We are affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the association of Conservative congregations in North America.
Becoming the President of Congregation Beth-El brings with it a mixture of emotions for me. It is a great honor, of course, and I am filled with humility and gratitude to be able to serve the congregation in this capacity, joining a long line of outstanding lay leaders who have preceded me as Congregation Beth- El Presidents. Let me take this opportunity to thank Barbara Cohen, who certainly faced many challenges over the past two years, during most of which we did not have a Rabbi. All of my predecessors undoubtedly faced challenges, so I would not have such chutzpah to assume that my/our challenges, at this point in time, are any greater than those faced by others in the past. However, this is without a doubt a particularly challenging time in the life of this congregation, and it is my distinction that, in all likelihood, I will be the last President of Congregation Beth-El.
As you must surely know by now, we are in the midst of merger discussions with Bellmore Jewish Center, with Harold Lefkowitz as our committee chair, and the process is moving along very smoothly so far, with what seems to me little chance of that process getting derailed. The merger, in my opinion, is the right thing for us to be doing, and I have full confidence that the “shiddach” with Bellmore JC will be a very positive and amicable one for all of us, the members of CBE and of BJC. While the anticipation of forming a vital new entity that will incorporate and integrate the qualities of both congregations, under the inspirational and enthusiastic leadership of Rabbi Dahlia Bernstein, is very exciting, this process also evokes feelings of profound sadness.
I have been a member of Beth-El for a far shorter time than many of my fellow Beth-El congregants, some of whom have been here for many decades, have grown up here, raised their families here, grown old (or older) here. I can only imagine the intense sadness and sense of loss that some of our members are feeling now, as the inevitability of Beth-El’s final days are approaching. But I can assure you that I, too, feel an incredibly strong sense of attachment to our building, our sanctuary, our bimah, and, of course, the members of our congregation, past as well as present, who I can still see sitting in the pews or going up for an aliyah, and the thought of these doors closing forever fills me with sadness. Yes, some of our members are now eager to make the move as quickly as possible, but even they are feeling the sadness of having to move on and leave Congregation Beth-El behind.
As I see it, my biggest challenge as President at this crucial time is to help every member of Congregation Beth-El, those who are active Shabbat shul goers and those who come only a few days each year, those who actively serve as members of the Board of Trustees and on committees, and those who do not but still care deeply about this shul, make this transition as comfortable and painless as can be. That will require a great deal of sensitivity, patience, empathy, and openness on my part (and on all of our parts), to listen and support everyone and each other as we all make this transition, each in his or her own way. While I will do my best to facilitate our meeting with and getting to feel more comfortable with the “new” people in Bellmore, by workingwiththeBellmoreleadershipand our own members to create joint programming, I will also try my best to respect the feelings of those who need more time to accept what is happening, and not force them to do what they may not yet be ready to do.
I am committed to our maintaining our status as an independent and functioning synagogue, at 99 Jerusalem Avenue in Massapequa, until such time as the merger vote has confirmed that we and Bellmore JC will become one united congregation. This commitment means that we will continue to have Shabbat services on both Friday evenings and on Saturday mornings for the foreseeable future. The exception, only on very rare occasions, is when we will join with Bellmore JC for a special joint Shabbat or holiday service. We will also continue to have weekday evening minyans here at Beth-El, but in deference to the reality of poor attendance in recent months, we will now have these services only on Monday and Thursday evenings. Please make every effort to attend our services, to keep them going for the benefit of all of us, and especially for those observing Yahrzeit or in need of Shiva minyans.
With the High Holidays approaching in the next few weeks, I want everyone to know that our services will be wonderful, under the leadership of Rabbi Zalman Rothschild and Cantor Gil Polt. Rabbi Rothschild has been our regular Shabbat Rabbi over the past several months, and those who have come to his Shabbat study sessions and have heard him discuss the weekly Torah readings from the Bimah recognize what a brilliant teacher he is. Cantor Polt, who served as our High Holiday cantor last year, has a beautiful baritone voice, and will make the services very pleasant to listen to and participate in.
Over the coming months, there will be some changes and challenges, for sure, but we will continue to be together as a congregation. We will continue celebrating the great things about Congregation Beth-El, our spiritual home for so long, while also preparing for the next stage in our life as a Conservative Jewish congregation on the South Shore of Nassau County. It’s a time of mixed emotions, joy and sadness, but isn’t that what being Jewish has really always been all about?
Let’s look forward to sharing our New Year together, this year, at Congregation Beth-El in Massapequa.