22 Tamuz 5773
This summer marks the completion of my twentieth year (1993-present) as Rabbi of Congregation Beth El–Keser Israel. The Congregation’s previous longest-serving full-time rabbi was Rabbi Andrew Klein (at right), of blessed memory, who served from 1951 until his death in 1967, although Rabbi Aaron Shuchatowitz served B’nai Israel (predecessor of Beth El) in an ad hoc capacity for twenty-five years.
This past year has been one of continuing development for our Congregation. Here are some of the highlights of the year. For a more extensive and detailed account, request from the office a copy of the annual reports of the Religious School, Youth Groups Cemetery Association, Finance Committee, various other committees and Sisterhood.
This past year (Fiscal Year 2013, or FY13, that is, 1 July 2012 – 30 June 2013) we were saddened by the deaths of our beloved members Esther Rose, Robert Silberman, Elsie Hodes and Morton Silver.
We also mourned members of the extended BEKI family, including Mike Moss, William Kaplowitz, Crosby Forbes, Raymond F. Smith, Ralph John “Jack” Janette, Jr., Irwin Gerber, Rose Brunswick; Lee Irwin Perkal, Alvin Schottenfeld, Gladys Kaufman, Charles Seashore, Caryn Backer, Sherman Granoff, Edie Seashore, Rosabelle Rosenberg, Ida Goldsteink Edie Seahorse, and others.
Some of our membership trends are reflected in the figures below.
Last year, a record twenty-five new membership units (a.k.a. families) joined; this year, we set a new record with twenty-seven new units. (We also lost 17 families, which is less than last year, the majority through death or relocation.) We also set a new record for net growth with ten new units. About eighty-seven percent (87%) of our adult members (including spouses) joined the congregation in 1993 or later; stated differently, only one in seven of our adults have been members more than 20 years. This has had a dramatic affect on our synagogue culture. Looking forward, we have reason to hope that this next year will be similar to the year concluded. We are aware of five families moving away this spring and summer.
What is the right size for BEKI? By all accounts, the Congregation could easily accommodate another 30 member units (10% growth) with only negligible additional expense or effort by staff. We have plenty of room in the classrooms and sanctuary. Our Treasurer assures us that we could find a way to manage with additional income as well. So, bring a friend.
The above charts show historic membership data.¹
In September 1995, there were 213 formal members (“units” or households) on the books. As of 30 June 2013, 278 family or single members belong to BEKI. Although we welcome more new members each year than almost any other synagogue in New England, we have a high turn-over rate, mostly due to people moving away or dying. Our net growth, though modest, is impressive in the context of the demographics of our area. BEKI is the only congregation in our area with a growing membership. That said, it would be better if we could add 25 to 50 more families net in the next few years. Please encourage all adult Jews to join a synagogue community of their choice, such as Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel, as an expression of their Jewish identity and belonging to the Jewish People, and as a vehicle for social service, spiritual quest, intellectual and moral growth, socializing, and survival of the Jewish People.
¹ These numbers may differ somewhat from those issued by our office or various committees during the year. Children who reach the age of majority are not counted as lost members unless they join as new adult members, in which case they get counted as both a new and dropped individuals, for no net change, but they are counted as a new unit. My figures count added members from the month they join. Deaths are counted as losses from the month of their death, but members who move away or otherwise notify us that they will resign are not counted as losses until the beginning of the next fiscal year. This means that we will begin the new fiscal year next week with several losses, according to this manner of accounting. Those losses will count in next year’s tally. Benei Mitzva are listed for the fiscal year; elsewhere, class size, calendar year, or academic year figures may be cited. The figures given here by fiscal year are especially helpful for comparing them with figures from previous years.
This year we were blessed with the birth or arrival of several babies to our members, Asher V. Jacoby, Eli D. Grutzendler, Mordecai Halton Abraham, Hannah G. Leisawitz, and Jacob August Werlin. We were blessed with a number of grandchildren to our members as well, some of whom were noted in our Bulletin. Why do we have so many children if only a few are born each year? Because most of the children in the Congregation were born before their parents joined. Twelve children joined the congregation with their parents this year (2013), but almost as many either moved away or grew up and went to yeshiva, college, military service, volunteer service, employment or other activities.
During the past twenty years, the number of children has grown from under 70 to over 210. Nine youths became benei mitzva in celebrations at BEKI in FY13 (compared to eleven last year and ten the prior year). The nine do not include those who held ceremonies at locations other than the synagogue or who became of age without a synagogue observance. Six youths have reserved dates to celebrate bar- or bat-mitzva at BEKI in the new fiscal year.
It was my honor to convene and serve on the beit din (rabbinic court) overseeing the gerut (conversion) of several adults and numerous children from this and other synagogues. Of the adult Jewish members of our congregation, 12% are converts to Judaism.
The wedding of members Shai Sokolow Silverman & Robyn Drabman helped strengthen our community through their example of family-building. Several adult children of the Congregation were married around the globe, as well, which has been noted in our Bulletin.
I have also served as an agent for numerous gittin (bills of divorce) for our members and for others in our area. In fact, I facilitate a lot more divorces than marriages, which I take as reflective of our demographics, and not as a commentary on my rabbinate. While divorce is not publicly observed as a lifecycle event, it is by all accounts significant in the lives of our families and community. Minimally, those experiencing divorce deserve our support and friendship during what is most often a challenging transition.
Several members, including Mila Pizer, Charlotte Krosnick, Belle Reese, Ethel Epstein, Ralph Friedman, Albert Friedman and others live in The Towers, Emeritus or other assisted-living facilities. Several members such as Violet Ludwig are not able to get out often due to mobility limitations. All of these members appreciate visits, calls and cards from the community. In addition, several members of the extended BEKI family live in local assisted living and other institutional settings.
This positive membership trend is in part due to the efforts of Mark Oppenheimer, Betsy Ratner, Ghis Palumbo, and the Membership Network, and of course to the new members themselves. Mark has undertaken to bring together members and friends through social media, which seems to have a substantial response; time will tell if it translates into more or happier members. Most of all, thanks to you, our members, for creating a community that is attractive to so many of our neighbors.
We will continue to promote a “whole-life membership” initiative to encourage young adults to view synagogue membership as part of growing up and part of being Jewish. It is time to begin working to ensure every Jewish adult who grows up at BEKI sees synagogue membership as an adult responsibility beginning after high school. We want every Jew to belong to a synagogue their entire life.
The 2010 Greater New Haven Population Study shows that the adults in their 20s and 30s represent 0% (sic) of the New Haven area Jewish population. It looks like we’ve garnered a good share of that cohort. This year saw continuing efforts to involve this segment through a 20s-30s Havura, thanks to the initiative of Miriam Benson and the support of a number of program participants such as Eva Landau. It’s a nice way to bring people together and to help people locate their cohorts in the sea of members.
The number of formal members does not tell the whole story. There are many families or individuals who identify BEKI as “their” synagogue, even though they are not formally members. For at least some purposes, we should think of BEKI as a “500+ family” congregation.
Some belong to BEKI for historical reasons. Jessie Claire Goodwin, for example, is a sixth generation BEKI member, whose ancestors were among the Congregation’s founders. David Margolis is a descendant of Keser Israel founders (on Bernice’s side). Shayna Weinstein (Andy & Paige’s daughter, our immediate Past-President of USY) has Beth El ancestors going back to the beginning in 1892. Some come to BEKI because this Congregation best matches their religious orientation. Some come because BEKI is their “neighborhood” shul – 56% of our members live in the City of New Haven, and most of the remainder live in nearby Woodbridge (16%), Hamden (8%), Branford, Orange, West Haven and surrounding communities (figures from 2011). Some of our Woodbridge and Hamden members walk to shul on Shabbat. In fact, a good number of families have located to the BEKI neighborhoods specifically so that they can be physically close to the synagogue and its community. Many enjoy the challenge of our diversity.
The framework of a traditional Masorti-Conservative philosophy and ritual provides support and definition in which the congregation can thrive, without having to continually face every contentious issue of ritual or creed. In some ways the Masorti-Conservative approach is most difficult to maintain, in part because of its sophistication and reliance on a high degree of education, much as democracy (done well) depends on an educated and involved citizenry. We are moderates, to the extreme, and it is a difficult balancing act. It turns out, though, that most people are concerned about the “quality of community” more than ideological correctness, so our adherence to a “good theory of Judaism” is only part of the basis for our relative success.
What are the keys to the BEKI success? Dedicated veteran members, who have kept the Congregation and its traditions alive; enthusiastic new members; volunteers, the like of whom are not seen elsewhere; a tremendous diversity of skills: computer experts, engineers, decorators, sign hangers, Torah readers, bakers, planters, movers and shakers; a religious commitment to respecting each other whatever our educational or religious backgrounds and orientation; an appreciation of the importance of our heritage, and equally, a commitment to meeting the challenges of the coming decades. The Congregation enjoys excellent, dedicated leadership. We have the most awesome synagogue board.
Ina Silverman assumed the position of Principal of the BEKI Religious School in June 2008. Ina holds a degree in education, as well as a law degree. She is also an experienced teacher. She has been focussing on making our religious school a model of academic excellence. While she suffered the passing of her father during this year, she also enjoyed the marriage of her older child; all the while she devoted her utmost efforts to making the School the best it can be.
Peggy Hackett assumed the mantle of Office Manager at the beginning of FY04. Her strong organizational, personal and computer skills have made our administration both efficient and pleasant. Peggy has become a fixture of the Congregation. Many members have expressed appreciation for her prompt and courteous attention to their synagogue business. She is the rare individual who seems able to get along with almost everyone, keep her “head together” while attending to an onslaught of details in a busy office, and get it right.
Clarence Bromell continues to serve as the anchor for our building. He is conscientious, friendly and thoughtful. He works with members observing events with the aim of making their experience the best it can be. He goes beyond the call of duty. We are fortunate to have our building and events in his capable hands. I have visited other congregations with smaller buildings and smaller memberships that have a whole crew of custodial and building workers doing what Clarence does largely by himself.
In addition, as of 2012, Michael Jett serves as our Shabbat custodian and helps out on special occasions. Vincent “Junior” Colon has provided much of the ad-hoc maintenance service.
Acknowledging the volunteer effort in administering the Congregation would require two full pages. The Board of Directors and the Officers have invested a tremendous effort in operating this shul. Budgets, reports, programs – thousands of hours of dedicated volunteer effort. This is a busy place. During the past year, I received thousands of phone calls or messages and have sent many individual letters to Congregants and contacts. I have visited the local hospitals (Yale-New Haven, St. Raphael’s) and other facilities about 20 times. I have attended hundreds of worship services and officiated at or attended many funerals, baby namings and benei mitzva observances. Working with Peggy, Ina, Clarence and Michael, enjoying the support of the officers and volunteers, and being blessed with a wonderful wife have made my job so much easier. I appreciate the understanding of Congregants for all of the things I do not do that I should or for my occasional delays in responding to your needs and inquiries.
This year the “Annual Campaign” has enabled the Congregation to operate on a higher level, and has continued to develop a “culture of giving” at BEKI. We are fortunate that a generous majority of our members participated in the Annual Campaign. This annual campaign is essential, as BEKI, typical of synagogues, receives only about 38% of its annual income from dues. Our ability to operate depends on the goodwill and generosity of Annual Campaign contributors.
This year, director Yaron Lew led an effort to end the Kol Nidre Appeal (fundraiser) on Yom Kippur, replacing it with a pre-Holy Day direct Annual Appeal. Some members feel that the Kol Nidre appeal introduced a potential note of institutional self-interest or served as a distraction at one of the most sacred moments of the year. To those who feel the desire to act on the notion that “teshuva (repentence), tefila (prayer), and tzedaqa (synagogue dues or charity) avert the severity of the decree,” the opportunity for all three remains on Yom Kippur and year-round. We will still accept pledge cards on Kol Nidre night from anyone who wishes to submit one. From an administrative standpoint, there is an advantage of knowing what our resources are earlier in the year so we can plan or adjust our plan accordingly. The success of this effort depends entirely on the response of our members and supporters.
BEKI has a balanced operating budget for this year. We are current on our mortgage, which was taken out to cover the replacement of the HVAC system and to fund building renovations. Our external debt is now about $466,000 (compared to $687,000 four years ago). Our operating income (and expenses) have more than doubled since 1993, but adjusted for inflation we have kept our expenses in line and our dues about the same for many years. We are better managed than many European countries.
Financial Secretary Donna Levine worked closely with Treasurer Steve Rudof and the Finance Committee Jay Sokolow, Andy Hirshfield, Carole Bass, Dan Weintraub, Yaron Lew and others, and with Peggy and the Board in tracking, analyzing and presenting our financial condition on an ongoing basis. Their work and that of the Finance Committee have been instrumental in enabling efficient and responsible operations.
This year saw the BEKI 120 Campaign raise over $200,000 and lead into a major initiative for stewardship and planned giving.
A generous gift from Stanley Rosenbaum, Judith Rosenbaum and Adina Rosenbaum and family served as a memorial to Paula Hyman, of blessed memory.
A major bequest by Ida Goldstein enabled us to make it through the year “in the black” and to create a new named endowment fund in her honor, managed by the Jewish Foundation of Greater New Haven. Her bequest was one of the largest ever received by the Congregation.
We enjoyed the third full distribution from the Oscar & Irma Hamburger Memorial Fund for Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel at the Jewish Foundation of Greater New Haven. The Hamburger gift is the largest single gift in the history of the Congregation (even when adjusted for inflation).
In addition to the professional services of our member Lisa Stanger (the Director of the Jewish Foundation) and her staff, we have benefitted tremendously from the attention past-president Donna Levine has given to this bequest. Donna has also been instrumental in obtaining additional bequests.
The Robert Goodwin Memorial Endowment was established as a permanent endowed fund in 1995 by the Goodwin family to honor the memory of Robert Goodwin. Last year, Paul Goodwin and the Goodwin family expanded this fund to honor the legacy of the four Goodwin Brothers: Louis, Robert and Sonny, of blessed memory, and Paul, may he live and be well. The new fund is known as The Goodwin Brothers Endowment for the Benefit of BEKI.
In 2012, the Marvin Missan Memorial Fund was established by the Congregation as an endowment at the Jewish Foundation in memory of Marvin Missan, a beloved member who provided the Congregation with a bequest.
Following the passing of member George G. Posener on Yom Kippur two years ago, his bequest to BEKI was added to the existing Posener Family funds. George wanted to make sure that we will remember him, and these funds help insure that we are constantly reminded of his philanthropy as well as his many other positive qualities. George is indeed missed.
We also call your attention to another fund, which may be suggestive of possibilities available to many of our members. Rabbi Murray Levine funded a charitable remainder annuity which will create the Malka & Murray Levine Memorial Fund for the Benefit of Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel. Rabbi Levine explained that he wanted to share some of his assets “with the Jewish institutions here in New Haven and at the same time to receive income” during his lifetime. He said, “BEKI is a responsible institution which will help guarantee Jewish values and Jewish continuity forever.”
Rabbi Levine, a widower, also wished to memorialize his wife, Malka. “I wanted to guarantee and perpetuate the principles of Judaism that she lived during her lifetime.” He will receive income from the Charitable Gift Annuity for the rest of his lifetime. Upon his death, the undistributed income and principal in the annuity will be used to establish the Malka and Murray Levine Memorial Fund for the Benefit of Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel. Rabbi Levine initiated this process in 2001 by establishing his first annuity. In subsequent years, he has added additional annuities for the benefit of the Congregation.
This year (or early next), our member Stanley Saxe, who just celebrated his 85th birthday, established a charitable remainder annuity for the benefit of the congregation. Way to go, Uncle Stan!
These endowment funds are managed or owned by the Jewish Foundation of Greater New Haven (JFGNH) for our benefit (except for the Simon Fund and Hamburger Fund #2 which are managed by the Community Foundation).
❦ The Ari Nathan Levine Memorial Fund for the Continuity of BEKI
❦ The Batsheva Labowe-Stoll Fund for the Support of Jewish Life at BEKI
❦ The Ben & Ruth Marks Endowment
❦ The Bessie & Max Levine Children’s Library Endowment
❦ The Beth El-Keser Israel Religious School Fund
❦ The Borick Family Endowment for Special Education for Youth
❦ The David & Lillian Levine Endowment for People with Special Needs
❦ The Diana Friedman Opton Fund
❦ The Eric I.B. Beller Environmental Endowment Fund
❦ The George G. Posener Family Memorial Yom Kippur Break-Fast Fund
❦ The George G. Posener Kadima & United Synagogue Youth Fund
❦ The George & Leah Posener Endowment for the Jewish Education of BEKI Youth
❦ The Gilah Benson-Tilsen Fund for Youth
❦ The Gladys R. Lipkin Fund for the BEKI Hebrew School
❦ The Goodwin Brothers Endowment
❦ The Irving Simon Fund
❦ The Ida Goldstein Fund
❦ The Leah E. Posener and Betty D. Zelen Memorial Fund for Sisterhood
❦ The Lester & Bernice Margolis Fund
❦ The Louis & Mary Rosenkrantz Family Library Endowment
❦ Future Fund: The Malka and Murray Levine Memorial Fund
❦ The Marvin Missan Fund
❦ The Morris & Sara Oppenheim Fund for Sacred Music
❦ The Oscar & Irma Hamburger Memorial Fund
❦ The Posener Family Memorial Fund (Building)
❦ Future Fund: The Stanley Saxe Fund
❦ The Tillie Dworski Horwitz & Edward Horwitz Endowment
❦ The Tova Benson-Tilsen Fund for Animal Welfare at Congregation BEKI and in Israel
More information on each of these endowment funds is available at www.beki.org/endow.html. For information on establishing an endowment for the benefit of BEKI contact Financial Secretary Donna Levine at 203.985.9033 or Rabbi Tilsen at 203.389.2108 ext. 10 or by email email@example.com. For information on the Jewish Foundation or a confidential meeting contact its Director (and BEKI member) Lisa Stanger at 203.387.2424 ext. 382.
The total value of BEKI endowments held by the Jewish Foundation and the Community Foundation now exceeds $3.0 million (31 December 2012). This compares to a total of $309,000 in 2005 and $25,000 ($36,000 in current dollars) in 1994. During the period before 2008, BEKI managed about $50,000 internally, which is not included in the above figures.
Distributions from these funds provide about 18% of our combined operating and capital budget. This is significant income in relation to the size of our membership and total budget. These and additional endowments must grow very substantially in the coming years to ensure the vitality of the shul. We need several million dollars more to insure the maintenance of our building and the strength of our services and programs. These endowments represent a vote of confidence in the future of this Congregation and a crucial investment in the future of the Jewish People.
The names of the righteous are a blessing during their lifetimes and continue as a blessing even after death. Philanthropy is not the only way to support the community, but it is a pretty good one. As the Torah says, “From each according to his or her means.”
We greatly appreciate the philanthropy of Abraham Bettigole, Ida Bettigole, Regina & Martin Faymann, J. Paul & Deanie Levine, Ruth Pollowitz and Sidney Weinstein, all of blessed memory, who remembered BEKI in their wills and estate plans.
Each person should have a will or estate plan. Corinne Blackmer, Gloria Cohen, Paul Goodwin, Rabbi Murray Levine, Bob Oakes, Stanley Saxe and Mark & Cyd Oppenheimer are among those who have permitted us to know that they have included the synagogue in their plans with the hope of encouraging others to follow their lead. There are a few others who have included BEKI in their wills but prefer not to share that information at this point. I have included BEKI in my will as well. (Do not expect to collect anytime soon.) The way I look at it, if I die wealthy, my heirs won’t miss a modest share of my estate. And if I die poor, which seems the more likely scenario, they won’t miss such a small amount. Either way, they will understand how important Jewish philanthropy and the Congregation in particular are to me, and I will be doing the right thing.
You don’t have to be wealthy to include BEKI in your will. Anyone can do it. No gift is too large or too small.
Please consult with your attorney or financial advisor, or contact attorney (and Financial Secretary) Donna Levine (203.985.9033) for help in planning your estate or will for the benefit of BEKI. Donna offers to prepare a codicil or will free to those who include BEKI as a significant beneficiary. These documents normally cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, so taking advantage of Donna’s offer is another great way to save and help the Congregation. It is very easy to do. You can also contact Jewish Foundation Director Lisa Stanger (203.387.2424 x382) for a confidential consultation.
Having said that, it is important to recognize the centrality of the contributions our members and supporters make through their dues, Annual Campaign and other donations. For many of our families, dues alone represent a significant financial commitment. Please be assured that as much as we highlight major gifts, our institution is dependent on the continuing support of all of our hard-working members and supporters; dues account for about a third of our annual income. The $25 donation from baby sitting money from a teen and the $50 from this month’s Social Security check is as appreciated as a donation of any larger or smaller amount. Don’t give until it hurts, give until it feels good.
I have been serving on the board of the Jewish Foundation since 2006, along with BEKI member and Foundation co-founder Paul Goodwin, and more recently BEKI member Sharon Bender. I have been reappointed as the Board of Rabbis representative for an additional term, which enabled me to circumvent term limits. It is a very exciting opportunity for me to work with a set of dedicated leaders, under the professional guidance of Executive Director (and BEKI member) Lisa Stanger.
This year, 96.7% of our services enjoyed a minyan (quorum). It was the best year for daily and Shabbat service attendance in the past twenty years, the years for which we have records (compare FY12 at 93%). It probably was the best year ever for minyan-making in the 120-year history of the Congregation, and if not then it had to be close to
BEKI holds 730 services each year (counting Minha & Maariv as one, and not counting Musaf; if we counted them separately it would be about 1,000 per year). During the past year, we received significant help in coordinating daily service attendance from Rachel Gerber, Karen Kassap, Jennifer Myer, Mark Oppenheimer, Jennifer Botwick, Harold Birn, Corinne Blackmer & Pilar Stewart, Harriet Friedman, Beth Weintraub, Dennis & Barbara Rader, Miriam Benson and others. They are like shepherds (or cattle rustlers) whose constant attention keeps us together. Rachel has continued to be an extraordinary force in supporting the other captains, attending and recruiting to insure a quorum for each service. We need your help to sustain this. It would help if a few people would make a commitment to regular or occasional attendance. The more the merrier. The “minyan” is a minimum; a larger group positively transforms the nature of the experience. Kids and others who don’t formally count toward the quorum are equally welcomed and encouraged to attend. Minors are welcome to participate and lead certain portions of the services.
The Shabbat morning services enjoy a participation rate approximately five times that of other synagogues in our size class. For the past few years, there have been six or seven concurrent services on Shabbat mornings for people of all ages. Our regular attendance is typically 110 to 150. No other shul in our region compares to the quality of our programs. Just eighteen years ago, most Shabbat morning services were held in the Daily Chapel (capacity 45). All of the davening (prayer leading), Torah reading, and Divrei Torah (sermons) are done by congregants, with the exception of occasional special guests. We are a “learning congregation” in the same sense that local medical facilities are “learning hospitals.” Natalie May, Batsheva Labowe-Stoll, Jacques Ben-Avie, Jon Hayward, Elie Azoff-Slifstein, Ben Gerber, Yoni Hirshfield, Darryl Kuperstock, Paul Bass, Carole Bass, Marsha Beller, David Wright, Rabbi Eric Silver, Rachel Light, Tova Benson-Tilsen and others have been wonderful Shamashim, Gabbaim and Torah Reading coordinators for Shabbat and Festival mornings.
Something has happened on Friday Nights at BEKI. The Friday Night Qabbalat Shabbat & Maariv services continue to enjoy a dedicated core of participants and are among the “best kept secrets” of the Congregation. David Kuperstock and Steven Fraade, often with their families, have been particularly supportive of this service. It has been especially nice to see so many youths attending these services. Typical attendance is 20 to 25, unless there is an associated event or le-havdil a snowstorm. Every now and then we have to bring in extra chairs to accommodate extraordinary attendance. We tried to organize volunteers known as “Friday Night Greeters” to welcome members and visitors to this service in a more consistent and helpful way. More Greeters are needed. David Kuperstock
Michael Stern successfully debuted as our High Holy Days Hazan Rishon (lead cantor) following the retirement of Alan Lovins. The season featured exceptional programs including “Plan Bee,” an Afro-Semitic Experience Concert, a Shofar Workshop with Cantor Pincus, and X-Treme Teshuva with Prof. Joy Ladin. Kol haKavod (kudos) to Darryl Kuperstock, Jay Brown, Isaiah Cooper and Linden Grazier for creating the season’s services and programs. We also enjoyed a large set of successful children’s programs, organized by Rachel Gerber and Harold Birn. The logistics of these services are particularly challenging and the level of satisfaction with this project is quite remarkable.
Memorable events include the Tashlikh services, led by Isaiah Cooper & Lauri Lowell, and by Rabbi Tilsen, with over 60 participants, and the Sukka Hop organized by Miriam Benson.
As part of the BEKI120 celebration New Torah Covers (Jay Sokolow) and Shulhan Mantles (Sisterhood) were ordered, and new bima banners were produced and mounted (Bruce Oren & Darryl Kuperstock). The big banner on our building lasted until the wind storm after Rosh HaShana. Remember the squirrel in the sanctuary week before Rosh HaShana? We bar mitzvaed hime and never saw him again.
The Post-Yom Kippur Break Fast, on George Posener’s second Yahrzeit, sponsored by the George G. Posener Family Memorial Endowment, created a pleasant and fulfilling conclusion to the Days of Awe. The Break-Fast was an exceptionally powerful spiritual moment this year, as George G. Posener died on that very day, at home, during Kol Nidre.
This year marked the first year after the completion of the seventeenth consecutive years in which Alan Lovins served as Hazzan Rishon. For most of our members, Alan was the only BEKI High Holy Days cantor they have known. His service to the Congregation has been exemplary and extraordinary. Happily, Alan has continued to lead services, read and teach scripture, and provide leadership and support in other settings at BEKI in the coming years. Michael Stern is one of Alan’s students and a former BEKI member.
BEKI’s Moishe Schnitman Sukka is without exaggeration the best sukka on the block. It was used daily during the Sukkot festival and there is talk about a need for expansion (image courtesy of Paul Bass, NewHavenIndependent.org). The Purim Megila reading and the seuda (organized by Miriam Benson) were highlights of the liturgical year. Purim Baskets, organized by Ina Silverman and others, brought the joy of Purim to more households than ever before. The Tisha BeAv readings, including Eikha (Lamentations), Qinot (Dirges and Songs) and other scriptural readings, were the moving and intense liturgy of the day, all presented by proficient and capable readers, including Miriam Benson, Yedidya Ben-Avie, Darryl Kuperstock, Isaiah Cooper, Willa Needler, Rena Cheskis-Gold, and Jay Sokolow.
Several new Torah readers joined the roster of hard-working and dedicated regular readers. Rachel Light and Sarah Magidson are two new “long haul” readers added to the roster. David Wright has gradually taken on more readings, and Marty Feldman has come out of Torah Reading retirement and is becoming a regular reader. Noam Benson-Tilsen, among the pre-benei-mitzva set, is also becoming a regular reader. Under halakha (Jewish Law), pre-benei mitzva youth can read Torah publicly, but usually don’t because they haven’t yet learned how. We promote youth reading Torah because we are a learning congregation with a progressive outlook (or, alternatively, we are desperate for more Torah readers).
Thanks to the Qiddush Committee, formed in 2004, for substantially enhancing the food presentations after Shabbat and Festival services. This has significantly improved the experience of members and visitors. The efforts of these four teams have added to the positive feelings within, and about, our Congregation. They create an opportunity for extended Torah study, celebration, fellowship and community building during the preparation and on Shabbat mornings. And thanks go as well to the weekly qiddush sponsors.
Sponsored qiddush refreshments marked happy events such as aufraufen, anniversaries, and birthdays, or memorialized beloved family members and friends. At most events a core of members fulfill the mitzva of reciting birkat ha-mazon (grace after meals) and sing zemirot (Shabbat songs), thereby enhancing our events with music and fellowship, and creating another opportunity to learn Jewish language and culture. Pictured is the cover of the bencher (song and blessing booklet) donated in quantity in 2010 by editor Barry Walfish & Adele Reinhartz.
A major step was taken in 2010 through the creation of the Benei Mitzva Qiddush Committee. Joy Kaufman, Andy Hirshfield, Monica Starr, the late Amy Aaland, and several others planned and executed the launch of this greatly anticipated project with great care and to wide acclaim. The BMQC has made our celebrations more communal and accessible to our families. It is also another way for members to volunteer on an occasional basis for something that is both significant and generally enjoyable.
We have continued efforts to enhance our energy efficiency. Marsha Beller and Alice Koslowsky have organized a “Green Team” to promote conservation and “green” living, at BEKI and at home. This year they implemented a composting regime for our kitchen scraps; they are also working on improving our recycling and waste reduction.
The big story for the year was the complete renovation of the Women’s Lounge and Washroom, and of the Men’s Washroom, on the lower level, through the generosity of the Sisterhood, Ken & Linda Buckman and the Sachs Family. Materials and services were donated by Cherry Hill Construction (cherryhillinc.com) and Stuart Cohen, and provided at wholesale by Bender Plumbing (benderplumbing.com) and Sasso Tile Company (sassotileco.com). With the vision and guidance of these sponsors, and the hands-on work of John Weiser, Bob Spear, Ken & Linda Buckman, Robert Sachs, Adele Tyson, Mimi Glenn, Jay Brotman, Carole Bass, Eric Dunsker and our officers and staff, and others who have consulted, the project took into account the concerns of much of our membership and proceeded on schedule and within budget.
Some fifteen years ago, the “BEKI 2000” visioning process identified washroom upgrades as one of the highest priorities of the surveyed membership, and it has been on the Sisterhood’s agenda for some time. Thanks to the generosity and efforts of our supporters, this vision has become a reality.
Beyond significant upgrades to our HVAC system and lighting, this was a year of planning for building repair and renovations. High on the list are replacing a badly deteriorated roof section (scheduled for July 2013); replacing windows on the eastern (parking lot) side of the building, enhancements to the sanctuary and social hall sound system.
We are very fortunate to enjoy the dedicated efforts of House Committee Chairperson Eric Dunsker (pictured here), working with Bob Spears along with a host of occasional volunteers and skilled tradespeople, and with our staff members Peggy, Clarence, Michael, and Vincent.
Our building measures 33,000 sq ft, and was built in 1959 and 1964. In 1996, a dedicated core of members consulted with the broad membership and created what was then called “BEKI 2000” to envision the future for our congregation. Much of that vision has been implemented in our programming and in our building renovation project. There is enough on our agenda, and enough interest in other projects, that it is time to start planning for “BEKI 2020.”
The Rashi Study Group, meeting weekly since January 1994, completed the Five Books of Moses after Passover 2011 and then completed the Book of Joshua by Shavuot 2012. The group has been incredibly persistent, and it has grown from three the first week to a dozen regular participants. The RSG is now in the final chapters of the Book of Shoftim (Judges). The Shabbat Shalom Torah Study, formerly known as the “Learners’ Minyan,” led by Steven Fraade, Rabbi Alan Lovins, Rabbi Murray Levine, Nadav Sela, Rabbi Eric A. Silver, and others, also enjoys a loyal following. The Sanhedrin Study Group, which was initiated by Eric Beller, of blessed memory.
The annual Tiqun Shavuot Night of Adult Studies included facinating presentations by Bob Oakes, Rabbi Joshua Whinston, Paul Bass, Natalie May, Pilar Stewart, Ramin Ahmadi, and Jay Sokolow. About 80 people participated, and more than twenty were awake when we recited Qaddish de-Rabbanan after midnight.
Shabbat Divrei Torah (sermons or Torah lessons) continue to provide a forum for shared learning, takadvantage of the wealth of scholarship and experiencein our community. Baruch A. Levine, Carole Bass, Bill Hallo, Mimi Glenn, Mark Oppenheimer, David Kuperstock, Bob Oakes, Nadav Sela, Michael Kligfeld, Nanette Stahl, Rabbi Murray Levine, Jonathan Freiman, Shula Chernoff, Helene SaRabbi Eric A. Silver, Ina Silverman, Rabbi Yussman, Steven Fraade, and others, and several benei mitzva celebrants, served as Darshanim (presenters) in this fiscal year anpresented teaching that can only be called thought-provoking and insgratifying to hear, on several occasions, congregants comment, “That was the best Devar Torah (or sermon) that I have ever heard,” although it would have even betterhad the comments come after one of my Divrei Torah.
We continued presenting a mini-lesson on prayer and liturgy during Thursdays mornings and a “Word for the Day” (a Hebrew language feature) on Wednesday mornings. Shabbat Schmoozes were held again this year and continued to be very popular. Will Auriemme taught several sections of introductory Hebrew Language.
BEKI continued to develop its involvement in the “Tiqun Olam – Social Action” field with the help of Dr. Jennifer Botwick, Joanne Goldblum, Darryl Kuperstock and others. We continue our membership in Interfaith Cooperative Ministries. Mimi Glenn, Stan Saxe, Linden Grazier and others helped collect and distribute food to those in need, sometimes in collaboration with the Hesed Committee (see section below).
This year, we again had a significant presence at the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen. Judy Hoberman and Miriam Benson helped organize our wonderful volunteers. A winter blanket and coat drive provided warmth and safety to people in our area. Beyond our contingent of servers at the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen, BEKI members collected food, toys and duffle bags for people with need.
BEKI again offered great support and participation in a Habitat project. New this year was a project called “Abraham’s Tent,” spearheaded by Darryl Kuperstock.
Kulanu – BEKI’s outreach program for adults with special needs – and “Saul’s Circle” – BEKI’s outreach to adults with mental illness – continued into their tenth year. Income from the David & Lillian Levine Endowment provides partial funding for these efforts. These programs are a sign of the vibrancy of our shul and help us fulfill our mission of drawing our fellows closer to Torah.
Since the inception of Kulanu and Saul’s Circle, we have experimented with formats and programs. We have built a significant base of participants and have established a reputation as a leader in this field in our region. The next step for us is to translate this programmatic success into long-term ongoing funding for these projects.
Linden Grazier continued out efforts through the “Hesed Committee” to address the particular needs of members and extended family who benefit from friendly contact and support. The visits, calls and support they have provided or organized have been very much appreciated. Several members have coordinated meals for families after childbirth, hospitalization and loss. This quiet work is what helps us be a caring community and is central to our mission.
Rachel Wizner and Hannah Winer continues the process of reorganizing the Rosenkrantz Family Library. Miriam Benson continued to serve as the buyer for the Ari Levine Children’s Library. Coffee, tea and hot cocoa are available to library patrons and minyanaires; your choice of Java Nagila or Mika Mocha.
The majoy accomplishment of renovating the Women’s Lounge and Washroom (described above) Marked the realization of a long-held goal and project of The Sisterhood. The Sisterhood continues to be an important arm of the Synagogue, responsible for several events and fundraising efforts. For many members, Sisterhood is their primary point of contact with the Congregation. Their accomplishments, under the leadership of Adele Tyson (at left) and Mimi Glenn are detailed in the Sisterhood Report and described on our website. Some highlights are also mentioned throughout this report. Sisterhood continues to provide a Special Needs Seder to about 50 people; tablecloths for events, a wonderful Giftshop, and refreshments at Purim, Simhat Torah and Hanuka, among other services. The Sisterhood also provides scholarships for BEKI youth to attend United Synagogue and Masorti-Conservative youth programs such as Camp Ramah and various Israel trips, and has contributed to the Congregation’s general income. The Sisterhood has updated certain areas of the building, and is exploring new projects.
Our Bulletin remains one of the best in the synagogue world. It is produced completely by BEKI members, from writing and editing to printing and mailing. None of that would be possible without the tremendous volunteer effort of Jay Brown and Charlie Ludwig, as well as Stan Saxe, Barbara Cushen, Sylvia Zeid, Shula Chernoff, Barbara Rader, Herb Winer, Muriel Banquer and others in processing the mailing. Herb Winer, Donna Kemper and Donna Levine edit and proofread the text. Layout and some original artwork are done by Bruce Oren, a noted artist whose careful work and extraordinary creativity have enabled our Bulletin to match, at some points, the quality of national publications. The Bulletin is mailed to 770 households. In 2003, BEKI received a Solomon Schechter Gold Award from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism in recognition of the excellence of our Bulletin. Beginning in the new fiscal year, all of our members will receive the Bulletin by email, enjoying Bruce’s layout and graphics in full color and faster than the Postal Service can lick a stamp. We are still sending printed copies by schleppost as well.
Our Yizkor Memorial Book, produced by Tina Rose and Darryl Kuperstock, memorializes our loved ones and provides the text for our Yizkor services, Qever Avot Cemetery Services and individual home services. It also provides useful information on mourning observances. The 5773 edition memorializes Barzillai Cheskis of blessed memory in the dedication on the inside front cover.
Our website, www.beki.org, went up in 1997. Every issue of the BEKI Bulletin is available on-line going back to June 1997. Go back and look – we all sure looked goofy back then; now we all look very dignified. According to Google Analytics, our web site gets over 100 visits per day. Seventy-five percent of visits are by new visitors; 25 percent are returning visitors. The heaviest traffic is on Wednesdays; the lightest on Shabbat. This website is important as a source of information for our members and other readers, as well as a primary point of entry for new members. Close to half of our new members find us first through our web site.
The BEKI Facebook social network group initiated and managed by Mark Oppenheimer has proven popular. It is a good way for our members and friends to strengthen their bonds of community. This is one of the ways that Mark and others are working to reach out to develop our membership.
BEKI has received extensive press coverage during the year in the local, Jewish and national press. See “The Shul in the News” at www.beki.org/newsindex.html.
BEKI boasts award-winning Kadima and USY youth groups. Fifty percent of the Regional Board members are BEKI youth. President Shayna Weinstein, with commissioners Rena Cheskis-Gold and others involved, insured a great year. We enjoyed the support of wonderful advisors, Sarah Guariglia and member Steve Werlin. We were extremely fortunate to have such talented and dedicated leaders this year. Rena continued her tenure as Youth Commission Chairperson, a position previously held for more than a decade by Darryl Kuperstock. Rena and our youth deserve our full support. (Students pictured below are holding bowling balls, not pumpkins.)
Our chapter is operated jointly with neighboring Congregation B’nai Jacob, which adds a level of complexity to organization and logistics, but which also brings its own rewards. Temple Beth Sholom is also participating informally in our consortium.
The year saw the fourteenth season for BEKI’s Benei Mitzva Preparation Program (BMP). Nine students celebrated becoming benei mitzva at BEKI (while some might have marked this milestone in other settings), including Zev York, Yonatan Hirshfield, Sophia Bruce, Eitan Minsky-Fenick, Yaakov Gottlieb, Sophia Colodner, Benjamin Sauberman, Rachel Buckman and Justin Lazarus. Sophia Bruce broke a series of 13 consecutive boys.
This year Cantor Shoshana Lash and I lead the program, assisted by in-class tutors Naomi Caldwell, Samuel Caldwell and Myles Caldwell. Our benei mitzva enjoy one of the finest programs available, one which will be further developed in the coming year. During the fiscal year now ending, nine of our youth celebrated their becoming benei mitzva in some form of public worship at the synagogue. The BMP is one venue in which our Religious School (BRS), Ezra Academy and other youth can get to know each other. Again this year, several students mastered most of the services for Shabbat and weekday.
A large contingent of 18 BEKI youth will attend Camp Ramah this summer. One in twenty-five campers is a BEKI member! BEKI has the largest Ramah contingent in Connecticut and the largest contingent proportional to membership. Thanks to the support of generous members, we were able to provide enough scholarship support to help a few kids attend Ramah who would not otherwise have attended.
Ramah families pay camp tuition totaling somewhere around $85,000 – we could use more scholarship support! Your gift of $10,000 to a BEKI endowment could make camp possible for one student each year by providing a partial scholarship. Your gift of $100,000 would pay full tuition for one or two campers a year. Your gift of $1,000,000 for camping at BEKI would make Jewish summer camp available to all of our kids. Several children attended other fine Jewish and Zionist camps. Their experiences reinforce the atmosphere we try to create during the year in our shul and school. The sense of community built during the summer will last a lifetime. Paying for BEKI kids to go to Ramah and other Jewish camps is one of the best investments you can make in the future of the Jewish People. I urge parents to consider sending their children to fine Jewish summer camps such as Ramah.
We concentrate on Ramah because it is affiliated with the Masorti Conservative Movement, and it is the first choice for BEKI campers. The community they form over the summer benefits us all year round. The Sisterhood’s Marcel Gutman Scholarship Fund also helped several students attend Jewish Camp or Israel Experience programs.
Likewise, Ezra Academy, our affiliated Solomon Schechter school, is the single most popular school for BEKI kids (that is, more of our students attend Ezra than any other school), and BEKI kids are the largest synagogue contingent at Ezra (41% of the 2013 graduating class). The shared school experience intensifies, reinforces and multiplies their BEKI and (in many cases) Ramah and USY experiences.
BEKI’s Shabbat morning children’s and youth programs are a source of pride for our Congregation. Thanks to Miriam Benson for organizing, recruitment and support, and to all of the adults who participate in and support the programs. Hallie Aronson provided snacks. The programs continues to be a point of entry for many of our newest members. Three children’s programs are held every Shabbat morning, and a fourth is held fortnightly. These kids will have wonderful, warm associations with the synagogue and Judaism as they grow.
Ina Silverman assumed the position of Principal in summer 2008. Her organizational abilities, vision and understanding of the theory and practice of Jewish education, familiarity with our faculty and studentry, and dedication to the cause contributed to making this one of the best years ever for the School. This year, students were happy and learning, and parents were happy. The George & Leah Posener Fund provided important financial support, as did the Gladys Lipkin Endowment and the Religious School Fund (formerly known as the Hebrew School Endowment Fund).
The Talmud Torah Meyuhad (TTM), the Special Education Religious School, was initiated here in 1994 and was in prior years supported by the Department of Jewish Education (DJE) of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven. Apparently, going forward we may not enjoy DJE budgetary support for the program. We are responsible for the education of our own children so we will find a way to fully fund the program. In addition to the children formally enrolled in TTM, all of the children in the School benefit from the presence of teachers and madrikhim with special education training. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Borick Family through the LIATIS Foundation for helping to cover BEKI’s expenses in special education through the Borick Family Endowment for Special Education for Youth at BEKI. The commitment of our Congregation is to provide the best educational opportunities we can to all of our students. Susan Jacobson served as Head TTM teacher and also functioned as a vice-principal to the whole school.
The Louis Friedman Scholarship Fund (LFSF) provides tuition assistance to students in need. The Rabbi Andrew Klein Scholarship Fund also provided support this year.
The Principal works with a group of teen madrikhim (teachers’ aides) who serve as positive models for the younger students. The hallways and classrooms of the School are decorated with colorful displays. Our BRS students especially enjoyed their interaction with our BEKI-family-hosted and other Israeli teen emissaries.
Our son Noam, who is a student at Ezra Academy, attended BRS for the past five years – he’s in a dual-degree program. He loved the Sunday Hebrew classes with Rita and Betsy and made good friends with kids he would not otherwise have seen. There was little overlap with his Ezra studies, because the world of Judaic knowledge is great and our time for study is short. Other Ezra kids would enjoy BRS on Sundays with Helene and Shlomit and the other younger-grade teachers; thanks to generous scholarship support, the program is extremely affordable.
Veteran members fondly recall the “good old days” when BEKI (or Beth El and Keser Israel) had wonderful social programs, opportunities for fun and fellowship. This past year, we enjoyed a continuing resurgence of special events, in addition to the weekly Shabbat and Festival gatherings, the Posener Family Break-Fast after Yom Kippur and the occasional Shabbat dinners. These are the good old days.
The year began with the BEKI 120 Picnic at Mitchell Library Park, attended by 150, including the Darfur resettlement family. The event was organized by Jennifer Myer with James Kempton. We loved the snow cones.
We also enjoyed a LaG BeOmer Kumsitz Campfire Singalong hosted by the Hirshfield Starr Family; BEKI 120 House Parties; and the newest Synagogue Directory.
The Minsky – Fenick Family again hosted a very enjoyable erev shira (song night) at their residence on Shabbat Shira. Among the special Shabbatot were those memorializing George Posener and one honoring Ezra Academy students and families.
Helen Rosenberg continued a significant effort to organize a series of lobby art shows in conjunction with local galleries and featuring local artists, most recently displaying the work of member and noted artist Mary Lesser. Our lobby areas now feature rotating art exhibits. I wish we could do the same in the lower lobby. Thanks to the artistic efforts and engineering skills of Bruce Oren, this has been another Banner Year at BEKI.
The sense of unity of purpose and spirit of cooperation within our community has continued to grow. BEKI is a caring community, based on love of God, Torah, the Jewish People and humanity. There is a great deal of confidence for the coming year and coming decade. That is thanks to your untiring efforts and generosity.
I am awed by the level of commitment and dedication of our leaders. While we have made great strides, we still have a long way to go to fulfill our vision. Many people have had wonderful experiences in our shul, but we all know that there are those who have had less wonderful experiences, and we need to improve this situation. I understand that as Rabbi, there are many areas that will require my additional efforts.
Special thanks to Carole Bass and the other officers for their tireless and dedicated leadership. It has been personally a great pleasure to work with Carole and the officers. I do not think you can find another synagogue with more dedicated and qualified leaders. We were very fortunate to have the outstanding leadership contributions of Past Presidents Jay Sokolow, Donna Levine, Brian Karsif, Saul Bell, Adele Tyson and Paul Goodwin to bolster these efforts, as well as the continuing support of Past Presidents Alan Gelbert, David Sagerman, Andy Weinstein, Nadav Sela and others.
On 30 June, Carole Bass concludes her two-year period of service as President. Thanks to Carole’s efforts, our Congregation has continued to grow and develop. The budget is balanced, the balance sheet looks better than at any point in the Congregation’s history, the building is undergoing continuous major renovation and is in the best state of repair in many years, participation rates and membership continue to grow, and our education and programming staff comprises great talent. Carole led the Board and officers with her attention to detail, improving the things we’re already doing, fiscal responsibility, respect for tradition and for the individual, reaching out to involve others, and personal example. She is a leader who believes in trying to involve people and in quiet active leadership. Carole is a very thoughtful, gentle, talented, community-minded, personally involved leader who brings her intelligent vision into action at BEKI. While exploring major changes in the way we do things, she has a conservative, or cautious, and deliberate approach to fiscal matters, which helps keep the ship on an even keel. Carole is conscientious, and she took seriously all of the concerns and issues raised by our members and supporters. While the passing of her father one year ago placed a heavy weight on her soul, she managed to continue her effective leadership and service. She is one of the most talented, accomplished, capable and committed synagogue presidents in our region. I join with the officers in expressing our appreciation to her for her leadership and labor.
Nadav Sela has been selected and elected as our next president. Nadav comes with a practical professional background of high-level corporate management, as well as a deep love of Torah and the Jewish People. His prior service as BEKI president – more than 20 years ago – is one indication of his long-term commitment to the community and his ability to persist despite all obstacles. Husband of beloved BRS teacher Rita, and father of two men with their own families (Amitai and Rabbi Ahud), he also possesses an emotional maturity that is so necessary to the position. A popular teacher and darshan himself, Nadav’s perspective on Torah and Jewish life is a great aid to his service to our community.
The Board of Directors represents one of the most intelligent, dedicated and accomplished assemblages in New England. It is a pleasure and a privilege to work with them. I learn a lot, and appreciate the directors’ support, encouragement and patience. Thanks to your efforts, we are now in a much stronger position than we were twenty years ago. I expect to see continuing progress at BEKI during the next year. We must preserve the heritage of this synagogue as we build for the next 120 years. It has been my privilege to serve this congregation and may it please God that I be enabled to do so into the future. I feel truly blessed to enjoy your support and friendship, and to enjoy the love and support of my dear wife Miriam Benson and that of our children. These have been among the most exciting years of my life, so far.