Contact: Bob Fischman
If any of the Temple Beth El presidents who preceded me wrote a review of their previous twelve months, it’s likely that, on occasion, they used the words unusual, unique, unprecedented, or unforgettable. In reporting on the last year, it’s necessary to check a different box—the one that says “all of the above.”
After such a difficult and painful year as the past year has been, with members of our congregation experiencing loss of loved ones and friends, suffering illness themselves, and feeling the isolation accompanying the pandemic, we can only empathize with all those affected—which is almost everyone in some fashion. With the announcement on June 15 that the synagogue is reopening for services, we trust the future will be brighter.
The president’s yearend report is not intended to rehash the ills of the pandemic, but rather to summarize what has occurred over the past year, specifically in the three interdependent pillars I have long espoused as the foundation of our temple: religious, social, financial.
After a brief hiatus from services, we reconvened for high-holiday services as well as festivals and Shabbat mornings via Zoom. We also used that technology for daily evening minyans. Those who participated in these services found them to be a satisfactory substitute for in-person services, which were not possible except for a limited group on the high holidays. Citing the benefits of this approach, it should be noted that Zoom enabled participation by our snowbirds in Florida and other warm climates, members who are not local residents, and even a few guests from as far away as Argentina. You really couldn’t tell who was in Cedarhurst versus who was a thousand miles away. All screens were created equal. As a result, we enjoyed increased attendance at the evening minyan—not once did we have to recruit a last minute addition to make 10. Our Shabbat virtual Kiddush was also a special treat, as we divided into smaller groups a la Kiddush tables in the Goldman room.
Two of our clergy, Cantor Leifer and Ritual Director Jay Stern, have employment contracts terminating at the end of August and June respectively. Both indicated a desire to continue in our employment. I am pleased to advise you that on June 10, our board of trustees approved their contract renewals.
As you must know, the temple expended extra effort throughout the year to ensure we touched everyone to the extent they wished us to do so. This included a number of programs and events that will be winding down at the end of June, such as the Sisterhood Schmooze, Happy Hour, and Keren Ohr, as well as our delivery of Purim and Rosh Hashanah goodies. Several of these were recognized by USCJ who awarded Temple Beth El gold medals for creativity and sensitivity. While I haven’t done a comparison, it’s reasonable to theorize we actually offered more programming and connection via Zoom in the past 15 months than we did during normal times. Kudos to Sisterhood, Men’s Club, Minyan Society, and our unsurpassed administrative staff of Eddie and Michele (a duo that does what a whole department would otherwise be required to do) for all you contributed during these trying times.
Of course, the climax to the year of virtual events was our annual gala, June 17, honoring families belonging to Temple Beth El for multiple generations. The journal, which you can still view electronically, captured the sentiments of these families and what it means to them to have spent a lifetime here. What a terrific way to commence our centennial year celebration.
Despite the potential financial challenges of the pandemic, the fiscal year ending May 31, 2021 was actually quite successful. While other synagogue presidents lamented the impact of the pandemic in terms of membership sabbaticals and reduced contributions, we lost no members resulting from “sabbatical.” You, our membership, recognized our efforts in serving you by paying your membership fees, increasing Kol Nidre contributions, and participating in the Statesman program. Nevertheless, we would have run a deficit resulting from the impact of the pandemic on our rental tenants had we not enjoyed two sources of significant income.
We received a second PPP grant of almost 6-figures. You will also recall that we have promoted the availability and aggressive pricing of cemetery plots for sale from our inventory at New Montefiore. Several plots were purchased by our members. But the real impact was from another congregation in Nassau County which had a number of members seeking plots their temple could not provide. They were directed to us, resulting in about a $150,000 of additional income. Thus, we finished the fiscal year slightly better than our break-even budget and added to our reserve account.
The sale of the plots, which leaves us with only about 20 unsold in our inventory, and the PPP grant are one-time, non-repeatable events. As a result, assessing our future financials, we foresee increasing deficits in the years to come. Therefore, we have begun a process to ensure the future of Temple Beth El, as an independent congregation located in our existing facility, for at least the next 15 years. We’re not at liberty to describe these actions any further than to state the objective is to see you in the same seats, under the same membership and fund-raising plans we utilize today, for a very long time. We’re confident this can be accomplished.
With the reopening of the synagogue and much of the rest of the world, Rhonnie and I wish you an enjoyable and healthy summer season and look forward to seeing many of you at services this summer and during the post-summer holidays.
Regards and shalom,
April 10, 2020
Dear Temple Beth El Members,
I’m a little overdue in making my mid-year president’s report, so I hope this is actually a mid-Covid-19 report and that we’re halfway through it. I confess I’m really not sure.
Nevertheless, it’s timely to ensure all our members are updated on what’s happening—or not—at Temple Beth El. As you know only too well, the temple office is closed and services are not being conducted at the temple. While I recognize that those represent much of what you are familiar with at the temple, we’re actually doing as much or more than ever. There are frequent email and phone announcements, but in case you’ve missed them, following is a sampling of what is occurring:
Many non-profits are struggling financially as a result of the Covid pandemic. You’ve likely received requests from many of them asking for donations. I don’t want to discourage any donations to Temple Beth El, but we will not be requesting special financial support. We are still accepting commemoratives and other contributions and certainly can use them. We have adhered reasonably closely to our budget and will realize some savings in heat, utilities, food, and security. Lest there be any question, all employees are continuing to work in whatever fashion they can and remain on the payroll.
We will request your support through our regular income sources:
If we all contribute through our standard practices, on a timely basis, we’ll maintain and sustain the temple and all we bring to you without asking for additional assistance.
Our continued connection to you does not occur by magic. It’s the result of efforts made by many volunteers and especially the leadership of our executive director Eddie Edelstein, Rabbi Kupchik, Cantor Leifer, and our office manager Michele Perlzweig.
To conclude on a positive note, this is a good time to inform you that just before handshakes were forbidden, Rabbi Kupchik and I shook on (and signed) an agreement to extend his contract for two years with an option for a third. We all appreciate having that stability and continuity in our clergy.
Best wishes for the Passover holidays, as different and difficult as they may be, and for your good health and safety.
Temple Beth El
MID YEAR REVIEW – February 2019
As we approach the mid-point between the annual high holidays, it’s timely to review the “Beth El year” thus far.
During the first year of new leadership, whether in a government unit, business entity, or other organizations, there are usually numerous changes and new initiatives, accompanied by renewed energy. That typified Temple Beth El in the first year under a new slate of officers and new rabbi. The challenge after that, in the second year, is sustaining the momentum while identifying opportunities for additional enhancements. That is what I’ll address in this review.
Referring to my original premise that the temple’s success and strength are built upon three (3) essential, and inter-dependent, components, let’s comment on each:
Financial: A primary objective was, and will always be, maintaining a balanced budget and increasing our reserve account. Through December 31, six months into our fiscal year, we have adhered to our financial plan, with specific entries in our budget above or below our expectations for that expense or revenue source. The most noteworthy is the higher-than-planned facilities cost. In early fall we made several renovations to modernize the school portion of the building in order to solidify lease extensions with our yeshiva tenants. You are cognizant of the significant cost incurred in replacing a boiler, an expense many of you helped us meet by responding to our special appeal for assistance. It’s never too late to contribute to that fund. We continue to offer opportunities for you to provide financial assistance through the donation of old autos (Vehicles for Charity), Amazon Smiles, and the purchase of the temple’s cemetery plots at a deep discount to current market prices…or informing friends about the opportunity to plan ahead and save significantly.
Religious: We’ve been able to ensure a morning and evening minyan, almost without exception. This is particularly important, as several members of the congregation have experienced recent losses of loved ones and are saying Kaddish. Rabbi Kupchik continues to bring enthusiasm and joy to our Shabbat and holiday services. His Wednesday morning study group enjoys increasing attendance. Our new intermediate and introductory Hebrew classes on Monday evening attracted several members.
Social: It would not be easy to surpass the activities and programs offered last year; Nevertheless, Sisterhood and Men’s Club maintain their active schedules, complementing the events run by the temple such as the Tu B’Shevat/MLK Day celebration and Shabbat Across America (March 1). I’ll defer to Sisterhood and Men’s Club leaders to discuss their programs.
Another subject that merits your attention, unfortunately, is security and safety. While we’ve long been concerned with the prospect of vandalism, theft, etc., the horrific event in Pittsburgh last fall resulted in virtually all congregations introducing specific plans to prevent and respond to violence. The actions we have taken include the following:
*Professional guard on premises on Shabbat and holidays.
*Full security assessment of the building through the Jewish Community Relations Council and UJA. This resulted in recommendations including additional cameras, outdoor lighting, upgrade or replacement of several windows and doors, and adjusting some of our landscaping.
*Submission of a request for a Homeland Security grant of $50,000 to implement these recommendations. We are fairly optimistic, as there appears to be a reasonably significant amount of funding available for religious institutions. We received a grant in 2016, at a time when the situation was less urgent, so perhaps we’ll be favored again.
In summary, I trust you’ll conclude that we continue along the course established last year while incurring and addressing occasional challenges. As I’ve emphasized frequently, staying on course is directly correlated with your participation in our religious, social, and financial programs. Remember, “With your money we will survive. Without your presence we cannot thrive.”
Dear Temple Beth El Family,
As we approach the final few weeks before the High Holidays, for all intents and purposes we’re concluding the “Beth El Year.” Thus it’s timely to review the past year with you in the president’s year-end report.
We commenced the year in August, 2017, with several objectives:
*Acceptance by the congregation of our first-year rabbi, Claudio Kupchik
*Rabbi Kupchik’s integration with the membership positively impacting the congregation
*Increased participation at holiday and Shabbat services and the daily minyan
*Increased engagement of members through a variety of religious, cultural, and social events and programs
*Improved interaction with members and the community through social media and a website
*Replacement of our original by-laws with a constitution for the 21st century
*Introduction of new lay leadership throughout the Beth El organization
*Management of our finances to ensure a balanced budget and to increase our surplus account
*Increased overall spirit, enthusiasm, and optimism throughout the membership
So how’d we do?
While I’ll allow you, our “customers,” to judge for yourselves, here are the facts:
*Rabbi Kupchik introduced numerous songs and new traditions to enhance the spirit at our services. His Wednesday classes were a treat for those available on weekday mornings. We’ve had only positive comments about his spirited and friendly manner and his family.
He’s reached the entire congregation through his efforts building our new, terrific website (www.templebethelofcedarhurst.org) and our presence on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/TempleBethElofCedarhurst/) .
*While it is always a challenge encouraging people to come to services, we are so pleased that there has been a noticeable increase in attendance both on Shabbat mornings and at our daily minyanim.
*We’d exhaust our supply of paper and ink reviewing all the temple events of the last year. Sisterhood and Men’s Club delivered innumerable programs, such as movies, speakers, meals, sporting events, bingo, and the fashion show to complement affairs such as the Gala and Cantor’s Concert. We’ve already developed an equally extensive calendar of events for the coming year. It was gratifying to see so many people at these, but there is always room for more.
*On June 19, a new set of by-laws, The Beth El Constitution, was approved at the congregation’s annual meeting. Thanks to governance committee chair Steve Biller and his team of Cherie Feinberg, Susan Schlaff, Howard Berke, and Harvey Lazarowitz, with guidance from Eddie Edelstein and Rabbi Kupchik, for their diligence in ensuring completion of this year-long process for the congregation meeting.
*The new constitution reduced the trustees from 42 to 27 plus past presidents to better reflect the size of the congregation. In doing so, we introduced several new trustees and created a lifetime position of “honorary trustee” to recognize those who served for many years and offered to make way for new trustees.
At our first meeting of the new trustees in July, we identified 5 areas to address and created trustee committees to develop action plans which are in process. These are: healthy living, bikur cholim, education and programming, social action, and revenue enhancement.
Earlier this year we announced new leadership in the Men’s Club, now led by Milton Lipitz, and the Ritual Committee with Phil Ritzenberg.
The Minyan Society is being re-energized under new co-presidents Rhonnie Fischman and Phil Yacht. In conjunction with Rabbi Kupchik, they implemented a new texting system, will be offering free taxi service for anyone wanting to attend but unable to drive to services, and arranged for community service credit to be given to local high school students who help us attain a minyan. And there’s more to come.
*And, finally, there’s the never-ending requirement to maintain a healthy financial position. We did, in fact, finish the fiscal year on budget, despite several significant expenses. Your generosity and our other major sources of income—rental and caterer—enabled us to remain on plan. Several major gifts and our sale of Beth El cemetery plots, at a deep discount to current market prices, provided us with a significant addition to our reserves. We are no longer restricting sale of the graves to temple members, enabling others to purchase at half the market price by becoming an associate member for a nominal fee. If we are able to sell our entire remaining inventory, we will enjoy a very comfortable reserve “cushion” we have not reached in years. If you circulate this opportunity with family and friends, you’ll do a mitzvah for both the buyer and the temple.
We hope you share our sense of accomplishment and optimism. But there is always room for improvement.
So what can we, as a congregation, do better this coming year?
*We’re striving to never fail to hold a service for lack of a minyan. Anyone wanting say Kaddish, or merely daven, deserves that opportunity. If you can spare 30 minutes once a month, you’ll make a difference.
*At many of the great events we held, there were empty seats. We’re taking measures to see more of our members occasionally.
*Our financial plan again anticipates a balanced budget. Within the sources of income, perhaps the area requiring the most attention is full congregational participation in the annual Kol Nidre Appeal. Whether your pledge is a lot or just a few dollars, reaching 100% participation is a message to each other and the community that we’re all committed to the Temple’s future. You’ll be receiving a personalized letter later this month explaining why your gift is important.
*We must build our reserve account to several hundred thousand dollars. We have a unique opportunity to do that, as I outlined above, through the sale of our cemetery plots. It’s imperative that we succeed on this effort.
*I suspect you can cite other areas for improvement, suggest new ideas, or even volunteer your assistance. All of those will be appreciated.
Looking forward to another active, enriching, and prosperous year with you.
Previous Messages by the Temple President:
Dear Members, Prospective Members, and Visitors,
Welcome to the New Temple Beth El.
How can a temple that’s been an integral part of the community for 95 years be the “New Temple Beth El?” Let me count the ways.
*The website you are perusing was just built, part of our initial presence in the world of social media. See us on Facebook as well.
*Rabbi Claudio Kupchik joined us September 1, 2017.
*Seaview Caterers, our terrific in-house caterer, recently renovated the spectacular ballroom and cocktail area.
*A new slate of officers, including me, “the new president,” was elected in June, 2017, to serve the congregation.
*Our Men’s Club, under new leadership, and Sisterhood continuously introduce exciting programs.
*The temple’s original, 95 year-old, by-laws will be replaced by a new set by spring.
We’ve accomplished all this in the past few months while retaining our long time members, magnificent sanctuary, cantor, ritual director, executive director and the many traditions that comprise the heart of Temple Beth El. It’s been like changing the airplane’s engine while in mid-flight.
With new lay leadership and rabbi, we’ve established an organizational direction built on the foundation necessary for a thriving, sustainable, and great congregation. It is comprised of 3 fundamental components, each of equal importance and interdependent on the others:
We look forward to seeing you at services, social events, and temple excursions. See the calendar for the complete schedule.
President, Temple Beth El