President's Message


Shelley Hittinger


JUNE 11, 2014

Last year at our Annual Meeting I described for you a number of opportunities for change, aimed at improving Congregational life and achieving financial efficiencies in our operations.  I am pleased to report to you that we have been successful in many of our initiatives. In other areas, our progress has been more gradual, and we will need to redouble our efforts to realize our goals.

Construction of the elevator in our Frank Lloyd Wright designed building is well under way. Accessibility to our sacred spaces has been on our Congregational wish list for many years.  Through our Capital Campaign, and the generosity of Seth and Ellyn Lehr, and Robert and Marilyn Birnhak, this project was transformed from a possibility to reality.   Perhaps you have already noticed the construction equipment in our parking lot, or the signs posted in various parts of the building, which say: "Danger-Construction Zone."  It is our hope that the elevator will be operational for the High Holidays. At that time, we will be able to say with pride, that we met the challenge posed by Rabbi Glanzberg-Krainin at High Holiday services two years ago.  Our Main Sanctuary and our Sisterhood Sanctuary will be accessible to our Congregants, their families and friends, as well as visitors to these sacred and magnificent spaces.

Our Cantor Search Committee spent nearly three years searching for the right Cantor for our Congregation. The Committee reviewed over 70 applications, and spent hundreds of hours meeting to evaluate and discuss candidates, utilizing congregational surveys and input from our members. In March, the Board of Directors unanimously and enthusiastically approved the engagement of Cantor Jeffrey S. Weber as our new Hazzan. I want to thank everyone who was involved in the selection process during our three year odyssey to select a new Cantor. I also thank our clergy for their guidance in this process and the entire Beth Sholom staff for their valuable assistance.

Cantor Weber will be moving to our community later this month and will begin officially at Beth Sholom on July 1. A series of parlor meetings are being planned to welcome and integrate Cantor Weber and his family into our congregation. I encourage all of you to sign up for one of the parlor meetings and have a conversation with Cantor Weber. We also are planning two opportunities to daven informally with Cantor Weber: First, Shabbat under the Stars on July 11th and then, Shabbat at the Shore on August 15th.  You will also be able to meet and daven with Cantor Weber at Selichot services on September 20th. We look forward to the myriad ways in which our congregation will be enriched through new opportunities for musical expression.

Our Preschool represents a success story based on reinvention, innovation and the pursuit of excellence.  Through the Capital Campaign, a fund has been established for Preschool recruitment.  This fund will provide a tuition grant of up to $4,000 per child per year to Jewish families who are new to Beth Sholom.  It will also pay for Mandarin language instruction for students aged 3-5, and it will enable us to become a fully certified Montessori program.  By attracting young, Jewish families to our Preschool, we believe that they will stay as members of our Congregation and bring new energy to our community.

In April, our preschool, became a Keystone Star 4 program. "Keystone Stars" is an initiative of the PA Office of Child Development and Early Learning to improve, support and recognize the continuous improvement efforts of early learning programs in Pennsylvania. Star 4 is the highest level of achievement, and our preschool was recognized for its high standards in teaching, management, and staff development. We extend a Mazal Tov to Eileen Weingram, our Preschool Director, and the entire teaching staff for providing such a stellar program for our young learners.

And finally, our preschool has gone from an operating deficit of about $30,000 to a profit of about $14,000 for this current year. This has occurred through improved planning and staff ownership of the preschool budget. We believe that with our new financial initiatives and stellar program, as well as improved planning and stewardship, that the preschool deficits have become history.

As you probably know, over the years, we have built many areas of collaboration with our neighbor, Adath Jeshurun.  We have a joint high school program, joint youth groups, a joint theatrical production and our members worship together at Sunday evening Minyan.  After Rabbi Rosenbloom announced his retirement, and with the approval of our Board, we entered into earnest discussions with AJ to seek greater forms of collaboration between the congregations. Last spring, both Congregations agreed to merge their Religious Schools in the hopes of creating a more vibrant educational atmosphere for a greater number of students.

 Despite all good intentions, this collaboration will not occur in September, as originally contemplated.  During the course of this past year, AJ undertook a search for a new Rabbi. Their search was successful, and they will be welcoming Rabbi Rachel Kobrin to their community in a few weeks.  AJ has decided that they wish to maintain the status quo regarding their educational program, and receive input from their new Rabbi.

We approached the merger of the Religious School as an opportunity to create cutting edge, twenty-first century Jewish learning for our children. While we are disappointed that our efforts did not come to fruition, it has given us an opportunity to refocus on the educational needs of our children, initiate changes, and find the best possible staffing to meet these needs. By strengthening our program and our staff, we will be better positioned for collaborative opportunities that might arise in the future.

We are continuing the process of evaluating our financial management and human resource needs with guidance and expertise provided by The Nonprofit Center at LaSalle University's School of Business.  This work has admittedly taken much longer than originally anticipated.  We expect to step up our efforts in these areas during the upcoming year and hope to have recommendations to report to the Congregation.

At our last Board Meeting on May 20th, I asked the attendees to list our congregational accomplishments during the past year. In addition to the items I just mentioned, our Board felt that the enhancements made to the celebration of Shabbat at Beth Sholom have helped us realize our vision for this community.  The specific programs included: The Shabbat Experience; Shabbat under the Stars; Guess Who's Coming to Shabbas; our enhanced Kiddush lunch, with gratitude to Michael and Kristin Karp, and our Mincha/Ma'ariv and Seudah Shi'lishit, arising from the inspiration and generosity of Rick and Susanna Manstein. All of these events enable our congregants to observe the sanctity and spirituality of Shabbat, while forging deeper connections with each other.

It is undeniable that there are still many challenges facing our Congregation.  As we attempt to address these matters, I offer to you the following approach set out in an article in Forbes, titled: "5 Ways Millionaires Approach Their Careers."  According to the article, these are the attributes needed to achieve success:

1.      Maintain an Open Mind and Active Imagination.  Consider new ideas. Inspire faith, courage and belief.

2.      Focus on Solutions, not problems.

3.      Have unmatched determination. 

4.      Show enthusiasm and positive energy

5.      Remain optimistic in the face of adversity.  Everyone makes mistakes, but when this happens, regroup and get going again with a sense of purpose and confidence.

It is my sincere hope that we will embrace these principles as we continue our journey together here at Beth Sholom. 

I thank Rabbi Glanzberg-Krainin, Rabbi Merow and Shalom Zachmy for their wisdom, guidance and service to the Beth Sholom community. On June 22, we will formally honor our Rabbis for their 10 years of service to Beth Sholom and Shalom, for his 18 years of service. I hope to see all of you at this celebration. 

I also thank all of our Departmental Directors, as well as the other members of our staff who have worked diligently to keep our synagogue running smoothly at all times. To all of our Officers, Members of the Executive Committee, Board Members, Committee Chairs, Auxiliary Presidents and PTO Presidents, I am grateful for your efforts to make Beth Sholom a strong and vibrant community. I want to express my appreciation to everyone who has volunteered in any capacity during this past year.  It is only through the volunteer efforts of our members that we are able to provide all of the services and programs that we have come to enjoy. We simply could not afford to provide all of these offerings, without the many hours so generously donated by our volunteers. With your continued support and commitment we will continue to flourish.

Finally, I am grateful for the support, patience and understanding provided by my husband, Carl, and our children, Sarah, Matt and Abbie.

Thank you and have a restful summer.

Click here to read the annual report.