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It has been brought to my attention that when I’ve written about the merger process with Bellmore Jewish Center, I may have given some of our congregants the impression that the merger is already “a done deal” (or at least that it is so inevitable that we can all assume that it is just a matter of time, and therefore we might as well think of it as “a done deal”). I want to apologize for giving this impression prematurely, as I don’t want to take anything for granted (and risk giving the process a “kineahora”), and I certainly don’t want any Beth-El congregants to be confused about what’s happening, and what is likely to happen over the coming months. Therefore, I’ll take this opportunity to give everyone an update, and a sense of what we may expect over the coming months.
There is a Joint Merger Steering Committee comprised of members of both Congregation Beth-El (CBE) and Bellmore Jewish Center (BJC), which is co-chaired by our own Harold Lefkowitz and BJC’s Michael Bigman (both Past- Presidents). The overall committee is comprised of a number of sub-committees, with representatives from both congregations who have been meeting to focus on specific areas that need to be agreed upon as we move forward with the merger discussion process. The goal of this committee-based process is for an agreement to be drafted by the Legal Sub-Committee (our lawyer-members are Arnie Hauptman and Keith Black) based on the discussions, negotiations, compromises and understandingsarrivedatbythemembers of all the other sub-committees. This process is moving along very smoothly and extremely amicably. We cannot say exactly how much longer this part of the process will take, but progress is being made with few if any areas of even minor disagreement (that I’m aware of).
Once the legal agreement has been written, and then reviewed and approved by the members of the Steering Committee, all of the members in good standing of both congregations will have the opportunity to read it and then vote on it. According to New York State law, the approval of 2/3 of the members of both congregations (based on those attending the vote meeting as well as those not able to be physically present who have assigned their vote, by proxy, to another congregant who will be attending) is needed for the merger agreement to “pass.” We cannot say at this time exactly when this vote will be scheduled, but prior to the vote, every member of CBE will have ample opportunity to read the agreement, and we will hold a town hall meeting in which any and all questions and comments about the terms of the agreement will be openly and freely discussed before the vote is taken. If the agreement receives the minimum of a 2/3 “Yes” vote from our members and also from the members of BJC, the approved merger agreement will then be submitted to the New York State Attorney General, who must give his approval before the merger agreement is officially complete. Needless to say, if the agreement fails to garner the 2/3 minimum from either congregation, the merger will not take place. I don’t anticipate that happening, but I don’t want to take the passage by both congregations “for granted.”
I want to address a couple of points that some of our congregants have had questionsabout.First,Iwanteveryoneto understand that the planned merger is between two “equals.” Even though our membership numbers are a bit lower than Bellmore’s, they and we are approaching this process as the joining together of two equal congregations to form a brand new entity, with a new name. While we had considered merging with Merrick Jewish Center (which would have loved to have us), we decided that Bellmore JC was a better match for us, because we are more similar in size, and the merger would not mean that our members would be totally subsumed into a much larger congregation (which Merrick JC is). If we and BJC are equals, why are we leaving our building in Massapequa and moving to Bellmore? In fact, our building is bigger and in better physical condition than theirs is; so why aren’t they coming to our building? The essential answer is this: we have not been able to attract young Jewish or intermarried families with young children to CBE (which is why we no longer have a Hebrew School), and this reality is based on the change in the demographics of the Massapequa community, whereas, in contrast, BJC has been very successful over the past few years at attracting young families with Hebrew School age kids, because there are young Jewish families in the Bellmore area, and because Rabbi Dahlia Bernstein has done an amazing job in bringing in many of those families to BJC. Our congregation (like so many others around the Long Island and Metropolitan area, and elsewhere) is aging, and the reality is that without an influx of young families with children, congregations fade out and can no longer afford (both financially and in terms of people) to continue. That’s what has happened with CBE.
In joining together with BJC, we will be establishing a vital and strong new congregation with a wide range of ages in the congregation, including many young families with kids. The fact is that the parents of the kids attending Hebrew School at BJC will not travel to Massapequa several times a week, and would probably end up shifting their membership to Merrick Jewish Center if we tried to move the Hebrew School to our building. So if there is to be a merger with BJC, we must move to Bellmore, not the other way around.
With the proposed merger we would have to close our doors and move (which, as I’ve discussed previously, is an emotionally-laden experience for all of us), but we will be entering into an exciting new phase of our congregational life, establishing a brand-new congregation that will incorporate both congregations into something new and exciting. When the Steering Committee met a couple of weeks ago, and the “new name” issue came up, Rabbi Bernstein had the idea of incorporating both of our “Hebrew names” into the new congregation’s name. Bellmore Jewish Center’s “Hebrew name” is Congregation Ohr Zarna, so she suggested combining that with Congregation Beth-El to create the new name, Congregation Beth Ohr, which means Congregation House of Light. Everyone who was there liked it a lot. What do you think?
By the way: Rabbi Bernstein will be visiting Congregation Beth-El on Sunday morning, November 8th, for a “Meet, Greet, and Eat” brunch starting at 10:30 am. Please make a point of attending. You should have received the flyer by now, and please let the office know if you’re planning to be there, so we can be sure to have enough food for everyone. Thanks.
We still have a ways to go before voting on a merger agreement, and the coming to fruition of the merger is not a “done deal” by any means. Nonetheless, I do believe without any doubt in my mind that this is what we, the members of Congregation Beth-El, have to do and will feel good about doing, because to do otherwise would mean the inevitable demise of CBE within a few years, while, in contrast, by joining with our neighbors from Bellmore, we will not only survive but thrive, as a vital egalitarian Conservative Jewish congregation on the South Shore of Nassau County, with a wonderful young Rabbi, lots of young families, many more “older folks” like most of us, and a bright and exciting future to look forward to, sharing Simchas, Shabbats, and holidays, as well as lots of fun and educational programs, together for many years to come.
Please let me know if you have any questions or comments about what I’ve written, and about the merger process. I’ll be happy to listen and to share thoughts and feelings with you. I’ll provide more updates over the coming months.