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A Message from the Incoming President

05/03/2020 05:59:33 PM

May3

Greetings!

Thank you. I am honored and humbled to take on the responsibilities of being your President of Temple Beth-El. This shul has a remarkable and nearly 90-year legacy, and I will endeavor to live up to the trust and confidence you have extended to me.


Some background. As many of you know, Luan and I met at the US Naval Academy, marrying in 2000, and serving in the Navy. When we left active duty in 2008, we settled in Midlothian with our sons Benjamin (17) and Aden (13) and, except for a brief hiatus to the DC area, Beth-El has been our Jewish home since then. Over that time, I’ve served on the board twice and on the school, ritual, finance, and cantor search committees. Currently I volunteer in the religious school, working primarily with grades 2-6 on prayers.

My passion for Judaism is mainly spiritual, enabled by both traditional and modern nusach, the musical connection to our deep Jewish heritage. In this, I find a strong connection to Temple Beth-El, given our community’s lasting love for extraordinary cantors, including our current Cantor Rosenblatt, musical groups such as the Underground Band, and a strong ‘bench’ of lay service leaders.


Beth-El – Our Community.  Beth-El is much more than “simply” a Beit Tefillah or house of prayer. First and foremost, we are a Kehillah Kedosha, a holy community, that in some cases has long, multi-generational ties to each other and also welcomes newcomers with open arms (even if “new” to RVA means anyone here less than 20 years)!

It has been particularly gratifying to see our community bonds reinforced during this time of heightened stress brought on by COVID-19. While Benita cited some of these examples in her letter, I also want to extend my thanks and a Yasher Koach to those who have helped connect and sustain us in this difficult period.


Beth-El is HERE for You!  While evolving guidelines and best practices due to COVID-19 will continue to create challenges, it is important to recognize that TBE remains OPEN for business, providing a vital spiritual, educational, and social community to our members:

  • Our TBE staff is working! We have a rotation in place for checking on the buildings and though we are working from home, if you need something, call / email us as normal!
  • Our Religious School is Online! While public schools hit the pause button, our learning shifted online without missing a step! Mazel Tov to our teachers and Ramona!
  • Our Caring Crew! Our initiative to strengthen community ties leapt into action during the first days of our stay-at-home time. Approximately 30 TBE members now form the core of our Caring Phone Crew that reaches out to those in need, particularly those living alone. We also have members and staff that volunteer to make deliveries. If you would like to join this incredibly important team, or know someone (perhaps yourself) who could benefit, please fill out this form.
  • Members Taking Part in Mitzvot! 
    - Religious school teachers and families took the $800 collected via classroom tzedakah, added to it, and have now donated more than $1,600 to Feedmore!
    - A group of members have sewn masks for front-line workers
    - Our confirmation class is executing not one, but multiple mitzvah projects including support of the JFS’ Brainbox Initiative
    - SATO, in conjunction with the community organization, RISC, is actively working to mitigate the RVA housing eviction crisis, already the 2nd highest eviction rate in the nation prior to the effects of COVID-19 
    - A group of Members is providing meals to show appreciation for the Beth Shalom staff, raising more than $1,100 in the first few days
    - Havurot are conducting innovative gatherings (Zoom Pictionary anyone?!)
  • Our amazingly energetic, committed, supportive and comforting Clergy. Yasher Koach to Rabbi Knopf and Cantor Rosenblatt for the quality and breadth of engagement opportunities designed to offer context and meaning during this time.
  • The daily minyan and Shabbat services have never been better attended(!) – and frankly have become a touchstone for many who rely on the social aspects before/after each service as we live “Groundhog Day” in real time.
  • The full range of clergy services is available - click here to schedule.
  • The thoughtful Passover videos were conceived / executed in the space of days.
  • Our Adult Education programming continues! (Where else can you talk about the connection of Torah to current events with Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger?)
  • And perhaps most importantly, and on behalf of the entire congregation, I want to express our sincere gratitude for their warm and caring efforts for our congregants who have suffered losses during these challenging times.


Beth-El is OPEN for Business!
We were fortunate to enter this period of economic slowdown on the best financial footing the congregation has seen in some time. Several initiatives, not least of which being the Parham land sale, enabled the Board to approve a balanced budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year (July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021) while also putting aside funds to assist in renovating our campus.

Subsequently, TBE qualified for a modest low-cost loan under the Payroll Protection Program (PPP). Many thanks to Faith for her successful navigation of this emergent process. Pending Board approval, we expect to close on this loan in the coming weeks.

That said, the macro trends continue to provide financial headwinds to many faith communities, and TBE is no exception. Under the budget approved in March, we slightly restructured and approved a modest dues increase of 1 to 2% for most categories. Importantly, there is no change to current 2020 dues as these increases are for implementation in 2021. As part of an earlier recommendation by the school committee, school tuition for the 2020-2021 year is programmed to increase by $25/student. The upcoming bulletin will have more information.

Amazingly, dues revenue covers less than 50% of our annual budget. Yes, you read that right! We spend ~$2,000 per adult member per year. To cover the difference, we rely on the generosity of donors via current year and endowed giving (e.g. Life & Legacy). This moment has proven yet again just how crucial Beth-El is for our members. 

For those who are fortunate to be able to do so, I encourage you to become a Patron Member (or increase your level) and/or contribute to one of our restricted funds that aligns with your passions. Every donation counts and increases the strength of TBE!

While Beth-El requires financial resources, our community needs its members more. Beth-El is here for you, particularly during this stressful time. We will not lose a single Member because s/he cannot comfortably afford dues. We have a considerate, confidential, and compassionate dues abatement process in place. For any questions, please reach out to Faith at f.kallman@bethelrichmond.org.

What’s Next?
Throughout June, I plan to host several “parlor meetings” via Zoom. These are an opportunity for us to meet (virtually) on a social level. While I have read the Visioning Committee report along with a number of surveys conducted over the last couple years, I would appreciate meeting each of you on a more personal basis. Please watch for more information coming soon.

As soon as it is practical and safe to do so, we will reschedule our postponed Annual Meeting. Slightly further ahead, we have begun to consider options for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur so that we can provide a meaningful, yet safe, holiday period. Please stay tuned on both.

I look forward to working with you and on your behalf to continue to ensure the Beth-El legacy of vital service to the Richmond Jewish community for the next generation – L’Dor v’Dor.

May Beth-El continue from strength to strength, in health and peace.

L’Shalom,
Michael J. Doniger
Interim President
Temple Beth-El, Richmond, VA

Sun, May 19 2024 11 Iyyar 5784