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Annual Highlights 2011-2012 / 5772


Part I: What’s New This Year B’nai Jeshurun grows and changes each year. Initiated by members, rabbis, musicians and staff, these new programs give a flavor of community: Rabbi Matalon’s 25th Anniversary For 25 years Rabbi Roly Matalon has served the BJ community as a response to a deep calling from God with a vision of what the world, Jewish life, and BJ can be. Over the years he has visited countless BJ members when they have been ill, married hundreds of couples, been by the side of families at funerals and shiva minyanim, given blessings to numerous children and counseled innumerable students. He has led with his prayers, his songs, his teaching, his moral compass, and his humanity. And, as he has provided spiritual leadership and vision, he has always been on his own search, questioning and prodding and never settling. To celebrate this milestone the community came together on September 9, 2011, with a truly gala Kiddush. Not surprisingly, it was evident that Roly enjoyed roaming through the sea of members and other well-wishers to connect face to face. Hundreds of members contributed to the purchase of new High Holy Day mahzorim which were marked with bookplates in honor of Roly. The good wishes and memories of members and colleagues were compiled in a beautiful book presented to Roly. Picturing Community: 25 Years of Life at BJ Complementing Roly’s Anniversary Celebration was an exhibit of BJ photographs and artifacts that reflected the vibrant life of the BJ community since its revitalization in 1985. It opened in Frankel Hall right after the celebratory Kiddush and featured retreats, trips, celebrations, plays, s’mahot, marches, lobbying days, meetings, and prayer. Documents and artifacts, some from the past

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26 years, including a fragment of the original ceiling with “before” and “after” photographs, and some from the 19th and early 20th centuries were shown in the display cases. New Mahzorim High Holy Days 2011 saw the premiere usage of Mahzor Lev Shalem, the first new High Holy Day prayer book BJ has used in five years. Members raved about the additional readings featured in the sidebars, which offer historical information and deeper meanings of the prayers. Four thousand mahzorim were purchased, of which half were donated by members in honor of Roly’s 25th anniversary at BJ. Welcoming Initiative Since early 2011, B’nai Jeshurun has been part of a cohort of New York synagogues through a program of UJA-Federation of New York. This project is coordinated by Measuring Success, a consulting firm that teaches the synagogues how to use new business models to assess community relationships. BJ members will remember that a community survey designed to assess BJ’s strengths and weaknesses was conducted in May 2011 in partnership with Measuring Success. A key topic identified as an area for improvement by our members was whether the BJ environment is a welcoming one. Understanding that this area needs direct attention, the Membership Steering Committee is undertaking a three-year plan (2012-2015) to assess welcoming and engagement. Known as Shalom BJ, this is one of the biggest community-wide projects at B’nai Jeshurun this year. The Young Families Committee created nametags for every BJ family with children under 6 to have at Shabbat and Holiday Children’s Services. At each service, families are welcomed by a parent volunteer and given nametags for their entire family. As a result, people not only know each other’s names, but also feel more open to meeting each other and engaging in conversation. Children love them because they can decorate them with stickers, and feel they have a special “necklace” when they come to BJ. Nametags are one part of an atmosphere we are creating to invite people to connect on a more meaningful level. 3


Special Needs Havdalah BJ introduced a series of sensory-friendly, music-infused, participatory and inclusive Special Needs Havdalah services. A simple and colorful “social story” book helped guide participants through the service and all sang, marched and danced with the Torah. Participants received cups of grape juice, spices, and battery-operated candles for Havdalah and everyone joined in a concluding musical session with small instruments. Contemplative Retreat in Nature In January, Rabbi Marcelo Bronstein took twenty members for a week of simple living in the rich ecology of the Costa Rican rain forest. They explored Jewish contemplative practice as a framework for connecting more deeply. Aging in New York Hevra Our new Aging in NY Hevra launched its community education work with over 110 people at the first workshop in the Aging Wisely Series, The “A” Word: Unpacking Our Stereotypes, Fears and Hopes.  Rabbi Rachel Cowan taught and BJ members had intimate conversations about the way our community, our experiences, and our society shape our expectations about aging.   Additional workshops will address diverse concerns such as “wise aging,” caring for aging parents, Medicare, end of life concerns, legal documents, and more. We are also collaborating with Domestic Workers United and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice to begin a series of dialogues this summer between eldercare/homecare workers and current and future care recipients, as well as family members and friends. 

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Marriage Equality Hevra After many years of hard work, the Marriage Equality Hevra achieved a fantastic win.  On June 24, 2011, the New York State Senate voted to extend the rights of marriage to same sex couples and on July 14 our community celebrated with over 250 people present.  Our community celebration organized by the Panim el Panim: Marriage Equality Hevra was modeled after a Jewish wedding ceremony.  Our sanctuary was decked out for a real wedding, complete with a huppah, cocktail tables, our best chairs, flowers, champagne and hors d’oeuvres. We said Sheva Brakhot for Marriage Equality adapted for this occasion, we broke a glass to remind us that not all is won in the struggle for equal rights, we sang Sheheheyanu, and we danced!  It was moving and joyous, and demonstrated vividly what is so special about this community. 

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Soul of Israel/Soul of America Series We introduced two parallel series to confront the issues of our country and the current state of Israel. We wanted to bring great thinkers so the community could listen to different perspectives. The Soul of Israel: What is at Stake? featured guest speakers Dr. Moshe Halbertal, Professor of Jewish Thought and Philosophy at Hebrew University and Professor Ruth Gavison, Haim H. Cohn Professor Emerita of Human Rights at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem addressing the key issues facing Israel and its identity, the aspirations of what Israel could be and the day to day reality of what existence is like in Israel. The Soul of America: Occupying Wall Street – What’s Happening in Our Country? began with a conversation with Representative Jerry Nadler followed by special guest speaker Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director of The Earth Institute. Topics of discussion included the Occupy Wall Street movement, the challenges of economic development and the nation’s high unemployment rate. New Senior Staff A driving force at BJ, Harold Goldman retired as Executive Director in January. In February, we welcomed our new Executive Director Steve Goldberg, who joined us after a long career at Hadassah. Also new to the senior staff are Lisa Steinberg, Director of Development and Alyce Gunn, Chief Financial Officer. This new management team has initiated improvements to administrative and financial systems and reenergized interaction and communication among members of the community. Board of Trustees and Governance BJ’s Board will be exploring critical questions over the next year as we reflect on our governance processes and engage directly with our fundamental role as BJ’s guardians and trustees. Toward this end, Trustees have already begun the process of self-reflection through an online self-study survey and conversations with a non-profit Board development consultant. Trustees strive to best serve this extraordinary community and work with the spiritual leaders and professionals to advance BJ’s mission. Executive Director Steve Goldberg and Richie Kalikow, member of BJ’s Board of Trustees.

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Mishloah Manot Rabbi Felicia Sol initiated a new community-wide project of one of the four mitzvot of Purim: mishloah manot, sending gift packages. This year, BJ assembled mishloah manot for the entire BJ community and delivered over 200 mishloah manot to BJ members over the age of 80 or members who had a death or birth in their immediate family in the past year. All of the proceeds from the mishloah manot were donated to organizations selected by the community: Leket Israel, Israel’s national food bank, and JASA, the Jewish Association Serving the Aged in New York. By donating the proceeds of the mishloah manot, BJ members were also able to fulfill the Purim mitzvah of matanot l’evyonim, giving gifts to the poor. Facilities Additions BJ acquired over 200 ballroom chairs that have been used in many community events and at members’ private celebrations. To help identify themselves to staff and members alike, the maintenance team received new work shirts embroidered with the BJ logo and their first names. New BJ Website On May 7, 2012, a brand new BJ website debuted featuring bright colors, beautiful photos, an easy to use organizational scheme, and better content and functionality. For more than a year, BJ staff and consultants collaborated to produce this site just in time for Membership season. Since a website’s development never ceases, plans for further improvements are in the works.

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Part II: Continuing our Mission Our community thrives on continuing programs. Here are a few highlights of the activities that go on year in and year out: New Members were welcomed and oriented at our famous New Member Orientation Programs. They came together at a Shabbat dinner, a potluck dinner in the sukkah, and cooking for the shelter. Shabbat dinners for young families, Hebrew School families, Tze’irim, Mekusharim and the newest affinity group for people in their mid-30s to mid-50s drew hundreds of participants. The 10th anniversary women’s retreat, led by Rabbi Felicia Sol, was attended by 80 women including a delegation from our sister community Nigun Halev with former MTM Fellow Rabbi Chen Ben Or Tsfoni. Weekend retreats such as the Reach for Shabbat retreat for third through fifth grade Hebrew School families, a pilot 6th grade family B’nai Mitzvah retreat and a spring 6th grade retreat for kids, and the Community Retreat brought together hundreds of members for spiritual and relaxing Shabbat experiences. As part of Service Learning Trips, over 50 teens gutted houses in New Orleans and constructed concrete floors in the Dominican Republic. The teens joined together before, during, and after the trips to study Jewish text and to build community in an immersive environment. Tze’irim expanded its social and educational programming and Mekusharim’s second year of programs featured an Arts theme.

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Teams of volunteers interviewed members about their life stories as part of the ongoing Capturing Our Stories oral history project. Families are defined many different ways in the BJ community and we support them during various life cycle moments. Over a dozen babies were born or adopted, same-sex weddings were performed for the first time, and there were aufrufs galore. We have celebrated together and we have mourned together. There were 34 children who participated in the journey to becoming a bar/bat mitzvah this year. Our rabbis and volunteers supported almost 100 members when a loved one died. Prayer is one of the central activities at B’nai Jeshurun, reflecting our need to praise, to thank, to question, and to wrestle with God.  Under the direction of our rabbis and hazzan, BJ offered its inspiring services and drew large numbers of worshipers to our community. Typically there are 700 people at a Friday night service and 500 at Shabbat morning services (including Children’s Services and Junior Congregation). We learned new music and piyutim melodies and we have challenged ourselves and the community to study more about prayer and literature.

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Rabbi Matalon had the privilege of being in Jerusalem during his 3-month sabbatical from November 2011 to January 2012 where he studied at Beit Midrash Elul, and worked on Jewish religious poetry and devotional music. He explored services at a variety of small synagogues where he had the opportunity to pray and discover a broad variety of customs and musical traditions. In early January, Rabbi Marcelo Bronstein participated in an intensive interfaith mission to Israel with 16 senior religious leaders from New York City to promote peace and understanding. The program was intended to create and broadcast a positive model of interfaith relations based on mutual acceptance and tolerance. Male participation is on the rise. The Men’s Havurah gathered monthly for conversation and davening often with guest speakers. Analyzing our past events held by Tze’irim, (our 20s and 30s group), we see that men are becoming more involved in community activities. One Shabbat dinner saw a 1:1 ratio of men to women, with over 80 people in attendance, and there has been a buzz about how more men attend events held outside of the synagogue walls, too. Time to make a shidduh! The Brotherhood (also known by the boys’ chosen name “The Brononymous Jew Crew”) offered BJ’s young men a chance to hang out with other guys, play games, eat, and talk about topics that matter to them, such as manhood, competition, power, pleasure, and friendship.

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Many more holiday activities were organized by a new part-time holiday programming associate. During Sukkot, members of all ages filled the BJ sukkah, beautifully decorated by our Hebrew school children. Youth enjoyed stories, crafts, and snacks in the sukkah; the Shomrei Adamah enjoyed a potluck dinner with Sybil Sanchez, the Director of COEJL, and BJ Rabbinic Fellow Jonah Geffen; Mekusharim held a lunch and learn with BJ Rabbinic Fellow Adam Roffman; Tze’irim sponsored a wine and dessert reception; and a potluck dinner was shared by new members. During Hanukkah the Hevra Kadisha, new members, Mekusharim and BJ teens, BJ women’s group, and children between the ages for 4-6 gathered to light candles, sing, and, of course, eat latkes. We celebrated Israel’s birthday at a first-ever Upper West Side community celebration with the JCC; with guest speakers Ido Aharoni, Peter Beinart, Jeremy Ben-Ami, William Kristol, and Narimund Salimaan; with film screenings; hosting the delegation of women from our sister community in Israel at the Women’s Retreat; by walking in the Celebrate Israel parade and more!

Thank you We understand that each and every contribution made to our synagogue community is a terumat kodesh, a sacred gift. Every gift matters and is a meaningful contribution toward sustaining the community and providing for every member’s needs.

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PHOTO CREDITS: Cover: SarahMerians.com. Page 2: top, BJ archives; bottom, Denise Waxman. Page 3, top: Denise Waxman; bottom: Belinda Lasky. Page 4: top, Teri Bloom; bottom, Rabbi Marcelo Bronstein. Page 5: SarahMerians.com. Page 6: Denise Waxman. Page7: top; Kristen Kersey; bottom, Dara Schaefer. Page 8: top, Harriet R. Goren; bottom, Shoshi Rosenbaum. Page 9: top, Belinda Lasky; bottom, unknown. Page 10, top: Jon Wood; bottom, Kristen Kersey. Page 11: top, Kristen Kersey; bottom, Belinda Lasky. Page 12, clockwise from top: Oriyan and Jonathan Schwartz, Shoshi Rosenbaum and Kristen Kersey, unknown, unknown, Belinda Lasky, Mindy Schachtman, Belinda Lasky, Tom Zuback, Kristen Kersey, Belinda Lasky.

This booklet is printed using soy-based inks on 50% recycled paper by an online, eco-friendly printer at a substantial cost saving compared to traditional printing methods.

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2109 Broadway, Suite 203, New York, NY 10023-2106 tel: 212.787.7600 fax: 212.496.7600 web: www.bj.org


Annual Highlight 2011-2012/5772