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President’s Shalom Article – June, 2021

June 1, 2021

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S. Berman President Beth El Synagogue

After two years as Beth El’s president my term is ending, and I approach the date with mixed feelings. Obviously, it will be a bit of a relief not to be continuously on duty and responsible for our well-being, but the truth is that I liked that responsibility. It was strange a strange tenure though, and felt almost abstract, on account of my being removed from day-to-day live personal contact because of the pandemic. On Zoom I “saw” our congregants, including Board and committee members, who volunteer to keep Beth El afloat. I also met with Rabbi Jay frequently on Zoom or phone. Like many of us I livestreamed Shabbat services and attended outdoor services last summer. Masked, but unvaccinated until recently, I came into the shul as needed to sign checks or documents and talk to Rebecca or walk around to check up on repairs to our building. But I wasn’t “there” and many of us weren’t “there” either. Beth El was there, though, and with great care we reopened earlier than any other Conservative synagogue in Mercer County. Now, with the rapid easing of CDC and state restrictions, we’re clearly seeing an end. Brian Albert, our next president, will face other issues, but at least he won’t have to face a virus. On a related note, Beth El sponsored a community wide vaccination event on May 19th, which was administered by Penn Medicine. The second of the two shots will be administered on June 9th. Ninety-five people were vaccinated. It was gratifying to see the large response from our non-Jewish neighbors – too often Jews are thought of as being a closed community, but not this time!

So, OK, it was a lousy final year and a half. But a lot got done to assure our future. The big thing – the really BIG thing – is that we have just closed on refinancing our shul. It wasn’t easy. For nearly a year I tried to interest banks in us but failed to get an offer worthy of acceptance. Then our Board members Doug Harris and Ben Genek volunteered to take it on. They succeeded with the result that we have reduced our monthly obligation considerably while at the same time obtaining sufficient funds to allow us to tackle major deferred maintenance and some improvements. It will begin to become noticeable over the course of the summer. The refinancing is also enabling us to keep our dues well under control. Believe me, it hasn’t been easy to keep us going – COVID-19 has not been our friend, but it did enable us to get two large cash infusions under the Payroll Protection Program. Other significant news is that our Board and Rabbi Matt have decided to begin negotiations concerning a renewal of his contract. His current agreement ends in June of next year.

Amazingly, the pandemic did not have much effect on our membership. It did not grow, but it has remained stable. Our members continued to participate in activities that previously were in person. Rabbi Matt kept our religious school going in hybrid mode. Bar and Bat Mitzvahs went on, if a bit cautiously. The spring gala was an almost shockingly successful fundraiser, and our High Holiday pledges broke a record. So, the pandemic hasn’t been a disaster – just a challenge that we’ll recover from. And being an eternal optimist, I can certainly say, well, at least it was a break from normal that lent a little interest to our routines — as long as you or a loved one was not a victim – and it even gave us some time step back and appreciate our lives.

So now Brian will take over. We’re used to seeing him in action on the bimah and he’s great up there. And I’m used to hearing him speak with sound logic and perspective at meetings. Beth El will do well under his leadership and I look forward to it. Welcome, Brian!

—Skip Berman, President