Good morning everybody. Thank you for coming out today, as we fulfill our legal duty to hold an annual meeting. We always used to have these meetings on Wednesday nights when attendance was, oh, let’s just be kind and say “sparse”. Last year I changed the day to a Sunday morning, served bagels, juice and coffee and, ouallah, people showed up. Imagine that! Jews responding to free food! Who’da thunk?
As you just heard from our Finance & Development VP, BarbaraSue Barnes, telling us that our financial condition is good. I wish I could say it was great, but, thank God, it’s not of any immediate concern. Nothing wrong that 50, brand-new, T’rumah-paying members would not solve.
My address to you is supposed to be about the State of the Synagogue, the total state, from every aspect of it. I want to keep you in-the-know. You should know what’s going on here. So here it goes:
The overall state of Congregation Tifereth Israel is “good”, bordering on “very good”, and in a few years, we hope for it to be “excellent.” Let me explain:
Last year we had a new, and relatively inexperienced, but very enthusiastic Administrative Director. This year, that woman morphed into an experienced dynamo. Lori Kurtz has our small, but highly impressive, office & maintenance staff, performing the work of a much larger staff. She implemented well-thought-out policies & procedures, and, when they’re complied with, we operate as smoothly as a Swiss watch. Lori likes working for us. We like her working for us. Enough said.
Our longtime Program Director, Beth Klareich, never slows down, seemingly working 8 days a week, and continues to amaze us with her substantial and engaging programming skills. Look for a totally modernized, 2016 version, of a completely revamped Tifereth Israel website in the months to come.
Beth’s son, Micah Klareich, our USY Youth Director, has re-juvenated and re-invigorated a Youth Program that was in need of re-juvenation and re-invigoration. So much so, that our Tifereth Israel management team recently decided to increase Micah’s hours, beginning in July, so that Micah can do even more for our kids, plan bigger & better programming for our youth, because, thank God, so many of them remain committed, involved and engaged both in Tifereth Israel in specific, and Jewish life in general, well after their Bar or Bat Mitzvot. We need to cultivate and to encourage that. It’s among our highest priorities.
Our Silverman Preschool, under the direction of Amy Stanley, is virtually at full capacity. Amy’s innovative preschool expansion last year, the Ginsberg Infant Care Center, has been a rousing success. As many off you know, I’ve been around, and involved in, this synagogue for almost 36 years, and I just gotta say, that Amy Stanley is, for my money, as good a preschool director as we’ve ever had. And, I do mean ever. And my daughter enrolled at Silverman in 1980. Our preschool is a vital source of revenue for this synagogue, second only to T’rumah, and without the increased preschool-based income, for which Amy is directly responsible, we’d be in much worse shape financially. Just last Sunday, one week ago today, Amy and her amazing group of talented staff and volunteers, pulled off a tremendously successful dinner-dance-fundraiser, which was sold-out, and was a huge triumph for the school. Thanks to everyone who made that happen.
We have been blessed by having Rabbi Rosenthal act as our Ratner Torah School director these past several years. It was a good thing for the school, as well as for him. But, today, the final day of Torah School classes this term, marks the de facto end to the Rabbi’s Torah School duties. We are extremely excited to be welcoming Cantor Avital Lazar as our new Torah School director this summer. She will, I am sure, be instituting many changes, modernizations, improvements and upgrades and updates that are sure to please.
Cantor Lazar will also become our new bar & bat mitzvah tutor when she arrives in town from New York this summer. Additionally, Cantor Lazar will be leading our services for S’lichot, Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur. We are excited to once again have an experienced professional cantor, with a great voice, on our pulpit, during the High Holy Days.
This change has one sad downside: the elimination of the Cantorial Soloist position which we have established only two years ago in 2014, and, as a result, the departure of my friend, Cheryl Katz, from our Tifereth Israel staff. Many of you are aware of my personal fondness for Cheryl. We all love Cheryl, and, know I am speaking for us all, when I say that we all wish her all the very best successes in her immediate future.
Our Sisterhood continues to do what it does, and has done, for generations, and is an integral part of our synagogue, and we are grateful for their efforts. The big auxiliary organization news, however, is the resurrection and rebirth of our Men’s Club, which now, under new leadership, is an actually functioning organization with great events and programs. I personally urge all the men of Tifereth Israel to give the new Men’s Club a look and come to a few events. You won’t regret it. It’s great to have them back.
All of you have seen the numerous solar panels on the formerly-vacant field adjacent to the lower level of our parking lot. What you may not know is that there are, in addition to those, double that number of panels up on the roof directly above where we are sitting now. Additionally, almost 100% of the lighting on this entire campus, that are not currently LEDs, will be converted to LEDs, and their will be major modifications to the air conditioning system and thermostats. When finished, the sanctuary and the social hall will no longer be either freezing or stuffy with no middle ground. And, the touching of the new pre-set smart thermostats will be strictly prohibited. They’re of the ”smart” pre-set variety and they’ll communicate with each other. Nobody will be touching them, and that includes the Rabbi and me. We are finally going to get it right and it should all be finished and in place by July. We took out a bank loan of over $360,000 to finance this project after you, the membership, approved doing this last year. It is the first time Tifereth Israel has been in any debt since 1989, but it will prove to be well worth it. This loan will be serviced by the money which we will not be sending to SDG&E for electricity each month. We will merely be re-directing that money, which we would have had to spend anyway, from SDG&E to the bank. We anticipate paying-off the loan in the first half of the next decade.
I, certainly, will not be your president in the 2020s. (I better not be. If I am—- I’ll also likely be divorced). There probably will be a whole lotta people on the Board then who are not currently serving as Officers or Directors today in 2016. By then, the name Jerry Hermes will be a distant memory…..”Oh yeah, I think I remember him. Tall old guy, gray hair, yeah………”.
You see, because of the bank loan, none of this solar stuff helps, or does much, or does anything really, for us right now. But, whoever is President in the 2020s, and whoever is the Finance V-P in the 2020s, and whoever serves on the Budget & Finance Committee in the 2020s, and whoever is on the Board in the 2020s, those folks will look back on those of us who fought for this and pushed it through, as well as at those of you out there who voted to approve this, and they will say, “Thank God for what they did way back in 2015 and 2016”. The money savings which we will have, at that time, will allow us to be able to save, to invest in our Endowment, or to use some of it for new programs and other things that will improve the Tifereth Israel experience for you, for me, for everybody. If I am still around in the next decade, and that Board does not use this annual savings in a manner I deem to be wise, I will be watching, and I assure you, like a ghost, I’ll be there to haunt them. I’ll be back to hold their feet to the fire.
Two years ago, after we dumped our fixed membership dues structure, and everything bad that goes hand-in-hand with that kind of an outdated system, those of us in the leadership hoped and prayed that our membership’s inherent voluntary generosity would suffice. Moreover, something occurred that had not happened here in at least 25 to 30 years. We finished our fiscal year with more members on-the-books than we had when the fiscal year began. That had not happened at Tifereth Israel since, oh, sometime in the 1980s. It is still a struggle, as we enrolled many members whose T’rumah pledge wasn’t close to the suggested advisory guidance amount. The suggested advisory guidance amount (which we refer to as the Sustaining Amount) is how much revenue which we need to average from each adult member in order to cover our expenses and to not finish the year in the red. Of course, many of those members also now pay us preschool tuition or Torah School tuition, or in some cases, both, which also counts greatly in our revenue stream.
All of you here today have just received your 2016-2017 T’rumah solicitation pledge forms sometime in the past 10 days. I’m asking everyone hearing this speech, to be absolutely as tax-deductibly generous to us as you possibly can, and to fill-out and return your pledge form to Lori as soon as possible.
If everyone here pledges to do their best, whatever that might be in your own personal situation, then I know that we’ll be alright.
Finally, there is an old saying, which some attribute to China, some to Greece, but, the truth is, nobody knows its origin for certain. But, it’s still something to ponder. You’ve all heard this previously: “May you live in interesting times”.
Tifereth Israel has had presidents whose presidencies were relatively uneventful. I am sure those presidents were grateful for that. I certainly would be. Who needs all the extra stress? As you all are aware, that has not been the case with my presidency. There have been lots of challenges and as well as a few opportunities. These past two years as your president have been really quite “interesting”. But, no challenge and no opportunity that will ever happen to us in our lifetimes as synagogue leaders, is greater than the task of selecting Rabbi Rosenthal’s successor.
I thought that implementing T’rumah and helping it to become successful, and then making the big solar project a reality, would be “it” for me. As important as both of those endeavors are, it doesn’t come close to how crucial it will be to make sure we select the “right” new rabbi for us. This is something we just can’t screw up. We’ve gotta get it right. There are no do-overs.
Therefore I am overjoyed that the process will be run, spearheaded and overseen, by two people for whom I have the utmost respect: my immediate predecessor, for three terms as our president, Dr. Seth Krosner, and our new incoming Religious Life Vice President, Dr. Debbie Mishek. These two physicians will be putting together a search committee during the summer. The actual search begins right after Sukkot. It should take around six months to complete.
But, as you all know, the pre-search process has already happened. We are grateful for the time-consuming and effective efforts of two non-Board member volunteers, Norm Katz and Shayna Kaufmann, who ran almost 10 separate focus group sessions of our members, soliciting input from you out there, as to what qualities you want in our next rabbi, as well as what you’d like to avoid. It’s gratifying, and kind of unbelievable to me, that well over 20% of our adult membership came to a focus group. It is that level of congregational commitment that makes Tifereth Israel as great as it is.
Let me assure you: we will be searching for a rabbi that meets the focus groups’ attendees aggregate criteria. We will not be searching for a rabbi who meets my criteria, or that of a few big shot insiders, or the Board, the Executive Committee, or the staff. No, this search will be based upon what you told us was important to you. Because this search is, after all, about you.
I often use an old talk radio slogan from a talk radio host with whom I briefly worked almost 50 years ago, “Your influence counts. Use it”. Well, in this process, so far, you did use it, and I want to thank each member who carved out the time to come to one of the focus group meetings and share your opinions. You used your opinion and it counted.
So, I know I went a little long. I hope I didn’t bore any of you. Being boring is, to me, almost sinful. I’ve tried to explain to everyone, what’s going on here and in some cases how and why, to put forth some transparency, and to bring you up-to-date on your shul and to make you feel involved. I sincerely hope that I have succeeded. You must also understand that not all of the inner workings of an organization, such as ours, can be divulged outside of either the Executive Committee or the Board. There are limits to transparency, it is not absolute, and there are often limitations in what we are able to disclose. Rest assured, for as long as I am your President, I pledge to you that everything that can be disclosed will be disclosed, but sometimes our hands are tied. Please don’t get upset when something happens, and you don’t understand why, and you’re not given a thorough explanation, and you then think something nefarious is going on in secret. I don’t do or condone nefarious. That is never the case under my watch here at the new Tifereth Israel.
So, thank you all for coming to this meeting and for listening. May hashem bless our sacred congregation.
Now, BarbaraSue and I are prepared to answer a few questions, if there are any, after which the election results will be announced, and, if I won, I will adjourn this meeting.
Financial VP, BarbaraSue Barnes address:
Good morning, and thank you for coming to the congregational meeting today. I would like to speak to you about the shape and the financial future of Tifereth Israel Synagogue.
We started our second year of T’rumah, our innovative financial sustainability model, with the anticipation that we would finish the year breaking even. Even though our T’rumah expectations for the 2015-16 year fell short and we didn’t bring in as much as we had projected we are finishing the fiscal year on track. The reason we are on track is due to the financial success of Silverman Preschool. They have had outstanding growth and exceeded their revenue budget by 58%. The school is at near capacity which we have not experienced in many years. (which is a good thing!) Therefore, we cannot expect the schools revenue to surpass expectations again. Amy Stanley our Preschool Director has done a wonderful job growing and sustaining our school, now we need to do everything that we can as a congregation to help sustain our synagogue.
The formula for growing and sustaining the synagogue is the same as it has always been, we need to continue to grow our membership and ask our existing and new members to be as generous as they possibly can. If you are able to increase your T’rumah even by a small amount it would be greatly appreciated.
This coming fiscal year we will have greater expenses than usual due to the exciting changes that will be happening at TIS. Our Rabbinical Search will begin after Sukkot and with that comes many additional costs which will financially impact the congregation. Now we have budgeted for many of these expenses, however as we found out this fiscal year emergencies occur and they can be costly. We have had to replace pipes, cut down trees, clean up flooding and incur startup costs for the solar project. (Although the solar cost will be partially recovered in the future, the costs to begin the project came out of our cash flow.) Jerry will speak more about the solar project in the next few minutes.
I DO want to mention our Endowment Funds which are invested through the Jewish Community Foundation and are now worth over two million dollars. Thanks to the individual contributions of our membership in honor or memory of friends and loved ones and the gifts from Chevrat Bonim which consists of members and friends of TIS who have included a gift to these funds in their estate planning or contributed during their lifetime. These funds are invested for us according to Tifereth Israel’s investment policy. Income is used annually to fund our programs and services, but the principle of the gifts we receive are never withdrawn. They will last our lifetime and beyond. You, too, can be a participant in this wonderful way of endowing the future of Tifereth Israel Synagogue..
I would like to thank our Administrative Director, Lori Kurtz, our Accountant, Steve Cohen, our wonderful office staff and the TIS Finance Committee for their dedication and support this year and I look forward to serving as your Financial VP in the coming year.