By now, I am sure that most of you are aware that we here at Beth Hillel are building for the future in brick and mortar.
Although our elevator and accessible restrooms project has been delayed, we will move forward with this plan. We thank all of you who have dug deep and made pledges and contributions to the best of your ability. Every contribution, no matter how small, will bring this plan to fruition, and we will continue to reach out to each and every member so that everyone has a chance to be part of this exciting new chapter for Beth Hillel.
I believe that this hiatus period for the construction project is a good time to think about other ways in which we need to build. For what good is a remodeled building if the congregation is not growing its membership nor even filling the seats with current members when we program?
We have been a strong and active congregation for many decades, but if we take a hard look at our participation and demographics, we can discern some signs that we best not ignore. Complacency can set in when things are going well. We need to make sure that pride in our accomplishments does not blind us from the work we need to do going forward.
For example, our school census is declining rapidly, especially in the younger grades. Our pattern for many years has been passivity, waiting for new families to join us. How can we be more proactive in recruiting families with children to join our ranks?
We offer a good variety of programs: Classes, retreats, book groups, concerts, films, discussions, mahjong, family oriented worship, and more, but often it is the same group of people filling the seats. Are we offering the right kind of programming that will encourage a more diverse cross-section of our members to engage in Jewish life?
People have very busy lives. This is the reality of modern life. But, for many, it seems that every other activity comes first, and if there is still time and energy left, a Jewish activity might get on the schedule. How do we encourage our members to put Jewish life on the higher rungs of their list of priorities?
We have various organs of communication, but I often hear that members did not know about something we were offering until it was over– or too late to change their plans. Do we need to rethink how we market our activities to our members and beyond?
And what about our geographic spread? Is it reasonable to expect our members who come from as far as 40 minutes away to be active on committees and come to programming in Kenosha on a regular basis? Should we offer more programs off-site? Do we need new technologies to help us better connect?
There are other Jewish institutions in our area, and some of our members have been reached by their marketing and personal overtures. Do our members ever use that personal touch to invite those they meet in those settings to come here for what we offer?
A few of our newer committee members and school families are asking new questions and challenging our assumptions. We need more of that. We cannot continue to do things the way we have always done them and expect new generations to commit to our enterprise.
In his book, Jewish Megatrends, Rabbi Sidney Schwartz and others look at the new reality of Jewish life in the 21st Century. Schwartz uses a Rabbinic saying: “Makdim refuah l’maka,” “even before the onset of the malady, the antidote already exists” to encourage Jewish professional and lay leaders to try to stay ahead of the curve on meeting today’s challenges.
Over the summer and beyond, I hope you will join me and our lay leadership in doing just that. I invite you to help us rethink what Beth Hillel Temple will look like in the coming decades. We will surely have an updated building, but let us be proactive to ensure that the new and improved building is a hub of Jewish life that both attracts and reaches out to meet the needs of future generations.
We will begin this process with some “transformational conversations” at the BHT Annual Meeting on June 11. Be there and help us imagine the future.
Rabbi Dena A. Feingold