Here is the speech I made at the Annual Meeting of Congregation Etz Chayim on June 9, 2013.
Sunday June 9th Speech
Thank you all for coming to the annual meeting.
(Interactive section begins here)
How many of you are coming to at least your second annual meeting? Please stand up.
How many of you joined in the last 12 months? Raise your hands.
What I would like is for the standing folks to sit with the people who have their hands up. Old guys, explain what is going on to the new guys. Then I will continue.
(end interactive session)
I’d like to cover three main areas today. First, let me tell you about the structure of our governance for the next few months and why that is happening, Then, I’ll go over the past year, from my perspective, then I’ll talk about the future
I. I’ll be here a bit longer
For the past five years, the Etz Chayim presidency has been a three-year commitment—the first year one deals with committees and congregants as the EVP, the second year one focuses on the Board and staff as President, and the third year as past president one focuses on the big picture. We call this the ‘troika.’ As you read in the introduction to this Annual Report, the current troika will be around for an extra six months. This is in accordance with our bylaws, which provide for a lot of flexibility in the terms of the officers, including partial year terms.
The biggest effect this will have on the congregation is increased stability in leadership. Also, due to the timing change, instead of Ari’s successor beginning his or her rabbinic tenure at the same time as a new President, he or she will begin with a President that has had six months to get used to the position. I can tell you that taking on the official title can be a bit of a shock, and an EVP stepping up to President and getting used to a new rabbi at the same time could be quite difficult.
Immediately after the Annual Meeting, the Board will participate in the Strategic Planning Workshop. Then we will hold a short meeting to take care of some business, and begin our regular meeting calendar July 28. This will be a busy summer for the Board. We have a lot of new members to welcome, need to put in time with our new Director of Learning, and the holidays are early.
II. This has been a good year
Membership, building usage, social groups and fundraising are all doing well. Just as important, we have been available for each other in times of need, and times of joy. We have taken some major actions and begun some major projects, and managed to weather a couple of unexpected breaks.
Much of the credit goes to our executive director, Ellen Bob. She has been at the center of everything, using her degree in Jewish Studies and Psychology to our benefit. At the same time, she has been a major facilitator of connectedness between members, working with us and for us at all times of day and night, six days a week. We all owe her our deep thanks. Also, we owe our thanks to Donna Munic, who has been handling our finances and IT at the same time; Melissa Rogoway, for keeping an even and professional demeanor; Lea Kingsbury for anchoring the office; and to the members of the Board who have stepped up to the bima at every service, and the Executive Committee of the board, the EVP, Treasurer, Secretary, Past President and Executive Director, who have covered for me more times than I can count. (I asked them all to stand and be recognized)
I’d like to go over how much work people in the congregation do to support our communal life. They work at everything–Everything from our shiva minyanim to our newsletter is a group effort. Our Torah readings are spread out among the community, and the aim is always to get more people involved.
Elizabeth Shane, Sue Weber, Art Sklaroff, Jess Bernhardt, Mitch Slomiak, Gail Slocum, and Carol Kushnir have all done magnificent work in that area. Avi Lenchner has kept this room looking great . Dahlia Blech and her Israeli Songs group, and Steve Tepper and his Torah reading, and Sara Kaderlan and Jonathan Salzedo and Mitch Gruber all contributed to a new Friday night siddur, and our Saturday, which is still in beta. Melissa, Joanna Z, and Ilana GG have all stepped up adult education. Karen Bergen has brought Yiddish into the building.
I would like to see more arts-related activity in this building, because that is one of our strengths. Look at what happened with the Kol B’Seder concert. Our chorus spun into a Mitzvah Singers. We have had fabulous Fifth Fridays. Event after event has gone well. Our culture of welcoming seems to have worked—we have had several young couples join this year, and many adults.
I like to welcome people. Being a yenta comes naturally to me, because I was an only child, and I was taught to share what I have with others.
Etz is at an intersection—yes, Alma and San Antonio—that is in the center of a developing neighborhood. When we moved into the neighborhood, we had 300 people here, welcoming us. It’s time for us to welcome them back. It is my pleasure to contribute to the good of our community and to the community at large. We were a polling place—I LOVED that.
I would be remiss if I did not thank Karen Bergen and the High Holiday team for their work. Take a bow for that, Karen!
My time horizon for my synagogue—and remember my synagogue was not always Etz– has stretched. Maybe it’s because my vision has changed. (demonstrate presbyopia). Maybe it’s because the survivor generation that raised me is passing away. Maybe living through the economic downturn—all 3 of them– changed my point of view.
When my children were small, I could not see past their bnai mitzvah celebrations. Now that milestone is past, I’m looking out even further—to my children’s weddings, if I’m lucky to THEIR children’s b’nai mitzvah, if I’m very lucky, and to other life cycle events we need to support each other through. How will Etz stay strong decades into the future? How will we meet the challenges both individual and communal?
This past year has convinced me that when there are challenges, the board and congregation can fill in for each other, and rise to them. I am not the most gifted of administrators, but when I called on the Board and various congregants to help with big, big, tasks, they helped. It was my aim to listen more than talk, and get as much feedback as possible, and actually DO as little as possible. I think I succeeded. But I have seen a lot done this year. We have had a significant staff change.
“Deepening our Roots” got revived, with the very clear aim of strengthening our balance sheet for the future so we can meet challenges.
The Rabbinic Resource committee turned the necessity of finding a new Rrabbi into a learning opportunity.
The Strategic Planning Task Force is collecting our thinking about the future. I encourage you to participate in the workshop at noon, and share your vision. That’s why there is mention of Etz in 5 years—2018! On the agendas on the table.
I never thought that the day would come, but also now, not only do I see my children struggling with decisions and conditions I had to deal with as a young adult, they have gotten old enough to talk to me, and listen. Whoa.
SOMETHING OF MYSELF
Last year I shared a bit of my Tramiel history as someone who married into a family who had great success and kept their heads level. This year, I’ll share some of my history as an Adler, which was how I spent my first 25 years. My father got cancer when I was a teenager, and died when I was 16. He went from being a strong successful businessman—his work was hard physical labor– to a much weaker, but spiritually strong man who made the synagogue the center of his life, and created a community of men who kept up a daily morning minyan. He got a plaque from the congregation, Midchester Jewish center, and a conservative synagogue. I have it. That congregation in Yonkers—I’m from Yonkers, you know—gave him a reason to get up in the morning and definitely extended his life.
Hopefully, Etz Chayim has done the same for our members, and will do the same for others in the future. It is our highest work to help each other grow and thrive.
Midchester Jewish Center was great, but it’s gone, now. When I went back for my 35th high school reunion, it had become a mosque. I hope that they are helping each other the way they helped my mother and I.
But listen, I don’t want that to happen here. When my kids come back for their Paly reunions, I want their kids to come and see their names on the bricks, and their grandparent’s names on those trees. I have taken up genealogy recently, and I met a man who was going to a Bar Mitzvah in Pittsburgh where there were SIX generations of his family on the building. I hope we can do that here.