Good evening and welcome to the 2020 Annual Meeting of Congregants. While the format for this meeting may feel a little different than in the past, the purpose remains the same: to present and review the highlights of this past year, to introduce an agenda for the year to come, to elect a new board of directors and, as we do every three years, introduce our new president.
Our world has changed so much in the past three months that it is difficult to remember life at RS before this pandemic. We are adapting to our stay-at-home existence, and we are finding ways to remain engaged and connected to each other until life can return to something we can begin to recognize as normal. But I believe we now have the opportunity to be more adaptive, more creative, and more visionary. We will be hearing more about that this evening.
This past year, beginning last June 1, we inaugurated our new governance structure, launching a new board of directors and board of ddvisors. This was a year of testing new protocols, setting new precedents, and establishing new procedures. We were intentional in our efforts to create roles for each of our boards and worked to find ways for their members to do meaningful work and contribute to the success of the congregation. We will continue to be deliberate and thoughtful about developing the valuable human resources of these groups to ensure the continued success of this new model.
Last fall, the congregation celebrated our past presidents with a memorable tribute and party. We learned about the legacies of the men and women who were leaders of Rodeph Shalom going back to the early 1800s. Sadly, we lost three of our beloved past presidents this year, Don Bean, Ed Snitzer, and, just yesterday, David Kaufman. May their memories be a blessing.
Following last year’s financial sustainability initiative, led by former treasurer Chip Ellis, which identified the need for a healthy endowment as one of several components of a program for fiscal security, we hired CCS Fundraising to help us launch an endowment campaign. Their initial feasibility study confirmed that our $15 million goal was achievable, and we began the quiet phase of the campaign by forming a campaign planning committee, creating a case for giving and beginning solicitations of our board of directors. Raising an encouraging $3 million before the start of the pandemic, we have shifted gears by pausing our contract with CCS and changing our focus, but hope to pick up where we left off in the fall. The importance of the endowment campaign remains, now more than ever, a vital necessity to ensure the financial security of the congregation.
With the announcement from Cantor Frankel that she will be leaving us at the end of this week, we began a formal search for a new cantor. The cantor search committee, through the process administered by the American Conference of Cantors, interviewed several candidates both virtually and in-person. Although we seriously considered some excellent contenders, the committee concluded that they were not an ideal fit for Rodeph Shalom and decided instead to apply for an interim cantor for the upcoming year. I was very proud of the decision not to settle on an expedient choice, but to wait until we found the right person for RS. We were very fortunate to have found Cantor Rita Glassman as our interim cantor, who will be joining us on July 1. We knew instantly that she would be an excellent addition to our clergy team with her warmth, her intellect, her engaging personality and, of course, her beautiful voice. We will start up our search for a permanent cantor again this fall. And, once again, we wish Cantor Frankel the very best.
A few other notable highlights of the past year include:
- The implementation of the security measures recommended by our security task force led by Director Paul Snitzer. We applied for and received a Homeland Security Grant for $100,000 and a grant from the PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency for up to $80,000. Those funds will be used to install protective bollards at the Green Street and Broad Street entrances, additional cameras, protective window film, and other security items.
- We successfully applied for and received a $360,000 Paycheck Protection Program loan that we intend to convert to a grant by maintaining our staff as required by the SBA regulations.
I want to thank our Executive Director, Jeff Katz, for the truly admirable work he did in acquiring all of these difficult-to-obtain funds. So many other institutions were not as fortunate as we were in successfully applying for these programs, but Jeff’s quick actions and accurate work enabled us to receive over half a million dollars in government grants this year.
- We welcomed several new staff members: Serena Shapero has joined the RS staff as Director of Philanthropy, Stephanie Kish as Senior Accounting Manager, and Dina Horowitz as Philanthropy and Membership Assistant. All of them have already proven to be indispensable additions to our staff during this difficult work-from-home environment.
- Through a gift from Judy and Alvin Block, we were able to complete our lobby with the installation of a beautiful custom chandelier. And through a generous gift from Gail and Ed Snitzer, we were able to complete our state-of-the-art audio-visual system in our Community Room. Many thanks.
The upcoming year will bring unprecedented challenges and opportunities. Task forces have been meeting to review everything we do and how they may change in a post-pandemic era. I am excited by these prospects. Rabbi Maderer and Hank will be discussing these later in this program.
When I began my term as president three years ago, I would never have imagined that I would be leaving in the midst of a global pandemic with all of us quarantined in our homes. But like most disruptive events, we learn new things, and we grow from them. And beyond the life-changing experiences that I have had during the first thirty-three months of my presidency, the last three months have perhaps been the most profound for me personally.
I have come to the realization that, as much as architecture can serve to awaken and inspire the human spirit, we are not our building. As magnificent as it is, and as much as it adds to our personal Jewish experience, and as it may have even played a significant role in why many of our congregants joined Rodeph Shalom in the first place, I have learned what we all may have intuitively always known; that we are our people.
We are our members who have been gathering virtually and who have continued to find ways to connect through our computer screens; who crave the opportunity to see each other and participate as a community in online experiences.
We are our clergy and staff who have worked diligently from their homes, continuing to find thoughtful and meaningful ways to provide educational, spiritual, and sacred moments that emphasize the importance of synagogue life even when we can’t be under one roof.
We are our sacred texts and our music and our values that we are able to take with us, as we have for the long history of the Jewish people and as Rodeph Shalom has continually adapted them to be more relevant to each generation of its members for 225 years.
We will return to our building as a stronger congregation because we continued to be here for each other even in an environment devoid of soaring spaces, dramatic light, and rich materials. We will take this opportunity to find new ways to do things that have become outdated or irrelevant or meaningless, and we will, as we have always done, thrive as a vibrant contributor to the life of this city and to the Reform Movement.
When I addressed this meeting as I began my term three years ago, I said that the relationship between the clergy, the board, and the president is a sacred partnership. Rabbi Maderer and I worked to model that connection in everything we did, and I believe we accomplished that goal. What I didn’t appreciate at that time was how exceptional that partnership has been in the wider world of synagogue governance. I am grateful that Rabbi Maderer has honored me with her collaboration, her wisdom, her support, and her core quality of always lifting up those around her to help them succeed and to grow. I will miss that partnership, but I will bring with me into my next role the valued gifts from that experience.
I am deeply honored to have been part of the history of such an essential, historic institution. Being president has transformed the way I think about Judaism, people, relationships, and myself. It has provided me opportunities to work with remarkable, inspiring people, for productive introspection, for personal growth, and for a chance to make a difference.
Thank you all for that rare privilege.
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