State of the Shul: 2012-2013

From the President, The Scroll, June 2013 

 

This past year, we strove to improve (1) members’ engagement with one another and with Adat Shalom (we’ve been calling this “Community”); (2) our financial sustainability and governance (we’ve been referring to this as “Congregation”); and (3) how we make good on our responsibility to improve the world (our impact on “Civilizations”). We articulated several goals in each of these areas, knowing that many initiatives fall into more than one area and many are mutually reinforcing (e.g., a strong congregational base will give us the means to keep our community vital and to contribute even more to our civilizations). Each quarter, we paused and took stock of how well we were progressing in each of these areas and modified our course as needed. Below is a synopsis of some of the new initiatives in each of these three areas for the 2012-13 program year, with many thanks to so many who made this all happen.

I.  Community

Goal 1: Increase Engagement

We tried to improve and expand the extent to which our members engaged with AS and with one another by offering multiple ways to experience Shabbat, a variety of learning opportunities, and new opportunities to learn and celebrate with one another.

Multiple Ways to Experience Shabbat

We institutionalized quarterly Shabbat Breirot (Shabbat Options), which provided choices of different ways to experience Shabbat in community. Each Shabbat Breirot took on a different theme. In September, Phyllis Lerner orchestrated a Shabbat Breirot that offered options to pray with our hands, our feet, our heads, and our hearts. In January, Simmie Berman and our shaliach, Erez Golan, brought us a Shabbat Breirot that honored Tu B’Shvat (the Festival of the Trees) and Shabbat Shira (the Shabbat of Songs). In April, Cheryl Silver and Erez Golan turned Shabbat Brierot toward Israel as we welcomed participation from other area shalichim (young, ambassadorial representatives of Israel serving in the Washington area) and from the 6th & I rabbi.

Variety of Learning Opportunities

New learning opportunities burst forth this year, thanks to Ruth Spodak, Audrey Lyon and the Jewish Studies Committee, Elise Caplan and Jean Hochron of Social Action, Phyllis Marcus and Debra Fried Levin of Torah School, and Melissa Seldin and the Families Committee (which this year expanded its innovative activities for families with very young children to families of school-age children, as well). We saw the introduction of Rabbi Fred’s delightful “180s” (thought-provokers accessible from our website’s home page), short classes on Saturday mornings by Rabbi Manny, an innovative interfaith class by Rabbi George, learning sessions on controlling gun violence, a beginning Hebrew class led by Mim Eisenstein, and Hazzan Rachel’s fabulously well-received Yesodot HaLimud, which just celebrated the graduation of its first class of 27 members.

Back from his sabbatical in Israel, Rabbi Fred infused his teachings, on and off the bimah, with new ideas, connections, resources, and understandings drawn from his learning experience that is today’s Israel. We benefited from his deepened excitement about and knowledge of the current “Hebrew culture” world (for example, Bina, Alma and Bet Te lah Yisraeli, whose resources and approaches will be incorporated as a “theme” into many of his divrei Torah next year). By just living the daily life there, Rabbi Fred not only worked on his Hebrew, but grew in his understanding of the experience of nearly half of global Jewry that lives in Israel, and we’re fortunate that he has shared and will continue to share much of that with our community.

Am HaSefer, our “People of the Book,” was a new community-wide initiative that turned Adat Shalom into one big book club! This year, we read The Girl in the Green Sweater, by Krystyna Chiger with Daniel Paisner. With the help of Phyllis Lerner, Barb Richman, Ruth Spodak, Audrey Rothstein, and Gail Ross, more than 150 members met in 20 congregants’ homes to discuss the book. We also watched a movie based on the book and delighted in meeting one of the authors. Ideas for and the formation of a committee to help with next year’s Am HaSefer are in the works now.

In the Torah School, we saw innovations in Kabbalat Shabbat sleepovers and class trips to Kayam Farm, Homestead Farm, and DC as part of a new Tikkun Olam curriculum. We were thrilled to have Erez teach two classes and add his overall Israeli presence to our programs. Pam Sommers initiated a new Creative Arts program, which we look forward to having as part of the regular curriculum next year, and the search is under way for a new minyan teacher as we thank Sue Marx for all she has imparted to our community’s children.

More Opportunities for Congregants to Meet and Celebrate with One Another

Along with Diane Paul and Community Life’s Stacy Feuer and Betsy Toretsky, Darin Schonzeit looked into recharging and expanding our chuggim (with the latest additions being for Spanish speakers and members interested in the arts), and the environmental chug initiated a brown bag series. Also, Karen Fierst initiated an effort to re-examine our villages to make them more effective for our evolving community and life-cycle needs. Meanwhile, Shelley Rudick, Marc Gunther, Camilla Day, Martha Hare, and the Life Cycle Committee branched out this year by providing meals for those who just gave birth (with thanks to Melissa Crow) as well as during shivas. They are now looking into shiva training. Hazzan Rachel and Jayme Epstein, Religious Practices chair, initiated a a fresh look at our B’nai Mitzvah program, with teams of focus groups representing different perspectives weighing in.

An incredible number of us participated in “It’s About Time,” deftly produced and directed by Karen Simon as part of Adat Shalom’s 25th Anniversary Celebration. And, 400 of us attended the evening so lovingly orchestrated by co-chairs Lisa Makstein, Stan Newman, and Mark Wolff. Also, rounding out our program year was the very special opportunity to connect and relax in the mountains with other Adat Shalomers at our bi-annual retreat, with thanks to chairs Jacquie Glass and Eric Stearns, along with Rabbi Fred and Erez. The focus of this year’s retreat is Alt-Neu-Land: Israel, Then-Now, Me-You, which is taken from the title of Theodor Herzl’s utopian 1902 novel about his dream of the Jewish state.

 Goal 2: Improve Communications

We tried to improve communications this year by increasing communication and information flow to the congregation, creating better vehicles for the congregation to speak to the board and clergy, and providing more ways for congregants to talk among themselves.

Improving Communication with the Congregation

Many thanks to Bob Barkin and the communication team for creating a new, much improved website, with new information and photos posted there with record speed. The new website has allowed us to offer the convenience of electronic payment for more events (with thanks to Ralph Silberman), show videos, and have a calendar that’s easy to read! Stay tuned! We’ll take the website to the next level in the coming year through increased use of its social networking features.

Adat Shalom also now has a Facebook page that’s being used to advertise synagogue events, thanks to Vicki Stearn. For those not on Facebook, you can still find out about Adat Shalom happenings each week via e-mail in “Ma Chadash.” (Watch for a Ma Chadash face-lift in the coming year!) And, you have been receiving periodic NEWS from the board, which provides summary highlights from board meetings, as well as copies of adopted minutes from prior board meetings, along with the biannual State of the Shul (with thanks to Shelley Sadowsky for her help on those).

Creating Better Vehicles for the Congregation to Talk with the Board/Clergy

New this year was the heartwarming gathering of small cohorts of congregants where members got together according to the year they joined, had a commemorative aliyah, and then over dessert after the oneg, shared a little bit about themselves and what Adat Shalom means to them (an event organized by Hannah Lipman (z'l) and Marge Coffee with rotating hosts). Each gathering brought with it a special insight into the warm and caring character of our community. As Neil Makstein said in the  rst gathering, “It’s not about the size, it’s about the people.” Indeed, even with close to 500 families, many members spoke about how closely connected they felt with one another.

We also initiated a program of small-group gatherings with the clergy and board representatives in board members’ homes. It may take several years, but we’ll eventually get to everyone and won’t ask for anything more than your sharing of your thoughts about how Adat Shalom can best evolve with you. (Really, this is not a fundraiser! It is just a time to gather in a small group with clergy and board members.) And, of course, the board’s newly formed This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. box is always open for your comments and suggestions.

Providing New Ways for Congregants to Talk among Ourselves

A Bill Halpern inspiration brings us a new e-Scroll column called Talking among Ourselves, a Q&A format interview (à la the NY Times Magazine column minus the shoes) that will introduce us to folks in our community you may see but not know very well. The first column features our new executive director, Judith Erger. Also, the development of specialty listserv groups, such as the one for members interested in the arts and another for Judaic studies, provide another way for members to talk (and learn) among themselves about particular topics.

I.  Congregation

Goal 1: Improve Our Fiscal Sustainability

We tried to improve our fiscal sustainability this year by balancing the budget and growing membership.

Balancing the Budget

We started this year with a projection from the Finance Committee that we would end the year with a $23,000 deficit. Scenarios were forecasted for an even larger de cit in the coming years. However, through significant synagogue-wide cost- and energy-saving measures, an increase in Torah School enrollment, an increase in synagogue membership, our best-ever High Holy Day appeal (with thanks to Tim Bartol and Ted Berman for raising a record $171,000), and the expertise of our treasurer, Jeff Rich, and the Finance Committee under the direction of Carol Baer Mott, along with our new executive director, Judith, we were able to end the fiscal year with a small surplus and have a manageable deficit of only $27,000 for next year. Under Fundraising Chair Greg Schofer, we tried some new fundraising mechanisms: Mishloah Manot Purim baskets brought in $3,500; a lovely brunch/talk by Iris Krasnow raised some funds; soliciting outside vendors for advertisements; and selectively charging for some educational classes (always having financial aid available). We’re now in the process of developing centralized fundraising procedures to reduce the number of “asks” and looking into external funding sources to supplement the generosity of members. For long-term sustainability, we’ve created an endowment (with thanks to Garry Grossman), and we’re looking into various ways to fund it. Look for more on that in the coming year.

Moderately Grow Membership

As Rabbi Sid’s new book, Jewish Megatrends, so well describes, we are very much in a time of great change in Jewish affiliation, where younger generations of Jews are deciding to join synagogues based on factors that never occurred to their parents, and many are deciding not to join at all. Adat Shalom has both bene tted and suffered from its location in the transient Washington suburbs. Historically, we’ve had a significant number of mobile professionals in our community, who have enriched our community—but then get job offers out of town! Nonetheless, this year, we were fortunate to have not only maintained, but slightly increased, our membership. With more welcoming membership procedures (thanks to Deborah Lessne and Diane Paul), advertising of our events to the greater community, and more in-reach efforts, we were able to attract new members while retaining more current ones. Thanks to the Torah School’s initiative, we instituted a new K-2 policy that provides incentives for non-members to try out kindergarten through second grade for one year prior to becoming a member. Eight families piloted this initiative, adding to what was already an increase in Torah School enrollment. And, all eight families have expressed a strong interest in joining as members. At Rabbi Fred’s suggestion, Bob Barkin spearheaded a Dues Innovation Committee, which launched a new membership rate for households under age 35, to encourage increased membership by that cohort. And, the board approved a new Innovation Program that Sandy Perlstein is spearheading. Details to follow this coming year.

 Goal 2: Improve Governance

We also made some structural changes this term in an effort to improve our governance. Each Program Council member is now paired up with a “buddy” on the board to increase communication and synergies between committees, and Fran Zamore initiated a new coordinator position on the Program Council to better oversee programming and integrate committees as much as possible. And, a secretary position was added to the Program Council to better keep track of the many goings on in our programming life. With Shelley Sadowsky’s help, we’re working on formalizing internal procedures for the board and the Program Council; and Kevin Teichman’s Board Process Committee is developing recommendations for the board concerning instances when the board should seek community input for decision-making purposes and instances when the board should meet in executive session. New technology is permitting us to store all the policies that the board has passed as far back as we can  find on the board listserv for easy access (with thanks to Ted Berman, Gail Ross, and Ralph Nitkin). And, with the help of Scott Lessne and Rhoda Ratner, we’ve implemented a process to conduct annual reviews for all senior staff.

Goal 3: Find a Site for High Holy Days Services That Has the Same Draw as Persimmon Tree Lane.

We tried! With assistance from Valerie Singer and much input from the congregation, we did an exhaustive search for a more inviting High Holy Day venue, but we could not  find anything that suits our needs (and our collective pocketbook) better than good old Montgomery County High Schools (with the small change of moving to Wootton High School because of renovations at Wheaton). However, thanks to Hazzan Rachel’s recommendation, we will again spend Erev Rosh Hashanah at Adat Shalom. Meanwhile, we made Adat Shalom’s sanctuary a more welcoming place by installing a Jon Grossman-introduced induction loop to assist those with a hearing de cit. The loop provides better sound quality and is more discreet than the current headphone system. And, as much as rain is welcomed outside, we are investigating the best way to repair the skylights to keep the rain from dripping down on our tents and carpets.

I.  Civilizations

Goal 1: Better Connect with Israel

As part of a national pilot program from the Jewish Agency for Israel, which Rabbi Fred orchestrated for us, we welcomed a shaliach (Israeli emissary), Erez Golan, to our community. Erez has worked with the Israel Connection Committee to bring us frequent teachings and insights about Israeli politics, culture, education, observances, and language. We are thrilled that Erez will be joining us again this coming year as we continue to broaden our connection with Israel.

Goal 2: Improve Lives

We strived to improve lives this year by working for and celebrating marriage equality, creating a congregational position and action plan on curtailing gun violence, and understanding and providing assistance to the lives of others.

Celebrate Marriage Equality

The aufrufim of Mim and Carol, and Sima and Helen, which celebrated the union of these wonderful couples, also reflected our shul’s contribution to the passage of Maryland’s Marriage Equality Act. We will continue our efforts on the marriage equality front to help ensure that marriage is an option available to all.

Create a Congregational Position and Action Plan on Curtailing Gun Violence

Rabbi Fred, Elise Caplan, and Jean Hochron, along with a team from the Social Action Committee, did an incredible job of applying the Tikkun Olam Guidelines (with a y’asher koach to the drafters of those!) to the issue of preventing gun violence, which resulted in a congregational position. A task force has since been educating and mobilizing the community into action (with Capitol Hill giving them plenty to work on).

Understand and Provide Assistance to the Lives of Others

We started the year by learning about the DREAM Act through our special High Holy Day guest, Jonathan Jayes Green. Several congregants have been exploring ways in which we might help with immigration, including Rabbi Fred’s participation in the Religious Action Center’s Consultation on Conscience. The mission to Haiti is now an of cial Adat Shalom program, and a group of Adat Shalomers went on the second mission to work with Pastor Jonny’s school and community center in Legone, Haiti. We also had a wonderful interfaith program of engagement with the Hindu community, brought to us by Steve and Alan Brody. And, Rabbi Sid and Dr. Sayyid Syeed spoke about their groundbreaking interfaith trip to the Middle East and Indonesia.

Goal 3: Repair the Environment/the World

In the fall, we were selected by the National Wildlife Federation to be one of three houses of faith to participate in a new year-long program, Sacred Grounds, to create wildlife habitats at faith-based institutions. This program, the brainchild of Rabbi Fred, develops another site along our Derekh Ha’etz (“Way of the Tree”) nature trail, which will connect five sites around our grounds with the books of the Torah. (A new Sara Sennet sign has been added to the Mishnah Garden site!). With thanks to Naomi Edelson, Shelley Rudick, and Bill Halpern for spear-heading the Sacred Grounds initiative, which was featured on PBS along with Rabbi Fred, the Mishnah Garden, and our solar panels. See the whole Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly clip at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/april-19-2013/religion-and-the-environment/15953/ . Also new this year, thanks to Elise Caplan, Adat Shalom was pre-approved as a Student Service Learning (SSL) organization—which means that middle- and high school students can now receive SSL credit for participating in community service activities—and a Teen Social Action Program formed to specifically encourage teens to take action.

In addition to these new initiatives, with the help and participation of so many in our community, we continued to engage one another and others through a dazzling number of wonderful initiatives/programs that began in years past, such as Kabbalat Shabbat; Minyan Pashut; working in the Mishnah Garden; learning in Anacostia; packing boxes at Manna; participating in Sukkot in April; learning in Tot Shabbat; building a sukkah together; meeting folks via the auction and Jewish studies classes; writing in the Scroll; and observing Shabbat, festivals, and holidays together—and more.

Finally, we said goodbye to former Executive Director Sheila Feldman, minyan leader Sue Marx, clergy assistant Maureen Schroeder, and custodial assistant Maria Cantera. We are ever richer from what they each have given us. And, we welcomed Executive Director Judith Erger and clergy assistant Kathy Bloomfield. As we move into the next fiscal year and begin our next quarter-century, we do so with humility and the knowledge that there is more we can and should do to enhance Community, Congregation, and Civilizations; I look forward to engaging with as many of you as possible in these endeavors this year.

Alissa Stern President