Oct 30th 2014

I want Beth Tzedec to transform the way our members experience their lives Jewishly.

My connection to Beth Tzedec Congregation began with my maternal great-grandparents who were members of Goel Tzedec, one of our two predecessor synagogues. My parents joined Beth Tzedec in 1955 when they moved with their then two young sons into Cedarvale. I attended Beth Tzedec Day School (which would later become U.S.D.S.) and the Congregational School, celebrating my Bar Mitzvah here in 1965. But my deeper involvement began when my first of three children was born. Friends encouraged my wife and me to start attending monthly Family Services (at that time, a precursor to the Little Minyan in format). Our two daughters had their baby-naming ceremonies in the Family Service. With the help of our H̱azzanim, I decided to hone my davening skills, to help lead services and to learn to read Torah. My wife and I joined the Young Families Committee. I next joined the Ritual and Religious Services Committee, then the H̱esed Committee, then the Board of Governors, then the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Committee, then the Cantorial Search Committee, then the Personnel Committee, etc., and we’ve never looked back.

What do I want to accomplish, as President of Beth Tzedec Congregation? I want Beth Tzedec to transform the way our members experience their lives Jewishly. I want to foster engagement, spiritual fulfillment and camaraderie in our Congregation. I want us to deepen our connection to Judaism and our People and be among the leading Conservative shuls not just in Toronto, but in the Conservative movement.

What is the essential characteristic that makes Beth Tzedec Congregation unique? Let’s state the obvious: we are big. With over 5,000 individual members (or children of members), we rank among the largest congregations in the world. Just what does our size allow us to accomplish and what makes it particularly attractive to congregants?

Being large in and of itself holds little value for most people. But our size enables us to satisfy the demands for relevance, quality and choices. It gives us the power to achieve excellence. We can excel in the quality of our davening, teaching, pastoral care, programming and in all aspects of congregational life. This capacity for excellence allows us to provide a broad range of appealing choices in all that we do. We should not just satisfy members but delight them and expand their expectations to levels other shuls cannot fulfill.

Our size enables us to meet the intimacy needs of members by providing small(er)-group venues for education, services and programming. The Little Minyan, Monday night teaching sessions and family-friendly events fall within this category, as do many other activities we offer. Our size enables us to better serve diverse needs; we are blessed with ample resources in terms of our talented volunteer lay leadership and our creative and highly-trained staff. We have the capacity to tolerate diversity on many levels. One thing we are not is homogeneous.

Our size gives us the capacity to ensure that our Congregation can have an impact on public affairs. We regularly have the opportunity to participate in matters of significance to the Jewish community. Rabbi Frydman-Kohl’s In the Path of Abraham interfaith trip to Israel, our support for Eretz Israel and its institutions and our recent re-affiliation with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism are just some examples. Beth Tzedec’s size and its standing in the community give its members the opportunity to make a difference, both locally and globally.

Of course, being a large congregation is not without its challenges. Increased size means increased complexity. Special skills are needed to manage so diverse and multifaceted an organization. We are not the synagogue we were at our inception. Our constitution, written mostly in 1953, was designed for a different cultural context and no longer serves us well; it requires a wholesale revision. Of course, such changes are not accomplished without considerable effort and care.

The very nature of our large staff team is that it is continually in transition. Often, some position is open on the team and a search committee is engaged in filling it. Each new change is a step forward, though coordinating and aligning our efforts becomes more challenging as growth and changes occur.

The task of those of us who govern is to engage you in the process, creating a collaborative atmosphere that seeks innovation and encourages involvement on many levels. Some of this will be evident these upcoming High Holy Days with our “New Beginnings” theme. In addition to the Sanctuary, Young Families (Hendeles Chapel) and Parallel (Kimel Family Gym) Services, we will be providing abridged 90-minute Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services in the Hurwich Board Room starting at 10:30 AM. This “Abridged (Short and Sweet) Service” will include Shofar, Shaẖarit and Musaf, and is aimed at, but not restricted to, our 20- and 30-something members who have asked us to find new ways for them to engage.

I welcome the responsibility and challenges of my new role as your President. I look forward to a productive year ahead and wish you all a healthy and happy New Year.