This being a corporate meeting, I would like to proceed directly to the bottom line: family. Holy Blossom is about family. I know I speak for all of us who have taken on leadership roles here, though of course I reflect most directly on my family, Karen and our children. This role is a family affair. I could not assume it alone, and could not have done my best without my family.
This has been a remarkable journey, and Karen and I have learned a lot together:
- What the term ‘two hour Board meeting” really means – midnight, balanced by
- Another perspective on Israel, as with the private time we shared with Gilad Shalit that memorable Kol Nidre in 2013, balanced by
- A slight alternation of the famous Henry Kissinger comment, ‘Synagogue politics at times can make the Middle East seem simple”, balanced by
- The enduring joy of new friends in common cause
For all of this, thank you.
We are in a very different space than we have been for some time. We are energized. We are more engaged. We are feeling renewed. There is a pride of association that I feel each and every time I am part of Temple activity; as your President, as a volunteer, as a learner, as a congregant.
How did we get here? That is the purpose of my report to you at this Annual General Meeting.
I think about this is from three perspectives, namely the way we go about doing our work, the work we are doing, and the impact we are having.
Let’s start with the way we’re doing our work. After very careful consideration the board has approved a new governance structure. Those very detailed recommendations, and the resolutions which followed, are being turned into a formal governance document, a new set of by-laws. Shortly, it will come to this congregation for ratification. It modernizes the way we do our work. It makes our processes more transparent and accountable. It meets the requirements of not-for-profit and charitable law, and regulation in this province. In fact, most of the recommendations have already become part of the way we govern ourselves. Our Code of Conduct, which you can find on the website, has become a model that others have sought to emulate.
More than the specific detail of the new by-laws, as a Board we sought advice, accepted guidance, and together learned ways to move our essential governance work to a strategic and programmatic level. We are articulating with more clarity the dynamic relationship between our spiritual leaders, our professional staff, and the lay leadership. This allows our professionals to excel, and enables all of us to continually raise the bar. The metaphor for Temple leadership is a three-legged stool, with each leg of equal length; spiritual, administrative professional, and lay leadership. There are natural tensions around many issues, but the mutual respect and differing perspectives are essential to realizing our aspirations. As one example of this collaboration, some of you may be aware that Russ Joseph and Rabbi Splansky just this week returned from a course on synagogue management for executive directors and rabbis organized by Northwestern University in Chicago. We are all the beneficiaries of this forward-looking learning.
So what have we been able to accomplish with these new tools?
- We’ve have established the core of professional leadership we need to face the future. Not only have we confirmed with joy and anticipation Rabbi Splansky as our Senior Rabbi, Rabbis Helfman and Satz have joined us in the past year and a half. They bring both demographic and interest perspectives that enhance our ability to meet the needs of our current congregation, and the community we hope to attract. We have a new Executive Director, Russ Joseph. He joined us out of a national search process and he leads an increasingly vibrant administrative leg of our three-legged stool. There’s been a major change in lay leadership as well. When I started congregants weren’t particularly interested in getting involved. We were in the doldrums and there was a sense of ennui. People were saying “show me”. That has changed. Now when I reach out to congregants the extraordinarily rich talents in this congregation are freely offered. Much of our success comes from The composition of your new board, its new executive, its new officers and our new president, Joan Garson reflect renewal.
- We have been able to balance the budget. Its not so much the numbers, as the manner of the achievement. Ronna Rubin and then Jeff Meilach changed the language. The message evolved from find the money or cut the program, to what do we require to achieve our goals, how do we measure our success, and how effectively are we stewarding our dollars. It is an engaged continuing process linking our professionals and lay leaders in common cause.
- We are revitalizing learning at Temple. The changes start in small ways. As you may have noted in the Financial Report, our numbers, and hence revenues, are up. We now measure the performance of our programs, and what we hear is encouraging. This was and surely will remain our central priority.
And what of the impact of our efforts:
- Our membership has stabilized, perhaps we’re on the increase. At our next to last board meeting we recorded a net positive of 54 members, something we have not seen in a long time. Membership is not about the High Holy Days, or life cycle events. It is about living and expressing in a thousand touches a sense of Jewish community and Holy Blossom pride of association. We are re-learning that, and doing so more cognizant and in touch with a world around us that is not the same, and may never be the same even from electronic moment to moment.
- Our voice is being heard again, broadly. In the press. At meetings and symposia. In the literature. At many services and events, I’ve welcomed visitors from other synagogues, faiths and communities. They want to know what happens here. They have heard about us.
- There is a palpable new spirit that emanates from Holy Blossom. We feel it in the pews. We hear it in the street. We read it in e-mails. And Robert tells me he sees it in several other ‘channels’ people of a certain age can’t quite comprehend. The tone is anticipation, and confidence.
- The largest physical expression of our renewal is the building. The 85% requirement for funds raised before committing to shovels is a rigorous standard. To have achieved it speaks volumes to our spirit, our confidence in ourselves and our audacity of purpose. People give because they believe Holy Blossom stands for values, principles and actions that matter. Friday’s, early in the work day, culminating Board meeting was precise, disciplined, deeply aware, and when the enabling resolution passed…unanimously…there was a room filled with tears, cheers and she-ecḥeyanu. We are on the way.
What of the future? What ought to be priorities?
Let me share with you three anecdotes.
The first came from a conversation with a senior member of our congregation. He was at a family Shabbat dinner, and it was time for Kiddush. That was his customary role. His grandson came up to him and said, ‘Papa, I’m now ready to lead the Kiddush.’ With a soft tear in his eye, that grandfather told me that that was what synagogues are about. Building the next generation. We must lead, innovate, create an exciting vision for the engagement of my kids, and their kids. Making tradition both relevant and meaningful has always been a challenge, moreso now. Finding that balance is a key to our growth. What is a Jew? Who can be a member? What patterns of observance? Israel? Learning, enriching our dialogue from our base of Torah and Reform values is our highest calling. For me there is no greater priority than lifelong learning.
The second came from a phone call I received from a leader of Toronto’s Muslim community. Could we teach their leaders about anti-Semitism? The request took me back a generation to the days of interfaith dialogue, when Holy Blossom was instrumental in building bridges of understanding between Christians and Jews. This is in our genes. This too is what we are about. These are the actions which make us a beacon for the community, a place where the driving issues of our time can be explored and shared from a Reform Jewish perspective. As Rabbi Marmur reminded us yesterday, we are the window to understanding Jewish values in our country.
My third anecdote anticipates the ceremony to follow, Beny’s extraordinary international recognition. It recognizes talent, vision, a lifetime of passion, and an endless labour of the heart. Cantor Maissner’s globally heard voice is neither the first, nor will it be the last message to sound across the continents, coming from Holy Blossom. This is the untrammelled excellence we speak of. Such excellence is a long term continuing journey. It happens in steps, and stumbles, and leaps, but ever forward. It requires investment: time, sweat, debate, leading professionals, deeply engaged congregants, and money. It takes guts to lead.
Our renewed building will be the vessel for our audacity of purpose. It is the place from whence our presence and mission as Reform Jews emanates. However, it is what goes on here, what is learned here, and what is shared here that is the essence of the matter. This must be our focus.
Holy Blossom has faced transformational times before, and in each instance we have renewed ourselves. In each experience we have built on our heritage, reaffirmed our principles and values, and positioned ourselves for the future. The crucible of renewal is what makes us strong, vital and relevant. The challenges of the past few years, and the renewal we are experiencing are part of our legacy. We are well on the way to renewing ourselves again.
she-ecḥeyanu ve’qi’eh’manu ve’higiy’anu laz’man hazeh: We are so humbly grateful to see this day.
Kol H’Kavod: Well done, to all of us and each of us. We have made this place ready for the future. My deep thanks to the rabbis, cantor, professional staff, my fellow board members, and the congregation. All we have achieved is what we have created.
Hineini, I am here. It is the sum chorus of our hineini’s that makes us strong.
L’dor v’dor. May that sound continue for a long long time.