen with friends. What a great way to socialize, do a mitzvah and practice your culinary skills.
Law and Learn in Israel (for Lawyers and led by Rabbi Infeld and others) has 35 registrants and takes place in November.
Our BRCA committee is hosting a program early in the coming year about the BRCA gene and those who carry it.
Decisions taken (if you’ve been reading your letters from me, these come at no surprise)
Security levy – The North American Jewish community suffered many tragedies in the past year, starting with Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, it became imperative to respond to escalation in security breaches and violence against the Jewish community. We chose to be proactive, and you accepted the Board’s decision to assess a security levy which is $100 per member family.
We now have security guards on a regular basis. In addition, we have applied for the Federal SIP grant. It can only be used for security infrastructure upgrades (not security guards). Money raised from levy and grant will allow us to
Put blast film on windows facing Oak Street & West 28th Avenue
Put up bollards along our property facing oak street
Add more cameras in our synagogue
Our goal is to balance the need for safety without taking away frm the welcoming inviting space we know BI to be.
And we plan to continue making more security upgrades over the next few years, ensuring our facility is secure while still being accessible.
Rabbi Stein – Our relationship with Rabbi Stein has taken the next step. He said Yes!! This year a new 6 year contract with Rabbi Stein was struck. Let me tell you about some of the wonderful things he does. In addition to sharing rabbinical duties with our Head Rabbi, Rabbi Stein has initiated phonecalls to all congregants marking an anniversary of the death of a loved one – a yahrzeit. He says that he averages 35 calls a week, resulting in over 4000 calls since starting the practice. These phone calls allow congregants to share vulnerable moments with the klei kodesh which opens up opportunities for stronger continued connection throughout the year. He has also increased calls to congregants who are, for example, shut ins, and makes visits to those in senior homes and hospitals.
Environmental awareness and action – this has been on my agenda for a while now, but recently I made a decision that we have to start somewhere. It’s time to get going. Now Rabbi Stein is involved at an organizational level, and I’m also looking for volunteers to join me in finding new ways to practice environmental awareness around the synagogue. The first step has been taken, as Rabbi Stein told you in a recent video.
We need to be leaders within the Jewish community and the general community. It’s our moral and religious imperative to act. Starting now, Congregation Beth Israel no longer uses plastic glasses or disposable cups for serving beverages. We have purchased real glasses and coffee cups, and they will be used, washed, reused and washed. We also have only reusable non disposable cutlery. And that is just a beginning. Let’s be part of the solution.
Cantor Mike Zoosman- to the delight of so many of us, Cantor Mike Zoosman has agreed to serve as our High Holiday Cantor next year, and we have signed a contract. We hope that it is the beginning of a beautiful relationship – part 2. Cantor Mike was our very popular and well loved cantor for several years before he decided to pursue other aspects of his spiritual training and to become a chaplain. He has led HH services at his own shul in his home state Connecticut. But has now agreed to come back to Vancouver – to us – for 5781.
Tribute to Stan Shear
Timing couldn’t have been better. During the High Holidays for about 10 years now, Stan Shear has been leading us in Tefillah – with his cantorial melodies and lovely musicality. In the first several years, he supplemented the regular cantor because we had two services in two different venues for our congregation. The new building – this wonderful space – has allowed us to pray together. But as we made a decision not to hire a new cantor, Stan became our sole HH leader in prayer. This year we have the pleasure of honouring Stan for his wonderful work, for his wonderful being. Cantor Mike will lead services in 5781 as mentioned, and Stan will help out as much as he wants – he will always be a welcome voice in our shul. It’s time for him to call the shots and relax, sit back and enjoy.
Stan, please come here for a small presentation.
As a token of our esteem and as thanks for your commitment to Congregation Beth Israel, please accept this Tallit and our heartfelt gratitude for your role in making HH services such a pleasure. We love you. (presentation made in the main sanctuary with many tears of joy and gratitude).
This year has been a great one – we are continuing to do the great work that Beth Israel has always done, and we are adding to it. There are new programs that I told you about, old programs done better, and with more and more participation from all of you.
Please support our High Holiday appeal.
Last year was the most successful campaign ever, with an increase in monies pledged and received more that 20% over the year before. We raised about $45,000. Can we do it again this year please? We promise to spend responsibly and to make every dollar of every pledge benefit you the members. Take a position of support – your shul deserves it.
Thank you for listening and chag sameach.