Four years ago, when I became chair of Beth Tzedec’s Board of Governors, there were so many things I hoped to accomplish, in partnership with then incoming President Norman Kahn and the support of our new Executive and Board. Thanks to your participation in Town Hall meetings, surveys, focus groups, emails and informal discussions, we identified a number of goals and objectives, and we all set out to work to achieve them together. Looking back, I’m very proud of what we’ve all achieved for our Congregation since then; I’m also very much aware of what is yet to be accomplished.
Policies and Programs
Many of you shared your thoughts and wishes about the Beth Tzedec you wanted to see. Based on your feedback, policies were changed and new programs were launched. It was your comments that led us to make a formal request of Rabbi Frydman-Kohl to consider the role of women in our religious community, resulting in his teshuvah determining that women could be counted in a minyan. Based on your requests for more options for celebrating B’nei Mitzvah, we developed and introduced a new Bar/Bat Mitzvah policy. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah program was revamped in response to the many parents who wanted their children’s experience to be different and better. Youth programs, such as our Paperclips trip and new tikkun olam opportunities, were developed in response to the wishes of teens which were conceived and communicated through the TAC (Teen Advisory Committee). We fully expect this trend to continue, as you help us to determine which policies and programs are evaluated and evolved in the year to come.
Four years ago, Beth Tzedec was facing a dismal financial situation, having experienced repeated substantial operating deficits which had been funded by the sale of capital investments and cemetery lands. We worked with staff,the Budget and Finance Committee and other committees across the board to address both our top and bottom lines. We renegotiated key contracts,put strict spending restrictions in place and developed plans to improve critical sources of revenues. The result has been considerable improvement in our financial situation over the last three years. We have restored the Congregation to the point where it can meet its operational needs without depleting its capital and sacrificing its future. At the same time, we have developed new budgeting processes, new policies for budget and spending approvals and improved internal financial reporting.
The coming year will be the first time we will benefit from the new budgeting processes from the start of the annual cycle. We will continue to tweak the reporting process, to ensure that the metrics and insights from last year’s programs and events effectively inform planning for the coming year.
As you might remember, you used to receive various annual program guides from the shul. One described Adult Education; another outlined Youth and Family Programs. There were listings of Music Events, Library Programs, Museum Programs... all separately devised, advertised and mounted. Sometimes, various Beth Tzedec programs competed on the same night.
Our leadership believed in one Beth Tzedec, offering a rich variety of attractive programming as a Community Destination for Jewish Living. We wanted to ensure that our resources were deployed strategically, and that programs were coordinated and jointly developed. In 2009, all Beth Tzedec program listings were consolidated into a single annual Adult, Family and Youth Program Guide. One regular weekly eblast was created (which is currently being redeveloped and will be re-launched in the coming weeks). Speakers brought in by the Adult Education Committee have offered presentations at dinners for Families, at events for Young Professionals and Teens, and following musical Friday Night Live services. Children’s programming has run concurrently at adult events. Holiday celebrations have been scheduled and promoted across departments and age groups. We expect the coming year’s process to continue to utilize this model, as our professionals work together to provide the best varied programming for our community.
Four years ago, our computer systems were in dire need of updating; our communications were tired; our website was cluttered and not fully functioning; and it was impossible to access the Internet wirelessly within our building (an objective sought to be achieved on occasions other than Shabbat and holidays!).
Today, we have acquired and deployed new computers and productivity tools, with proper back-up systems and support. We have wireless access. Our posters, ads, brochures and other communications materials share a consistent vibrant look and feel; our Bulletin has been redesigned; and we’ve launched a new sparkling website.
The website roll-out will continue over the summer, when we will add new functionality, the ability for members to access their accounts and update personal information and email preferences online and the introduction of the means to make payments (for membership contributions or other donations), to make event reservations and to purchase event tickets online. Within the next six to twelve months, our office systems for processing information and reporting will have been entirely overhauled, streamlined and improved.
Four years ago, some people thought our first priority had to be the renovation of our aging building; however, we believed that it was premature to discuss what would become of our building without first addressing what goes on inside it. Having made significant strides on programming in the first three years, it was time this year to start to focus on the building itself.
Our Renovation Committee met several times over the past year, and the plans to meet current and future needs are evolving. Our expectation is that we will bring them to the Congregation for consultation and review before the end of 2013. In the meantime, our House Committee continues to oversee the upkeep of our building (in consultation with the Renovation Committee and the Board), with a view to ensuring that money spent on ongoing needed repairs and improvements will not be wasted in the long run.
While we focussed on harmonizing the efforts of the various departments inside the synagogue, we also reached out to other organizations to partner. Leveraging key existing and developing relationships among our Klei Kodesh, our executive director and our lay leaders, we have developed programs in partnership with UJA Federation, the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre, the Bernard Betel Centre, the Jewish Outreach Institute, Jsport, Hillel Toronto, the Office of the Israeli Consulate, the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto, the Shalom Hartman Institute and more.
At the same time, we have invested in our relationship with Robbins Hebrew Academy (formerly USDS) which has shared our building for decades, finding new opportunities to mount and promote joint initiatives. In addition, we transitioned successfully to a new relationship with Applause Catering, with a return to full and regular use of our kitchen facilities.
Over the last several months, I have been approached by many of you inquiring whether or not I would be willing to serve a third (and final) year as President. There has been some debate about whether it is permitted or appropriate to serve a third year as President. Our Constitution states that an individual may serve in any position on the Executive for a maximum of three consecutive years, and, while most presidents have served for two years, some have served for only one year, and others have served for three.
After careful consideration, I have confirmed my willingness to serve the Congregation as President for a third and final year. However, because a Board election has been triggered, it is the new Board (once elected) who will vote to determine who will serve as President (and in the other six elected roles on our Executive). It is up to you, as members, to choose your elected representatives, who will in turn determine who will serve as your President.
My willingness to stand for a third year in this position is driven by my deep desire to ensure that the new initiatives, changes, relationships, policies and programs described above will have the greatest chance of continuing success, as they are nurtured over one additional year through a consistent vision and approach. Further, I really hope to have the opportunity to build on current momentum and consolidate the key projects and initiatives of the past four years into a comprehensive Strategic Plan, to support those of you who have expressed interest and desire to get involved with our shul, to guide the completion in the coming year of conceptual plans for the restoration and renovation of our building, and to participate in the creation of a fresh fundraising and development plan to meet our future needs.
No matter what happens with this election, it has been my honour and privilege to serve this Congregation. It would not have been possible to accomplish all we have without the help and support of so many people: Our board members and executive committee, Klei Kodesh and staff, committees and other volunteers have helped to shape and execute various pieces of the overall strategy. Your contributions and input, along with those of the Beth Tzedec Men's Club and Sisterhood, have been invaluable in developing and delivering our programs and other offerings.
As always, I invite you to share your thoughts with me about any of the points I’ve discussed, and about what matters most to you for our synagogue. Please contact me anytime at email@example.com. I look forward to seeing you at the Annual General Meeting on Thursday, May 30 at 7:30 PM.