A Year in Review: Annual Meeting 2021 Remarks from President Hank Bernstein

Good evening and thank you for joining us for the 2021 Annual Meeting of Congregants.  Our agenda for this evening is to review this past year, to look forward to our next year, to elect new members of the Board of Directors and to acknowledge the extraordinary work of volunteers.


Who could have envisioned this past year?  We all have been challenged physically, mentally and emotionally! 

I could never have foreseen this first year of my term, but my “port in the storm” during this pandemic has been Rodeph Shalom.  RS has buoyed me with the words of Jewish wisdom in the weekly RS emails, lifted me spiritually in the weekly Zoom Shabbat services, and challenged me intellectually on Saturday mornings in Torah Study.  In those and all of the many RS activities during a typical week, Rodeph Shalom has provided important grounding and focus for me and has served as a “ray of light” in the darkness of the past year for which I am very grateful.

There are many congregants to whom we need to express appreciation tonight including our Board of Directors, the Board of Advisors, members who serve on committees and task forces, and all who participate in our worship, social justice, learning and other activities. 

Our special appreciation for their outstanding performance during this pandemic needs to be expressed to the amazing RS staff—our staff has demonstrated incredible resiliency, initiative, flexibility and commitment over this past year and we are extremely grateful to them all! 

And to our extraordinary clergy—Rabbi Maderer, Rabbi Freedman and Cantor Glassman—even though we gathered virtually, you have made sure that we continue to feel connected to our beloved Rodeph Shalom and to our Jewishness, and have nurtured that connection and our spirituality with your prayer leadership, insightful D’vrei Torah and beautiful music.  Cantor Glassman has continued to provide new and traditional music and her professional expertise to our weekly Shabbat services, B’nai mitzvah training, Torah study and all activities.   A special thank you to Cantor Glassman, will take place at our June 18th Shabbat service.

I want to spend a brief amount of time sharing with you the challenges and successes that RS has seen in the past year—

Early in the pandemic the Board of Directors established three Task Forces to work with Clergy and staff—the Benchmarking Reopening Task Force, the Disruption Task Force and the High Holy Day Task Force.  These groups helped to provide the pathways for our Congregation to continue to thrive during the pandemic and their work continues to guide us as we seek opportunities to gather in person and virtually for all activities in the future.

One of the questions I receive most often from congregants is, “How is the Congregation doing financially?”

In April and May of last year, Management, in consultation with the Finance Committee, crafted three different FY 21 budget scenarios for Board review.  The Board of Directors ultimately approved a very conservative FY21 Budget that included a deficit of $191,000.

I’m happy to report that due to the generosity of our congregants, the prudent management of our expenses, and with monies from the federal Payroll Protection Plan, we will end this fiscal year at better than a break-even point.

RS has received a second tranche of federal Payroll Protection Plan funds for the new fiscal year, and the Board approved a breakeven budget including the $354k from the PPP.    We hope that we can rely once again on congregants for their support of membership and other annual fundraising during this coming year.  However, we need to continue to do better than breaking even with the assistance of federal funds.

You may remember that on Yom Kippur last year I spoke about the financial sustainability of RS for the future and each congregant’s responsibility in ensuring the future of our sacred community.    I spoke of the incredible assets of RS—world-class clergy, beautiful facilities, our awe-inspiring sanctuary; but I also spoke of the financial needs and responsibilities that still remain.  I spoke of our congregation’s need to work on the “four-legged stool” of financial sustainability— (1) increasing membership and membership revenues (in the FY22 budget, membership revenues cover only 56% of expenses), (2) the need for additional endowment, (3) continued monetization of our facility and (4) increasing contributions to our temporarily restricted special purpose funds.  

We need to work on all four legs of the stool, and work has begun even in this difficult past year. 

  • While membership has not decreased to the extent that we have seen at other area congregations, we need to work to increase our membership numbers and membership revenues. The Membership Committee has been working diligently during the year and will make recommendations in the near future to the Strategic Planning Committee, whose new plan of priorities for the Congregation is anticipated by the end of the calendar year. 
  • And while the positive performance of the stock market has lifted our Endowment and other funds, we need to continue to grow Endowment principal to provide more funds for operations. I’m pleased to report that we have restarted the Quiet Phase of our endowment campaign after an 8-month hiatus, and to date have raised over $4 million.  Another piece of great news in that Susan Klehr has graciously agreed to be the Chair of the Campaign.
  • As our city continues to open up, we hope that the ability to rent out our facilities to outside groups will grow in the coming year to provide a steady and significant stream of revenue.

We continue to have a structural deficit—that is, our operating revenues do not cover our expenses.  We have been fortunate in these past few years to have been able to rely on other accumulated funds from the past to cover expenses or government funds, but we need to correct this systemic issue by continuing to move forward on all four legs of our financial sustainability stool. 

Our HHD services last year were a real production in every sense of the word and the services were incredibly spiritual and moving!  As you know our virtual services were open to everyone and for the first time we used virtual t’filah. 

Our fund-raising effort in late fall and winter was successful in meeting its budget with a program the included 3 sessions on cooking Jewishly.  Thanks to the generosity of patrons, congregants and the sponsorship of the Joseph W Rosenbluth Fund we met our goal.

Caring Community continued to be active during the last year with the following activities:

  • In addition to the calls that are normally made to congregants each Passover, telephone calls were made on an ongoing basis by Caring Community to connect with and check in with congregants. Thanks to the many members who helped connect to our congregants.
  • RS offered support specifically to those struggling with addiction and mental health with our recent panel conversation with Michael Solomonov, which chipped away at stigma.
  • Fran Martin has led a regular Congregational Check-in, which has been important for so many experiencing isolation during this time.
  • In addition to the ongoing work of our Connection Groups, a small group pilot program was established with around 10 people to meet once a month over a sustained period of time to provide a place to belong, speak and share, and hopefully thicken relationships.

It was been an interesting year for RS’s Social Justice work.

  • In previous years our Breaking Bread on Broad activity had provided breakfast, learning and other fun activities for students from our neighborhood, in the RS facility during the summer months. Because of COVID, the in-facility component of the program was not possible last summer, but the distribution of food was still held at the Green Street entrance.  What was previously just a summer program has now expanded to a year-round program offering food, health products and other necessities weekly to students and over 130 immigrant families in need.   Thanks to Ellen Poster, Dan Seltzer and many other volunteers, a few of whom we will honor later in our program.   
  • In previous years our Congregation established an Anti-Racism Work Group, which has continued to meet during this year to do the sustained work on anti-racism in ourselves, our community and our world. The efforts of this group also helped inform the Board of Directors who approved a resolution supporting the principle of the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement.  The group and the Board were guided by Jewish values and by the Jewish wisdom of the Torah and Talmud.  The BLM resolution now lives on the RS web site.
  • Our Equity, Inclusion Diversity Task Force, called “EID”—Hebrew for “witness,” is currently working on an audit of all we do as a congregation, in order to ensure that different groups, especially those vulnerable to feeling on the margins, feel a sense of belonging at RS.

Our Education programs have continued for this past year:

  • The Buerger Early Learning Center reopened in September 2020 and has been steadily increasing its number of children.
  • Jennifer James and her team have provided a virtual Berkman Mercaz Limud program to continue to engage and educate our children; the virtual BML has been an outstanding offering and a highlight for these families, whose attendance has been excellent.
  • Torah Study is a mainstay of Adult Education and its virtual presence has attracted new faces including existing and new congregants and non-congregants to its weekly Saturday morning group; and
  • Days of Learning, a lay leadership-led program, offered excellent educational opportunities during two different periods of the year.

I want to take an opportunity to thank the members of the Board of Directors—the fifteen directors have operated as a very efficient and effective body, with each member adding their expertise and voice on the issues at hand.  It has been my pleasure and honor to serve as your facilitator.

In conclusion, it is my hope and expectation that this coming year will feel different to all of us, that we will begin gathering in person and continue to make and reinforce those profound connections with one another!

Thank you!