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An Update on Our "Journey"

Since we embarked on Journey together in December to build our vibrant, shared future, nearly every aspect of our Beth El community has been held to the light for closer examination. Together, we’re hearing the whispers of the stronger, more dynamic Beth El emerge...

Fostering a culture of kindness and inclusion where each person feels valued and comfortable. The speed of prayer. Multiple entry points to Jewish life through prayer, learning, spirituality, tikkun olam or connection with Israel. What it means to be a creative Conservative congregation in the 21st Century. Being a second home for our children and families. Staying relevant and vital for those who come to Beth El a few times a week and creatively engaging those who come a few times a year or don’t even know Beth El can be their Jewish home base yet. Our dues/membership model. Our financial model. The best use of our physical space.

Thank you to the voices who have informed our collective understanding of who we are and who we want to become. More than 250 of you brought your open minds and hearts to one or more of our six listening forums—candidly expressing your hopes and dreams, fears and concerns about Beth El’s future direction.

Our sixty-person Vision Team, representing all facets of Beth El’s community, has been listening, exploring and discussing—together discovering the Beth El we want and need. The Journey Planning Team has been keeping our board informed and energized, paving the way for courageous decision making in the fall, when Journey makes its “hard landing”—choosing a unifying vision and handful of focus areas to anchor its future.

Over the last six months, one thing has become clear: Beth El is ready—ready to embrace the future, with all its challenges and all its potential—and ready to experiment in the direction of our dreams. As one of our self-proclaimed “traditionalists” said, “As a traditionalist who wants change, I’m feeling secure that our two rabbis ‘have my back’ in terms of tradition.” Or another, “We need to think positively about experimentation and innovation—as a way to enhance what we have—from a spirit of curiosity, not being forced to do something.”

As we stand on the threshold of exciting new possibilities, the next phase of the process calls us to reflect on all we’ve heard, and to consider what this means for our future in concrete terms: What is our formula for growth and sustainability? What synergies should we pursue with other Conservative congregations in Westchester County? What physical space will support our vision? How can we engage volunteers to co-create our future, together with our rabbinic leadership and professional staff? What is essential to who we are, and what is not?

While the energy and enthusiasm surrounding this endeavor is palpable, there is still much work to be done. And we need your help to make it a success.

Around the High Holidays, we will begin inviting the congregation to bring “prototypes”—or experiments—to our Prototype Boot Camp, December 2 from 9:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m., to quickly begin realizing our shared vision. We’ll share more towards the end of the summer, but wanted to give you this taste of the Journey experience.

Kol Tuv,

Journey's Planning Team: Salo Aizenberg, Abe Bartell, Jody Burton, 

Barbara E Cohen, Erica Leventhal, Rabbi David Schuck, Mark Seidenfeld and Abby Wise 

Journey: Building a Vibrant Future Together - The Backstory

This is an important moment in the life of our community. Beth El Synagogue Center is embarking on a collaborative visioning and strategic planning process, Journey: Building a Vibrant Future Together, which will engage all of us in a creative reimagining of what it means to be a vibrant congregation – relevant to the lives of its members, to the Jewish future, and to the wider community.

The entire Beth El family and broader community will be invited into this process. Together, we will discover a vision for Beth El that captures the legacy and values that have provided a strong foundation for our synagogue while exploring ways to co-create a vibrant and sustainable future amidst the instability most American Jewish institutions face. With optimism, open minds and open hearts, we invite you to join us on this journey.    

The “Why?”

We are an outstanding synagogue- a family. And yet, these are times where loyalty to institutions is greatly diminished and the ways Jews self-identify and make meaning of their Judaism are changing rapidly. People worship differently. People marry differently. To ensure our own future, it is vital that we examine the most fundamental questions about how we can adapt and thrive amidst this shifting landscape.

Some of the questions before us are:

  • Judaism. How can we ensure that all that we do will be infused with a love and respect of Torah, Jewish values and connection to Israel?
  • Crossroads. What is the nature of world in which we find ourselves? What is the nature of the crossroads we face as a community?
  • Next Chapter. How can we secure our future for the next generation? What are the implications of growth? Do we aim to grow in numbers (quantity) or attend mainly to sustaining our close community and attending to the “thickness” of our Jewish lives and relationships (quality)? Do we always want to be known as a Conservative synagogue community or some other marker?
  • BESC as Jewish Hub. How can we develop our synagogue community into a vibrant hub of Jewish life for most Jewish families in Westchester?
  • Inclusion (and other Global Trends). What does the trend toward intermarriage mean for Beth El? Is there an opportunity within what may appear to be a crisis? How are we being called to be even more inclusive of multi-faith families, LGBTQ members, people of all abilities, people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds?
  • Relevance. How can we ensure that we are relevant for all Jews who want to make their home with us? What success factors/indicators should guide us? If not membership, then what?
  • Role in the Ecosystem. What does it mean to be a Conservative synagogue community in these times? What is Beth El’s place in the larger ecosystem of Westchester County? New York City? US?
  • Business Models. What business models will sustain us?  How do we shift our thinking around membership, fundraising, facilities?

We are proud of and excited about the high-engagement and innovative approach that we are taking into this journey. Thanks to a generous contribution from Hazzan Ellen and Graham Arad in memory of their parents Phyllis & Menachem Arad and Lucille & Reuven Miller, Zichronam Livarcha,  we have the opportunity to engage consultants from Insyte Partners. Insyte specializes in guiding organizations and communities around complex questions when the past is no longer a predictor of the future—but where its important to learn from the future rather than only re-enacting patterns of the past.  You can read more about Insyte at www.insytepartners.com.

The “How” and the “Who”

Everyone in our community will have multiple opportunities to participate in the conversations about the future of our synagogue. Every voice counts. To begin the process, we have assembled a strong yet purposely small Planning Team consisting of Beth El professionals and members from diverse fields who will work behind the scenes to keep our work strategically focused and moving forward.

We will invite a broad cross-section of our community and beyond to serve on our Vision Team. This will be a group of roughly 50 people representative of the entire Beth El community who will be key partners in the work of exploring and discovering the future that wants to happen for BESC. They will listen to others’ ideas, hopes and dreams, as well as their own. They will also immerse themselves in places inside and outside the congregational world that to inform and inspire us, and in some cases, provide breakthrough thinking.

The Vision Team will play a key role in articulating the future direction of Beth El, which will get translated into “prototypes”—experiments that move us quickly into action toward our desired future, as well as implementation plans. Everyone will be invited into the prototyping process.  Our Board of Directors and professional staff will be involved at key moments at the beginning, middle, and end of the effort.

The “What’s Next” and the “When”

There will be plenty of opportunities for additional input. All of our constituents will be invited into conversations to help shape our future. Listening forums, to which all will be invited, will be planned soon. Your voices will be heard during every stage of this process. A special email address will be set up for you to share any questions or concerns. We will listen to and answer each one.

Communication is vital to the success of this project. A Journey sub-website will launch in October 2017 and will continually be updated with news relating to our plan. This “site within a site” will include an FAQ section and contact form, and e-blasts will be regularly sent out as well. 

We anticipate launching the Vision Team late in 2017, with Listening Forums and other information-gathering activities taking place in early 2018. The entire project will run through Fall of 2018.

This is an exciting moment for the future of Beth El. The trends and data of the American Jewish community are clear: synagogues must reimagine themselves if they want to thrive.We are committed to proactively meet our challenges head on and transform them into opportunities to reaffirm our values and chart a clear path for our future. These conversations will be both challenging and exhilarating. We are confident that with open-heartedness and generosity, we will navigate this journey together and emerge as a unified community with a clear path toward a vibrant future.

 

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Mon, October 22 2018 13 Cheshvan 5779