The Financial Four -- February 28, 2018

The latest edition of The Financial Four, an update from our Director of Finance, Missy Sue Mastel Horwitz, is shared below.

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Dear Congregation Beth Sholom Community,

I am so excited to be writing this update as we are rounding the final bend on many of the objectives I communicated to the Board just two (short) years ago! So I'd like to put a stake in the ground right now so that everyone can be just as excited and forward-looking as I am.

1. Although picking up our financial situation in January 2016 was not easy, with the help of some wonderful Friends of the Synagogue like Joe Ratner and Todd Strauss, among others, we were able to create a new direction and financial models for the synagogue that are sustainable. No one is thinking we are done, but looking at our financials year over year, we can start again to make longer-term plans.

2. While staff changes are always hard, we made it through some tough personnel decisions and can now begin envisioning the synagogue and the services that we want. We've made some new hires, are out in the world collecting models from other institutions, and are primed for creating some new positions and creative new ways of thinking about customer service here. Talk about bang for your buck!

3. We have had a wonderful relationship over the last two years with our bank, and they have been super supportive of the work being done to keep them informed, to make sure they receive all their interest payments, and to prepare them for our loan renegotiation! Still, it would be remiss of me not to get some competitive bids; and I am happy to say I have had no issue getting other banks to the table. In that vein...

4. As I am sharing some of our financial data with competitive banks, I thought it would be a great time to share the exact same information with you, our congregation. On February 13, I spent two hours thoroughly going over all the CBS financial information with David Golden, Michael Samson, and Zohar Kaplan. While the protocols for corporate and non-profit accounting differ, I’m sure we all got something out of it.

Today, I am thrilled to to offer to you, from the Board, increased financial transparency. If you click through this link, you will be able to see our reviewed financials for the last three years as well as a recent Treasurer's report. In addition, we're sharing some other financial information the competitive banks have asked for in order to propose terms: see here, here, and here. Maybe even more importantly, as you click through, the Board will know this type of reporting is important to you; and how much you appreciate our (my and the Board’s) efforts to keep you informed.

As always, l’shalom,
Missy Sue

Re'eh -- Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17

American naturalist-poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once remarked, "Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God's handwriting."

Emerson’s 1836 essay, Nature, expresses the belief that everything in our world – even a drop of dew – is a microcosm of the universe. This transcendentalist notion is not foreign to Judaism, especially its more mystical streams. We open ourselves to such transcendence through the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes and, in so doing, daring to see beyond ourselves so that we can develop new relationships to all texts, even sacred texts of nature. It's all a question of how we see ourselves in relation to the text and its sacred inspiration.

So when Moses says to the Children of Israel, "See I place before you today a blessing and a curse," they enter an important stage of maturity in their covenantal relationship — that of responsibility. Seeing the consequences of our actions is a sign of growing responsibility. These are proclaimed on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal as the Israelites are crossing over into the Holy Land. In establishing a Temple, we made a place where the Divine will dwell in essence and Name. This will become the new central address for sacrifices, and in keeping with the overall theology of Deuteronomy, no offerings can be made to the divine outside this locale. Laws of tithing are discussed in detail, including how the tithe is given to the needy in certain years. Here, we encounter one of the first iterations of charity as an obligation devolving upon the Jew to aid those in need with a gift or loan. But all such loans are forgiven on the Sabbatical year and all indentured servants are freed after six years of service.

The theme of seeing concludes Parashat Re'eh. Listing the three pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Pentecosts (Shavuot), and the Feast of Booths (Sukkot) as times when the pilgrim goes to see and be seen before the Divine in the precincts of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the parsha demonstrates that encountering the Divine in our lives is indeed a "seeing into our nature" with fresh eyes. This "seeing" provides hope for such sacred encounters throughout our lives.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration is inspired by mystical visions. It features a stylized eye with retinal ganglion cells and filaments of muscle radiating outward. Of his transcendent experiences, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "All mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me." His peer Walt Whitman described himself as part of a universal weave of "threads that connect the stars, and of wombs and of the father-stuff." Rabbi Arthur Cohen writes of being pressed "to the limit where thought cannibalizes itself in despair, where knowing ceases, where the emptying of the self is undergone and the fullness of God may commence." Mystics, be they American transcendentalists, Hasids, or academics, are not lunatics; their practice is an enthusiastic response to the world as it is – radically interconnected, with each individual indivisible from everything else. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

The Financial Four Five -- August 1, 2017

Today, the latest edition of The Financial Four, an update from our Interim Director of Finance, Missy Sue Mastel Horwitz.

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Hello, I hope you are having a wonderful summer!

As we at all prepare for the High Holy Days and 5778, I would like to give you an update on the ongoing financial picture at CBS.

1. End of Year Report. We completed the 2016-2017 year on June 30, and have replenished our cash reserves by more than $300,000. This was accomplished through the tireless efforts of the development committee, YOU – our generous community, and a staff who dedicated themselves to the reshaping of a more sustainable future. Special thanks to our Rabbi, the Board of Directors, and Beth Sholom staff, who gave of themselves and continue to make the synagogue’s financial health a priority.

2. Building Loan Refinancing. Our annual financial review is already underway and we have heard from several banks that we are on the right track to secure healthy refinancing options for the balloon payment due in May 2018. While we aren’t out of the woods, our community has waged an impressive effort to keep us moving forward. Thank you!

3. Community Building. Among our ongoing efforts to energize the shul’s relationship with our community is an effort to evaluate and maximize the role of our kosher kitchen. We would like to know from you how you use the kitchen and its services? For the next two weeks, if you step into the kitchen for any reason, or would like to — we want to know why and how we can assist. Please email me – we’ll be happy to arrange a tour, or talk to you about ways our members and the community already use our wonderful kosher kitchen.

4. Matching Gifts. Please check with your employer regarding any employer charitable matching gifts or other donation opportunity available. We have a list of all the matching companies in the United States, and if yours is one of them, you can easily double your gift to the synagogue! At a minimum, please make sure that the synagogue knows where you and your family members are employed. Also, please consider signing up for Amazon Smile and other online services with Beth Sholom as your preferred charity of choice. Call the office and we will be happy to help you set up all the necessary contact information.

5. Member Renewal. Thank you to the 65% of our membership that has already renewed! To those that have yet to do so, we are planning an extraordinary, multifaceted High Holy Day experience and a 5778 packed with celebration, education, and exploration — so please get your renewal in today!

L’shalom,
Missy Sue

Va'et'hanan -- Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11

Facebook_CoverDesign_VaEtchananHow does empathy resonate with you?

American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson once remarked that, "Humans aren't as good as we should be in our capacity to empathize with feelings and thoughts of others, be they humans or other animals on Earth. So maybe part of our formal education should be training in empathy. Imagine how different the world would be if, in fact, that were 'reading, writing, arithmetic, empathy'."

Such oscillation of our empathic experiences resonates with Moses’ proclamation – one that elicits positive empathy — that there is no religion without ethics. Sinai was an encounter with the divine (theophany) that was sealed into the communal heart through Exodus, while this legacy moment in Deuteronomy is designed to be didactic, to emphasize the implications of the Sinai encounter in the communal mind.

In studying Mosaic law, we engender a positive empathy to spiritual practice. This process is a critical marker of Jewish identity that emerges from the Hebrew Bible. More than mere intellectual study, Torah study is a contemplative commitment whereby, in repeatedly encountering and pondering these laws, we are awakened to a newfound awareness, whether through affixing the mezuzah to every passageway, donning tefillin to connect head- to heart-filled action (6:8-9; 11:18-20), affixing tzitzit to our four-cornered garments (22:12), as well as reaching out to the needy (15:8).

No book has had as lasting an impact on the evolution of monotheism within Western civilization as Deuteronomy, and no statement has shaped Jewish consciousness as much as the Shema (6:4). This quintessential Jewish prayer — "Hear, O Israel! YHVH is our God, YHVH alone." — continues to resonate with positive empathy, not only as our final words as we pass onto the next world, but in this world, right here, right now.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is a riff on Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, a famous painting by the German Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich. The art historian Malcolm Andrews describes Wanderer as a representation of "the gulf...between the human and the vast world of nature." In our version, the gulf is not so much between humanity and the rest of nature (although that dichotomy is central to the Hebrew Bible), but a gulf between one particular wanderer and the land he has been called to, but will never know. Here, Moses surveys the Holy Land from afar. "Go up to the top of the hill and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward and see with your eyes, for you shall not cross this Jordan." (Deuteronomy 3:27) Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Behar / Bechukotai – Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34

Facebook_CoverDesign_Behar-Bechukotai"Sowing the seed,
my hand is one with the earth.
…Hungry and trusting,
my mind is one with the earth.
Eating the fruit,
my body is one with the earth.
"

Wendell Berry’s poem "Prayers and Sayings of the Mad Farmer" asks us to consider how the farmer is like the farm. Similarly, the strong language of covenantal prohibition in Leviticus calls on each of us as conscious consumers to draw boundaries around how we use and transform the natural world.

Transformative cycles of seven in biblical literature, in general, and here in Leviticus, in particular, recall the grandeur of creation that continues its unfolding revelation daily. That revelation is taking place every seventh year for the Sabbatical year, when all work on the land ceases so that its fruit is free for the taking, for both human and animal kingdoms.

Seven Sabbatical cycles (forty-nine years) culminate in a fiftieth year, crowned as the Jubilee year, on which work on all land ceases, all indentured servants are freed, and all ancestral estates in the Holy Land of Israel that have been sold will then revert to their original owners. Additional laws governing the sale of lands and the prohibitions against fraud and usury conclude the reading of Behar.

The whole purpose of creation is to recognize our complete embeddedness in everything, including all other sentient beings. Lines of filiation run most directly through our own awareness of the transformative cycles that embrace us. If a human intelligence of the earth and sensitivity to its needs is one that no amount of technology can satisfactorily replace, then perhaps Wendell Berry’s "mad" farmer is not so mad after all!

It is also illuminating to consider our network of intimate relationships and cycles in the context of charity. If you still haven’t had a conversation with a Mormon, try talking about tithing. Observant Mormons unflinchingly give ten percent of their pre-tax dollars to the church. And Jews? Not so consistent – perhaps this is why Jewish institutions continue to struggle as they do all across America. Why is it that a Mormon feels more commanded than a Jew to fulfill a biblical precept?

Earning material well-being is a necessity for the survival of civilization. But how often do we linger in the passionate embrace of the culture that is the fruit of our labors? Wisdom comes with an ability to both earn and enjoy.

In Parashat Bechukotai, the Israelites are promised that if the commandments are kept, they will enjoy the material prosperity they have rightly earned in addition to dwelling securely in the Holy Land. Conversely, should this covenant be abandoned or abrogated, there is a harsh rebuke, coupled with a warning of exile, persecution, and other manifestations of evil. Here, in Bechukotai, we also encounter a variety of pledges made as divine offerings, as well as the aforementioned spiritual practice of setting aside a tenth (tithing) of firstlings and first fruits.

True wisdom then comes from earning material well-being through civilization as well as the passionate embrace of culture so that we may enjoy in sharing this well-being with others. The understanding that in giving, you receive more than you give could not be more true or urgent today.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork depicts the arrival of the Jubilee year. Because the Jewish day begins at nightfall, the land is shown scattering rays of Jubilee joy at dusk. "And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim freedom [for slaves] throughout the land for all who live on it. It shall be a Jubilee for you..." (Leviticus 25:10) Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

The Financial Four -- March 21, 2017

Today, the latest edition of The Financial Four, an update from our Interim Director of Finance, Missy Sue Mastel.

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Dear Chaverim,

It’s March, and while it may have gone unnoticed to some, I’m proud to say that Scott and I celebrated our one-year anniversary of living together and working together at the shul!

It’s been an exciting year, and while we still argue about who has to get up and feed Luna (Scott, always), we also get to spend time talking about how best to serve you and the synagogue every day, and that means a lot to us both. It would be silly not to take this opportunity to say how much I appreciate all that Scott has done. Or to mention how lovely it is to hear this from you whenever we see you. But I would be REALLY silly not to acknowledge all the fantastic help Scott has had along the way, and I'll do so in the form of some financial updates!

1. Our Fabulous Consultants. – Some of you may recognize the names Steven Dinkelspiel and Susan Jacobson from so much of their great work in the Bay Area Jewish community. CBS has had the good luck of having them engaged in helping us grow a more fervent development culture here at CBS. Steven and Susan have been essential in helping us to focus on what you, the members of the synagogue, think is most important, and we have been able to raise more than $300,000 so far in donations this year, outside of membership!

2. Our even more fabulous Board. – Talk about people dedicated to a cause! These are the wonderful people who take the time out of their already busy lives to dedicate themselves to the synagogue. Some of our board members took on the mitzvah years ago without any clue of how things would progress, while others stepped up in the middle of a crisis and have pitched in to fill needs and gaps. I’m happy to say that I personally know of at least three more community members (I can’t announce their names just yet) who are applying to join our amazing board, and we could not be luckier to have them – they will continue what we have grown here so far!

3. Our amazing staff. – For those of you who came to Purimpalooza, our Purim carnival and spiel, it is almost as if I can see your faces soften as you remember that terrific afternoon. Our staff put in countless hours to make all those games, delicious food, prizes, and fun happen, and the community experience led to a lot of generosity that still continues. We made about $8,000 net on the event itself, but big businesses wish they could garner as much goodwill as the great event has. And the staff is so excited, they're dreaming up more programming fun...like the Fress Kosher for Passover dessert event that will take place at Brandeis.

4. Numbers. All kinds of numbers. – CBS is engaged in some new accounting best practices, including surplus budgeting, cash and accrual metrics, meaningful fund accounting, and sub-line budget to actual reporting. We are running projections that, mostly through some significant cost cuts, will allow us to show a surplus for the year, which is critical for our loan covenants. Outside of the accountant realm, I also like numbers such as: the (sold-out) upcoming Parnas members event at SFJAZZ; the number of members who have supported and sponsored our Shabbat kiddush lunch program; the number of new members (~30); and the number of new events and types of events we are hosting here. I could not be more enthusiastic about the way you are making the synagogue a place for your celebrations and gatherings – and I couldn’t be happier for you.

L’shalom,
Missy Sue

The Financial Four -- January 17, 2017

Today, the latest edition of The Financial Four, an update from our Interim Director of Finance, Missy Sue Mastel.

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Happy Secular New Year!

I think we're especially fortunate to have two New Year celebrations; I use one for my spiritual health and the other for my (and incidentally, the synagogue’s) financial well-being. Some people say spirituality and financial considerations shouldn’t mix. Don’t believe that for a second; they are inextricably tied together. At the synagogue, like everywhere else, you get what you pay for – we commit to supporting our synagogue and the synagogue is there when we need and want it.

A lot has happened in a few short weeks since my last post. So, with no further ado, let's look at our recent progress.

1. Commitment to Cash Flow – While we continue our bold push to create a sustained culture of giving, we are well on our way to making our projections for the year, coming in at or below budget on our expenses. This good news is a direct result of...

2. Our Commitment to Savings – Many of our Board members and volunteers have come up with great ideas to help us save money. We are investing in programming changes for our synagogue database, our telephone systems, and our postage and copying contracts in order to create more sustainable long-term cost structures. Some of you may have noticed some of our customer relationship management (CRM) changes, and may have experienced a glitch here and there. We are grateful for your patience and understanding as we work through these systemic changes and get everything working correctly while we continue to do our job of keeping your financials accurate and up to date.

3. Commitment to Staff and the Environment – So many people came to tell us how wonderful the High Holy Days services were at CBS, and many felt this was because of the hard work of our staff. We agree, so we have reworked our staff benefits to include Commuterchecks and Flexible Spending Account (FSA) benefits for anyone who opts in. We also scheduled some lovely back massages for the hardworking CBS Family Preschool and office staff just before our wonderful Light It Up! Community Hanukkah celebration.

4. Commitment to the Community – We all know that Beth Sholom is not an island, and we have been making a lot of plans to partner and work with other synagogues. Here, in the financial office, we are forging a CRM redesign for use by other congregations in the Bay Area. We thank Congregation Emanu-El and Peninsula Temple Beth El (San Mateo) for encouraging us to "boldly go where (few) synagogues have gone before." Stay tuned for exciting updates on that front!

Finally, thanks to you, our members, who give all of our commitments – and your commitments to us – meaning and purpose.

L’shalom,
Missy Sue

The Financial Four -- November 30, 2016

Today, the latest edition of The Financial Four, an update from our Interim Director of Finance, Missy Sue Mastel.

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Miss me?

Well, not to worry; things have been hopping around the synagogue, so much so that I haven’t had a moment to do my favorite part of the job – updating YOU, our generous community! But there's lots of good news to share, so let's get to it.

1. Our 2015-16 financials are in the bag. – Closing out the year presented a few challenges, but we were able to get our financials done and through the audit by September; a noble timeframe. The auditors were happy, the bank was happy, and the financials are available to anyone who wants to see them.

2. An unbelievable High Holiday season. – There is very little we could do without you, but this is particularly true of the High Holy Days. The services at CBS this year – joyous, moving, meaningful – were successful because of you. Now, following the High Holiday season, I’m in the fortunate position of seeing just how much you value our services and community experiences: $748,000 in membership dues, $238,000 in Kol Nidre pledges, and more and more of you coming to events all the time! Speaking of...

3. All the ways we celebrate together. – The Americana Jam Band Kabbalat Shabbat was packed this past Friday evening with congregants and amazing performers. The upcoming Hanukkah celebration (Light It Up!, December 15), our b'nai mitzvah and birthday celebrations (mazel tov on your 85th, Norm!), the December 6 new member event, which looks like it is officially "sold out" — all of these are ways we use the synagogue to connect as a community. CBS is not just charity that its members support. CBS is a place to see and rejoice with people we love to see and rejoice with.

4. But, yes, it is ALSO a charity. – We are doing some amazing things with the money you generously donate: we are focusing on improving efficiencies and workflows; finding better ways to engage you, our prized members; and utilizing technology that is creating a better customer experience. Starting this month, a select group of you will be receiving membership statements via email. In the next few months, we will be enabling powerful systems to allow you to make donations from wherever you are. Just imagine it – you see something happening in your world, and CBS can be an instantaneous part of your reaction. You can learn more about it by registering for a class, or you can make a donation that will help combat anti-Semitism, enable a community Israel opportunity, or sponsor a child’s Jewish heritage – all of this while you're on the go, boarding at an airport, in a ride share, or between meetings. We want to be wherever you are.

So...on that note, no need to miss me too much! Stop by the synagogue any time, and let’s discuss all the ways that you and I can make this place sing!

L’shalom,
Missy Sue

Re'eh -- Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17

Facebook_CoverDesign_ReehWhat does it mean to really "see"? To better appreciate "seeing" – for which Parashat Re’eh is named – let us consider the experiential dimension of a quiet state of mind. The practitioner of Zen meditation sometimes experiences an event known as kenshō, literally meaning "seeing nature" and understood as an awakening from our fundamental ignorance. Experiencing kenshō is not the same as achieving Nirvana, but it does grant one a glimpse of the "real" reality.

While Zen practitioners turn to Buddha, Jews turn to Moses, as both seekers are yearning for guidance about how best to "see." Judaism starts with the act of looking back, of seeing what has come before with fresh eyes. In so doing, we can develop new relationships to all texts, even our sacred tomes. Whether or not we succeed depends on how we see ourselves in relation to the text and its sacred inspiration. So when Moses says to the Children of Israel, "See I place before you today a blessing and a curse," they enter an important stage of maturity in their covenantal relationship — that of responsibility.

Seeing the consequences of our actions is a sign of growing responsibility. These are proclaimed on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal as the Israelites are crossing over into the Holy Land. In establishing a Temple, we made a place where the Divine will dwell in essence and Name. This will become the new central address for sacrifices, and in keeping with the overall theology of Deuteronomy, no offerings can be made to the divine outside this local. Laws of tithing are discussed in detail, including how the tithe is given to the needy in certain years. Here, we encounter one of the first iterations of charity as an obligation devolving upon the Jew to aid those in need with a gift or loan. But all such loans are forgiven on the Sabbatical year and all indentured servants are freed after six years of service.

The theme of seeing concludes Parashat Re'eh. Listing the three pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Pentecosts (Shavuot), and the Feast of Booths (Sukkot) as times when the pilgrim goes to see and be seen before the Divine in the precincts of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the parsha demonstrates that encountering the Divine in our lives is indeed a "seeing into our nature" with fresh eyes. This "seeing" provides hope for such sacred encounters throughout our lives.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is an abstract depiction of an advance guard of Israelites marching into the Promised Land. The forms of the soldiers are rendered so as to call to mind territorial maps – provisional, likely-contested borders sketched over the same plot of land. "For you are crossing the Jordan, to come to possess the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you, and you shall possess it and dwell in it." (Deuteronomy 11:31) Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Va'et'hanan -- Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11

Facebook_CoverDesign_VaEtHananWhat is empathy to you?

German philosopher Theodor Lipps (1851–1914) often reflected on the quality of empathy, or Einfühlung, seeing it as a key to understanding our aesthetic experiences as well as the primary basis for recognizing each other as thinking, acting creatures. Lipps contends that empathy explains the felt immediacy of our aesthetic appreciation of objects. Because we unconciously project our interior states onto the external objects we encounter, we will perceive an object as beautiful if our internal experiences are positive and as ugly if our internal state is negative.

Such oscillation of our empathic experiences resonates with Moses’ proclamation – one that elicits positive empathy — that there is no religion without ethics. Sinai was an encounter with the divine (theophany) that was sealed into the communal heart through Exodus, while this legacy moment in Deuteronomy is designed to be didactic, to emphasize the implications of the Sinai encounter in the communal mind.

In studying Mosaic law, we engender a positive empathy to spiritual practice. This process is a critical marker of Jewish identity that emerges from the Hebrew Bible. More than mere intellectual study, Torah study is a contemplative commitment whereby, in repeatedly encountering and pondering these laws, we are awakened to a newfound awareness, whether through affixing the mezuzah to every passageway, donning tefillin to connect head- to heart-filled action (6:8-9; 11:18-20), affixing tzitzit to our four-cornered garments (22:12), as well as reaching out to the needy (15:8).

No book has had as lasting an impact on the evolution of monotheism within Western civilization as Deuteronomy, and no statement has shaped Jewish consciousness as much as the Shema (6:4). This quintessential Jewish prayer — "Hear, O Israel! YHVH is our God, YHVH alone." — continues to resonate with positive empathy, not only as our final words as we pass onto the next world, but in this world, right here, right now.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is inspired by the description of the theophany at Sinai in Parashat Va'et'hanan: "And you approached and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire up to the midst of the heavens, with darkness, a cloud, and opaque darkness." (Deuteronomy 4:11) This foundational episode of our religion is fundamentally impossible to depict – it is incomprehensibly grand and stupefying – but perhaps this hybrid supernova-eye imagery captures something of the moment's profound awe. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Hanukkah 5776 -- Rededicating Ourselves

Hanukkiahgt_logo6 Next Tuesday, December 1, is #GivingTuesday.

What is this curious hashtag weekday? Created by New York City's 92nd Street Y, #GivingTuesday is a response to the consumer-oriented shopping "holidays" of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. From the #GivingTuesday website:

"Now in its fourth year, #GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. ... Since its inaugural year in 2012, #GivingTuesday has become a movement that celebrates and supports giving and philanthropy with events throughout the year and a growing catalog of resources."

With #GivingTuesday nigh upon us, we're launching our Hanukkah 5776 Rededication fundraiser! Please read our Executive Director's letter below.

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Dear Friends,

The evenings have again grown dark, and we will soon gather with friends and family to light our hanukkiot. Each year, as we draw those we care about close and recite the Hanukkah blessings, we marvel at the miracle of sustained Jewish peoplehood.

Living in the Syrian Greek Empire, our 2nd century BCE forebears confronted the threat of compulsory assimilation. You know the score: they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat (latkes and sufganiyot)! Yet that bite-size summary discounts the Hanukkah story’s complexity. It’s also a story of civil war, a conflict between strict religionists and a secular, assimilated elite. Although the Maccabees saved the day, we’re not about to say the Shehecheyanu – to thank God for sustaining Judaism and Jewish peoplehood – because of their rebellion, but because the rabbis, two hundred plus years later, embraced creative adaptation.

Little wonder that Hanukkah is so relevant to 21st century American Jews! The 2013 Pew Research Center’s Portrait of Jewish Americans indicates that we are in the midst of a demographic decline of what some refer to as “the Jewish middle,” Jewishly engaged/identified individuals outside of Orthodoxy. If present trends continue, demographers predict that the American Jewish future will be dominated by two groups, the ultra-Orthodox and unaffiliated Jews with attenuated Jewish identities. Sound familiar?

VolunteerAs engaged Jews and members of Beth Sholom, a community with a history of pioneering regional and national leadership in the spheres of Jewish practice, philosophy, and social action, we can not accept the decline of American Jewish institutions and identity. We must demonstrate how Jewish tradition and the values we treasure can be balanced with the evolving needs of our contemporary lives. This balancing act between the particular and the universal takes place on a high wire — the stakes are huge. So it is once again time for CBS to move boldly forward, to blaze a path and serve as a role model in the changing world of American Judaism.

Your commitment to CBS has made our survival possible and will allow us to flourish going forward. As our Board President, Scott Horwitz, wrote in his note to the congregation in the 2015 Annual Report, “Thanks to the efforts of many, we are poised to start a new chapter. We’ve restored the fields, we’ve planted the seeds, and now it’s time to grow.”

DonationsWith the end of the tax year approaching and Hanukkah’s lessons in mind, now is an opportune time to make a charitable contribution.

What will your generous donation support?

In the past year, CBS has made tremendous strides, energizing our core programs and developing exciting new ones. Our already robust ritual and Shabbat programming has been strengthened by the engagement of a rabbinic intern and the introduction of accessible and spirited alternative services. The CBS Preschool is flourishing under new leadership and, working with our new Music Director, has enhanced its musical offerings. Our Shabbat School grew by 20 percent, we fine-tuned and expanded our b’nai mitzvah program, and our USY youth group was recognized as the most improved chapter in Northern California. We expanded our Lifelong Learning focus by offering regular “mini-courses” taught by an impressive roster of scholars and authors, and we partnered with the organization Kevah to create Jewish learning circles for adults. We also hired an Executive Chef who is regularly cooking up delicious and inventive kiddush menus that receive rave reviews from congregants.

Indeed, it’s been a very successful year at CBS…but this is just the beginning.

static1.squarespaceIn 2016, we will continue to augment our existing programming and services – CBS is here for our milestone events as well as for our daily davening, for our children’s education as well as our own – but we will also launch the innovative and ambitious Center for Progressive Judaism. The Center can be thought of as “a Jewish think tank,” designed to be a vital hub of Jewish life that stands on three pillars: Scholarship, Social Action, and Culture as Practice. Our state-of-the-art campus is the perfect facility to house the Center, and with your engaged participation, CBS and the Center for Progressive Judaism will ignite the Jewish passions of future generations.

We invite you to help us fuel this fire. Together, let’s kindle the Hanukkah lights and rededicate ourselves to the future of Judaism.

Contributions can be made via personal check (and mailed to CBS using the enclosed return envelope you will receive with the paper copy of this appeal) or online: http://bit.ly/1SfUZNn. (If you would prefer to contribute appreciated securities, please contact Ella Smirnova at 415.940.7122, ext. 108 or esmirnova@bethsholomsf.org for assistance.)

Todah rabbah, and Happy Hanukkah!

Sincerely,
Angel Alvarez-Mapp
Executive Director