CONGREGATION KOL AMI COMMUNITY MEETING
SEPTEMBER 7, 2011
Shalom and Welcome. Danny noted that he is once again honored to stand before us as president of Kol Ami and privileged to call to order the 2011 Annual Community Meeting. He thanked everyone for coming and observed that there were enough members in attendance to form a quorum.
Danny explained that he knew that with his standing up here, it looks, as the great prophet Yogi Berra would say, like déjà vu all over again! He has three answers to the question of why he is back as our president. First and foremost is that no one else was willing to take on the responsibilities of the Kol Ami presidency on top of already busy family, professional and volunteer lives. Second, he loves being Jewish and everything about Kol Ami, and, third and most importantly, because he caught Ellen and his girls at a weak moment, they all agreed that it was okay for him to go ahead with something they knew meant a lot to him.
Danny admitted that he, too, does not have the time that he put in during his first term and that he certainly can’t put in the time Karen did during her term. But it is because of the changes and improvements in our staff and operations over the last several years that we are now able to encourage our Rabbi and our staff to run our shul and to allow our board to focus on our policies and development. Since many of the changes in our personnel occurred during Karen’s term, Danny thanked her for her leadership, noting all the positive developments over the last two years. The other major factor behind his decision is that Liz Paige has agreed to follow him as Kol Ami’s next president. Liz’s commitment to Judaism and to Kol Ami inspires him and he will be honored and excited to pass the torch to her. Danny added, jokingly, that he means it this time: This is the end of his terms as president.
Danny noted that we are fortunate to have the most remarkably talented and motivated clergy and staff, who are all dedicated to raising our level of spirituality and Jewish knowledge, and to operating our shul business in ways that are both caring and effective. He explained that we all have been working hard to develop a warm, welcoming, Jewish-ly educated, and fiscally responsible congregation. In Rabbi Ilana, we have found our rabbi, a rabbi with unparalleled warmth for the individual and for our community. Rabbi Ilana has already taught us so much about genuine caring for our members; she has also reached out to non-members in our community and we have begun to see past members returning and unaffiliated Jews connecting with Kol Ami. Rabbi Ilana has also been engaged in developing new ways for us to pray, new ways for us to study, and new ways for us to engage as individuals and as a community. Her d’vrei Torah have continued to reach deeper and teach us lessons from our Torah that are meaningful in our daily lives. As we endeavor to strengthen our kehilla kedusha, our sacred community, Danny noted that we are very grateful to have Rabbi Ilana as our leader and teacher, and we look to a future that is filled with light as we learn and grow together.
D’var Torah: Danny noted that in Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of our Fathers, we are taught that when Jews gather together and study Torah, God dwells among them and deepens their understanding of their great gifts. Thus, we will be making every effort to begin all of our board, committee, task force, and congregational meetings with a little bit of Torah. He then invited Rabbi Ilana to lead off our meeting with a d’var Torah and some opening comments.
Rabbi Ilana began by explaining how in this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tetzei, we are told that we should especially be concerned about the welfare of the widows, orphans and strangers. She explained that these three groups were singled out because, in old times, when communities were run by a biat av, they did not have anyone to advocate for their rights. We, at Kol Ami, as a bait av and a kehilla kedusha, a holy community, have a responsibility to look out for others who need a connection and to get to know each other. We need to see the holiness in everyone and learn what we can do for each other. She hopes to continue making changes at Kol Ami and wants everyone to speak up, not only on behalf of the widow, orphan and the stranger, but for everyone else who is part of Kol Ami. Rabbi Ilana reminded us that God, the Torah, learning, and Israel, should all be important parts of our lives.
Nominating Committee: Danny invited Karen McArthur, Chair of the Nominating Committee (Emily Bauman, Michelle Oelsner, Bonnie Rokeach, Michael King), to propose our three new board members. He added that he was very pleased that Karen has agreed to serve as our new Membership and Outreach chair, in addition to working in her role as our past-president.
Karen McArthur reported that the board unanimously approved the Nominating Committee’s recommendation of John Cuomo, Cathy Siegel, and Jackie Daniels for board membership; all are wonderful volunteers and leaders who have put in countless hours for Kol Ami. The committee also recommended Tamar Lobell and Matt Davidson for a second board term. Irwin Berry moved that we accept the nominations of John Cuomo, Cathy Siegel, Jackie Daniels, Matt Davidson, and Tamar Lobell by acclamation. Art Warsoff seconded the motion, which passed unanimously. Danny thanked Karen and her committee, and welcomed our new Board members.
Financial Report: Danny noted that Matt Davidson has taken on the responsibility of Kol Ami Treasurer, following in the footsteps of Bruce Cohne, which is no easy task. Matt and the Budget and Finance Committee are actively committed to reviewing and clarifying our financial position and making recommendations to the board to help secure our financial future.
Matt Davidson thanked his committee (Bruce Cohne, Ann Bernstein, Ron Levin, Barry Feinman, Hank Levine, Tamar Meir, Fred Tannenbaum, Danny Burman, ex-officio, and Karen McArthur, ex-officio) for all their hard work and noted that they would appreciate more help from members with financial skills. The committee has been busy reviewing monthly financial statements, providing feedback on accounting guidelines, overseeing budget processes, advising on control procedures, and monitoring restricted funds.
Matt reviewed the highlights of the past year, which included the fact that we were able to pay down $83,000 of our mortgage, dropping our debt to $179,000. We remain very appreciative of our anonymous donor and the many congregants who have contributed to our High Holiday fund. We are trying to balance the need to pay down the mortgage while building up our savings.
Although donations were down $51,000 and our payroll and religious school expenses were up about $46,000 each, we were able to control our overall expenses so that they were 0.4% under budget; as a result, we are in pretty good shape and have about $197,000 in cash-on-hand. Matt compared our revenues and expenses for the past and current year and noted that they have all remained pretty flat. We have been fairly conservative in our income and expense estimates for the coming year. For more specific information regarding the budget, congregants should contact Matt.
When a congregant questioned why we don’t use volunteer teachers to save money, several other congregants explained the value of paying teachers, particularly in light of the huge demands on their time.
Danny thanked Matt and his committee and reaffirmed our commitment to paying off our debts while building our savings for the future.
Director’s Report: Danny noted that Tamar Meir, our synagogue director, lives and breathes Kol Ami. She has literally been working day and night to make our systems work so that we can have the proper information to make decisions related to our operations and to make managing memberships at Kol Ami a lot easier. She has developed a strong staff that works hard to run our synagogue, while providing the highest level of service to current and prospective members. Danny observed that they have helped to increase our revenue, reduce our expenses, and increase our efficiencies. Together with our amazing volunteers, they have done an excellent job of executing our programs and ideas.
Tamar explained that many of those working in office are not visible as they work behind the scene. She thanked our wonderful staff and hard working volunteers. She noted how she has been focusing on improving processes and making the office more efficient. We have had a slow but steady growth in membership
On behalf of the congregation, Danny thanked Tamar and noted how hard she works for the community. He explained that we are growing not just by adding new members, but also by being more efficient with our old ones.
Religious School Report: Danny reported that we are very fortunate and pleased that Orit, who has a deep commitment to the Jewish literacy of our children, our families, and our adults, will be with us for another two years. Orit, with the support of Liz Paige, the Religious School Committee Chair, and the assistance of the Religious School Committee, has improved our curriculum and created new opportunities for our students and families to celebrate Judaism together. Orit has also led the Melton program, which provides the adults in our community with an excellent way to study together through a text-based curriculum that opens minds to Jewish learning and new understanding. We are also indebted to Orit for helping us to properly recognize Rafi as the inspiration for the Rafi Schwartz Religious School. Danny noted that this coming Sunday, a new set of yeladim would see the new sign and Rafi’s big smiling punim at the entrance to the Religious School. He also thanked Vivian Dowsett for making this happen.
Orit said that she is happy to be here, and noted that we have a number of challenges ahead of us, including:
There is barrier between what happens in the classroom and the adult life in the community. She feels that while the school can supplement what happens at home, Jewish education can’t just happen in the classroom. We need to create more models for sharing our heritage with our children that would include more parent education and more opportunities to bring the community into the school.
We need to improve Jewish literacy including knowledge about our heritage, Israel, and Hebrew. We need to identify what Jewish literacy we want to impart and what books we want to promote.
We have a growing number of children who can’t afford to pay tuition. Since we won’t disqualify any child who can’t pay, we need to raise about $20,000 in scholarship funds, which remains a challenge.
We need to continue having our students more involved in each other’s bar/bat mitzvahs. She is pleased to see that this is beginning to happen.
Orit noted that she feels lucky to be part of the world of Jewish education, and thanked everyone for giving her this special opportunity.
Youth Director’s Report: Danny introduced our new Kol Ami Jewish Youth Director, Yotam Livnat. Yotam grew up both in Israel and at Kol Ami when his parents studied in Utah. Yotam has been back for just over a year; from the time he arrived, he has been involved with both KAJY and BBYO. He has a special passion for youth programs, having had many great memories of the times he spent in our youth group with Rafi. We have seen how Yotam really cares and how our children relate to him and want to follow his lead. Danny explained that we all are looking forward to an exciting future for our KAJY program with Yotam at the head.
Yotam shared how happy he is to be back at Kol Ami. He explained that things have started out well as they are already planning a number of events. His goals for the coming year include:
Building stronger leadership in the junior and senior boards.
Strengthening ties with USY and Kadima.
Sending more children to regional events.
Building the KAJY identity so that our kids feel a connection that remains with them.
Finding funding for kids who can’t afford to go to regional events.
Developing a “lion” mascot theme.
Involving parent volunteers since kids love to see parents at activities.
Danny thanked Yotam and said how pleased he was to see such strong people leading us.
New Business: Danny reported that in August, he asked the board if it would be willing to appoint Irwin Berry as Kol Ami’s “official” shamash. He explained that a shamash שמש or gabbai is a person who assists in the running of a synagogue and ensures that the needs are met and prayer services run smoothly. The shamash is sometimes the caretaker or "man of all work.” Irwin has actually been doing this job for many years. Karen moved that we appoint Irwin Berry our “official” shamash, make him a lifetime member at no charge, and list his name first on our event lists. Cathy seconded the motion, which passed unanimously. Danny thanked Irwin for all he does for Kol Ami.
Danny asked that we all look at the changes to the Pepper Chapel, which has been remodeled with new furniture that makes it much more functional. He thanked the Pepper family for its support and Eric Shapiro for his hard work in getting everything done so professionally.
Danny reminded everyone that the left turn access from I-80 East onto Heritage Way will be closing in the coming days. Perry Hull is representing us on the community committee working on this road restructure; he asked that we talk to him if we have any questions or concerns.
Danny asked that we continue to support our High Holyday Matching Appeal. He thanked our anonymous donor and the others in our community who have agreed to match every donated dollar made during the appeal and noted that they are true angels. We need to raise $235,000 over and above dues this year to support our operations and to cover our dues reductions and scholarships for our students. With 100% participation of our membership, he feels we can meet this goal; by exceeding it, we can build up our endowment for the future of Kol Ami. He asked that we don’t count on others, as there are no others; we are the others. We continue to face a difficult economy and many of our family members have been affected. Nearly 30% of our members cannot afford to pay full dues and the tuition for their children to attend our religious school. Some are out of work and some are at low-income levels. Kol Ami will never turn away a single Jewish person or family who wants to belong or put their children in our religious school. This puts a heavy burden on us and we need everyone’s help to support our mission. Danny asked that we give to Kol Ami as we have been blessed and that we give what we can. He suggested that we go to the Kol Ami website and give tonight.
Danny noted that we have had two very successful High Holiday appeals and we have run a fiscally responsible operation putting Kol Ami in a more solid financial position. Our membership is growing and volunteer participation continues to grow. He observed that while other synagogues are suffering from diminishing membership and funds, because of congregant support, Kol Ami is new again! Led by our inspiring Rabbi, our staff, our board, and our hardworking volunteers, we are all committed to the spiritual growth and financial stability of our Kol Ami community.
Danny explained that Kol Ami has come through a very difficult financial period, and, as we also know, several good years of fortune can be followed by years of drought. Several years ago we drastically cut back our expenses including reducing the salaries of our staff; it was very difficult for all of us. Two years ago we implemented a discretionary bonus program for our staff with the understanding that while salaries would remain low, as soon as we had extra funds, great performances would be rewarded with significant bonuses. We are thankful that our staff understands that our board will not commit to salary raises and budgets that we cannot afford. Fortunately, over the last two years, we have been able to pay bonuses and, with the help of our generous members, we will be able to pay them again this year.
As a result of the excellence of our senior staff, the Rabbi, Cantor, Tamar, Orit, and Yotam, and Sarah, our teachers, Jenn, Pamela, Jeff, and Fedor, and because of the generosity of our volunteers and our donors, Danny noted that he was very pleased to say that we are now fortunate to have the people, structure, and systems in place to give us the opportunity to take Kol Ami to new heights.
Danny explained that to take advantage of this new opportunity, we have created a Kol Ami Board Cabinet to oversee the various areas of our focus. These eight new cabinet positions will cover Administration, Religious Practices, Finance, Membership and Outreach, Strategic Planning, Activities, Education and Youth, and Development. Additionally, we will be adding a quarter-time position of “Assistant to the Rabbi and Activity/Program Director.” Danny asked all current board members to stand as he thanked them for all the work they have done and the work they are about to do. Their dedication and service to our community is a mitzvah for us all.
Danny explained that together we are going to reach new heights as a kehilla kedusha, a sacred community that celebrates diversity and honors our common bonds and traditions. Together with our rabbi’s leadership, we will seek new ways to raise our levels of spiritual connection to Judaism and to Kol Ami. This year we will offer more opportunities to find a Shabbat service or program that is meaningful to members; we will offer more opportunities to study our sacred texts and hold open discussions about how Judaism is relevant to our children and to us. He hopes we will talk more about Eretz Yisrael and what the Jewish homeland means to us as the Jewish people today. Together, respecting each other in our kehilla kedusha, he would like us to explore our religious practices and seek ways to honor our traditions, while finding new ways to expand our reach. Danny also hopes we will fulfill our dream of being a congregation for all our people, a sacred community, where people are the most important part of our mission and everyone counts and everyone is welcome.
Since we have reached this great day to share together the health and joy of our community, Danny asked Cantor Loeb to lead us in the Shehechiyanu.
Retiring Board Members: Danny said that he was happy to have the opportunity to again say thank you to the retiring members of the Kol Ami Board of Trustees, Jeff Gottesfeld, Bonnie Rokeach, and Bruce Cohne, who have given much of their precious time, funds and ideas for the benefit of our Kol Ami community. He reminded us that he had spoken about each of them at a recent Board Shabbat. When he asked Jeff, who has returned to Los Angeles, to share a few words about his experience, Jeff wrote: “It was a summons to service. Each and every board member taught me, in some way, that I could be better, do more, and contribute above and beyond. I can only hope that I was able to do my part.” To the same question, Bonnie, who is away, responded: “My participation in this Jewish village has undoubtedly enriched my life and given me far more than I have given.”
Danny shared the high points of Bruce’s board service, which includes negotiating the merger more than 40 years ago of Congregations Montefiore and B’nai Israel, and creating the endowment trusts for the congregation. Bruce served on the board with seven different rabbis! Danny noted that Bruce, always the fiscal conservative, has always kept careful watch over our money.
In recognition of his service, Danny offered Bruce a token of the community’s appreciation. Bruce, joking, “enough is enough,” thanked Ann Bernstein for all her help and noted that the congregation’s finances were in good hands with Matt Davidson as treasurer.
Karen McArthur Thank You: Danny noted that Kol Ami has flourished under Karen’s leadership over the past two years. We now have a wonderful new rabbi, synagogue director, and religious school principal, all of whom were hired during her term. He thanked her for her many years of dedicated service and presented her with an award on behalf of a very appreciative congregation. Karen thanked everyone for the gift and noted that it has been a real privilege to work with such a committed board and staff.
Executive Session: Before we went into executive session to discuss Cantor Loeb’s new contract, Danny reminded everyone that Cantor Loeb has served our community for thirty-seven years. He has led us in prayer and has taught us all, young and old. Cantor Loeb would be happy to tell us that he is most proud of the nearly three hundred of our children that he has trained for their b’nai mitzvot. Laury will be seventy this year and both he and Nomi have formally retired. In addition to continuing to serve Kol Ami, they plan to spend more time with each other and with their children and grandchildren and to travel more. We hope to recognize Cantor Loeb for his fifty years as a cantor in the coming year.
After we came out of executive session where the terms of Cantor Loeb’s contract were presented, Irwin Berry moved that we approve Cantor Loeb’s proposed three-year contract. Diane Warsoff seconded the motion, which passed.
The meeting was adjourned.
Submitted by Betty Yanowitz. Secretary