Rabbi Nesson’s Report at the Annual Meeting

Posted on June 08, 2015

Report for the Annual Meeting May 27th 2015 Rabbi David Nesson

When I was growing up, as I am sure was the same for you,  our parents taught us several important words.  Among these words are please and thank you.

Therefore, it is appropriate to begin tonight with the word thank you in recognition of those who work so hard to make this Jewish Center what it is, both the professional team and the members and leadership who give countless hours of their time for our community.

Let me begin with a few words about our professional team.   I like the idea that we are a team, and that we work with each other and alongside each other for our Beit Yisrael.

Let me begin with Gail Sulkin and Michelle Nulman.  These two together form a dynamic duo as they lead our Relgious School and Life Long Learning for young families.  Together, they continue to evolve our school.  They not only implement a program that instills Jewish knowledge, but also an educational program to solidify Jewish identity.  In a world where the formation of Jewish identity will continue to be more and more important as our children grow, and what that means for the Jewish future, creating a positive self identity and pride in our Judaism is crucial.   Let me emphasize, too, that our religious school centers on Jewish knowledge, Jewish life and Jewish skills.  We are a synagogue that prepares our children to live in a Jewish world, and knows how to prepare our children to lead prayers at their bar or bat mitzvah alongside of chanting the haftorah.   Gail and Michelle join me in understanding that the bar and bat mitzvah is only the beginning of Jewish living, which is why I join them in being proud of the success of our ALP- Advanced Learning Program, that brings so many of our post bnai mitzvah,  once a month to learn here at MJC.

Our school also understands the importance of involving the entire family, which is why we continue to provide opportunites for Parent Days for each grade,  and life long learning events for families.

And we can’t mention our school without mentioning Flo Sager.  She is the secret behind all the organization of the school and vital member of our team.

This past year Marla Katz joined our team as Director of Shalom Yeladim – The Judie Gerstein Early Child Center.  She came with experience in directing a school elsewhere, and she has not only continued the learning and traditions of our school, but also added her own touch to the programs, as she gets to know our families and our children.  There is no greater joy for me than to come into our MJCBY building everyday and especially on our Friday Shabbats, and hear the voices of these young children, watch them grow throughout the year, and celebrate milestones of learning with them.  We are in such a unique position to help them open their eyes to the world and to do that through the lens of Jewish life and living.

This year also represented a significant transition with our Cantor.  As we said goodbye to Cantor Yucht , and we thanked him for the many ways he brought music into our synagogue, we also made the decision to hire a bar/bat mitzvah tutor until we could conduct a full search for a new Cantor.

To that end, Cantor Shana Onigman came on board as our bar/bar mitzvah tutor.   She immediately made a positive impression on her students, and on their families and on those who came to Shabbat services.   She came with enthusiasm, and joy in her teaching and added new and fun ways to involve our students in the life of the congregation and community.   She also expanded her own role, by leading the singing and prayers at the Friday Shalom Yeladim experiences, and reaching out to re-invigorate our Minyonaires program.

When our search committee took on the role of searching for a new Cantor, we conducted a national search, and were so happy in the end to offer the position to Cantor Onigman- she likes to be called Cantor Shana.  This coming year will be a big transition year, as Cantor Shana now will expand her role to become  the full time Cantor.  I look forward to working with her not only on the bima, but in all facets of the life of the congregation.  You will soon see that Cantor Shana will be offering two classes that will begin over the summer, one in Chanting Torah and Haftorah and one- a Friday morning woman’s torah discussion group. If you have not yet had a chance to meet her, please do so tonight or at one of the meet and greets that will be planned.

Over the past two years, our Life Long Learning program has increased exponentially under the leadership and creativity of Ellen Nesson

Here are just a few of the programs she brought to life for us:

Sunset Soiree

Somerset Patriots Game

AWE Rockin Shabbat and dinner

Sunday lectures

Interfaith Havdalah

The Life and Work of George Gershwin with Rick Busciglio

AWE Meditation Shabbats

Yoga- 4 session

AWE Ancestor/Honoring Grandparents Shabbat with Rabbi Small

–       Raising Jewish Children in a Secular World- with Rabbis Nesson and Greene

–       Dec. 13-  AWE   Soulful Chanting with Rabbi Morritt

Dec. 13- Sushi Demo and dinner with Cantor

Dec 21-Jews N Jazz with Mark Levy

Jan. 22- Rising World Anti Semitism

Feb. 19 and 26- Genealogy Workshops with Paul Finelt

March 15- Passover University

March 29- Women’s Seder with Rabbi Small

April 12- Interfaith Dating Workshop with Rabbi Morritt

May 3- Pigs in the Promised Land

May 31-Sun. eve, Panel discussion on the New Face of Addiction: Addressing the Problem and Seeking Solutions

June 12- Storahtelling

As we can see, Life Long Learning has had and will continue to have a major impact on our congregation.

Since stepping into the position and role of our Executive Director, Gerry Gross has taken on his position with positive enthusiasm, a can do and “let’s get it done” attitude and is a vital center to the functioning of our synagogue and communications throughout.  I want to thank Gerry for the many things he does that go way beyond his job description.  For many he is the first face of the congregation, greeting people at events and Shabbat services, or greeting them on the phone.  He sends a positive message to everyone who comes in contact with our congregation.

I also wish to thank Mia for all her work in the office.  She is the sea of calm in an often hectic setting and manages to keep us all on schedule and all on task.  She is the first person people see when they come to our office during the week, and she has taken on very important work in publicity and our website

We are thankful to have Tamara watching over our books and keeping us on the straight and narrow.

We have a group of Shalom Yeladim teachers who daily influence our children and a group of Religious School teachers who also help shape the next generation in Jewish lives, and I thank each of them.

I want to thank our Youth advisors who keep our youth involved.  Aly Greenstein is our USY leader, and the very popular Shai Liweter who is leaving us after three years as our Kadimah advisor. And a thank you also to Karen London for Sabbabah, the youth group for our youngest children.

I want to say a unique thank you to two extraordinary leaders,  Robert Berns and Fern Spitzer

I want to thank Robert  for his leadership and dedication to our congregation.  This is the place where he grew up, the place where he has taken on leadership roles and the place that he and Nancy are now raising a new generation with Noah.  Community and connection and continuity all rest within him, and what our congregation is all about.  He is a thoughtful and foresighted leader whose council is always wise and whose heart is in this synagogue.

Fern Spitzer is an extraordinary leader beyond words.  Although she lets others do the talking, she is the one doing the ‘doing’.  She has an extraordinary grasp on every facet of the congregation, knows the names of our youngest children in Shalom Yeladim.  She gives of herself to this congregation family, as it says in the Shema, bechol levavacha, with all her heart, bechol nafshecha, with all her soul, and  vechol me’odecha, with all her strength.

I thank each and every member of the Board of Directors, the leaders of Sisterhood, the Men’s Club, Ritual, House Committee, Life Long Learning, Youth, Board of Education, Finances, our amazing Kiddush Committee led by Harriet Sakoffs who will be retiring after 20 years of kiddushes,  and everyone who serves with a role on our Board.  You all have full time lives outside of this place and that you take your time and bring your energies to us is a blessing to all of us.

I want to take the  few minutes granted to me tonight to focus on who we are and were we are headed.

You know that every President begins their annual state of union address with the words- the state of our union is strong.

I believe the same to be true of us.  This is not to say that I am not unaware, as are each of you, with the challenges that face us, as they face other congregations. They are many, and they are real.

Yet, take a look around and see what we are doing …from a pre-school program to a seniors group, from education to new ways of thinking about prayer experiences with our AWE events ( we will even offer an AWE type Rosh Hashana service this coming year led by Rabbi Amy Small), from youth groups to adult education and from religious school to community outreach.

This coming November will mark the 100th anniversary of Solomon Schechter, a founder of Conservative Judaism, and his arrival in America. One of the hallmarks of his thinking was the phrase Tradition and Change…for Judaism to live in America, it must stay rooted in tradition while open to change.

In so many ways our congregation, our Jewish Center, is such a place.  We remain rooted in tradition.  We are the congregation that continues to insist that traditional knowledge is our anchor, that a bar or bat mitzvah child can both lead prayers and chant a haftorah, and that this is not an either/or.  We are at the same time open to change, as we experiment with musical services over the summer and more as the year goes along.

We teach our Shalom Yeladim students that Shabbat is a special time for family and time together at shul with TGIS and Tot Shabbat, and we teach what it means to be part of a larger community as seen when these young Shalom Yeladimers come to sing and play with the Shalom Club, our seniors   We teach ourselves that being part of the Jewish community means just that, being proud members of a congregation and community, who have each other to celebrate with and to share our sorrows with and we do that with each other.  We teach ourselves that we are part of a larger community through our Tikkun Olam programs, our helping at the community soup kitchen, or our mission to help the Jews of Cuba this past winter.

Our continuing theme this year is – We Are MJCBY.  Take a look at the covers of our newsletter from this past year and see who we are: Brand new families to our congregation, to multigenerational families, to families whose friendships started here… and more.

One of our most important challenges is how to put our name and the things we do here on the map of this generation- our presence on multi-media needs to be revamped and renewed, so that, like cheers, everyone knows our name and what we do here.

We are entering a new year.  We are a place of tradition, we are a sacred community, we are a welcoming community and we are willing to experiment with change.  These are some of the  challenges that we face now, and we need to face them head on—and everyone here tonight needs to be part of these efforts, and spread the word, let the community know we are MJCBY.

Let us take a hold of tradition and change.  Let us renew ourselves for this generation and a new generation and take hold of our Jewish future.

Thank You.