Message from Temple President, Sara Klein
Over the last few weeks as I prepared my remarks for this evening, I would occasionally get advice from my husband in the form of subtle asides or texts, always….a l w a y s…….. with the same four words. “You can do this!” – maybe — or “Remember to speak slowly!” No, the four words that my darling Tom lovingly and so wisely whispered in my ear for tonight were… ”let me be brief”
My name is Sara Klein, and since November of last year I have had the nearly daily pleasure of serving as Temple Sinai’s 50th President, and also a bit surprisingly as its first President, in all of that time, who is a convert to Judaism. My husband Tom, my children Will and Julia and I have been members of this community since 1999. Second only to my family, Temple Sinai is my home, it is my comfort and my joy.
My most obvious job tonight is to deliver a kind of “State of the Temple” speech, to give you a good sense of how the synagogue is doing, both in its operations and in its finances. And I have to say, that perhaps to the envy of some dear friends who have stood in this same place before me, rarely in the history of Temple Sinai has a president had an easier job of delivering this kind of report. Because in contrast to the turmoil that surrounds our civic and political life in 2018, thankfully at Temple Sinai we have had a year of relative peace and prosperity. Consequently, in this part of my remarks at least … let me be brief.
Let’s start by acknowledging something about Temple Sinai that everyone understands but that cannot be said often enough: We have a truly stellar team of professionals that comprise our senior staff, individuals who are recognized as leaders in their fields and whom we are so very lucky to have serving our community.
Under the leadership of our outstanding Senior Rabbi, Jackie Mates-Muchin, Temple Sinai is thriving in its operations and its programs. As of this past Friday, our current dues-paying membership is 901 families, which represents a high water mark for congregants renewing this early in the fiscal year. Rabbi Mates-Muchin works harder at her calling than anyone I know, and has dedicated her life to this synagogue and its congregants. In addition to everything she does as Senior Rabbi, the leadership she shows every day, the burdens she shares with so many of us, she is also developing relationships with civic leaders beyond our Temple walls, ties that will no doubt be fruitful as Oakland grows straight up into the sky around us.
Cantor Ilene Keys is, simply, the exquisite sound of Temple Sinai. We are in awe of the artistic beauty and professionalism that she has brought to us for 23 years. Entire generations of Temple Sinai congregants have grown up knowing nothing but the pureness of her voice as they are called each year to take stock of their lives.
And what a stroke of luck we had when we hired Rabbi Yoni Regev as our Assistant Rabbi four years ago! We are blessed with his wisdom, his wicked sense of humor and his mad administrative skills. A lesser-known fact about Rabbi Regev is the extent of his connections in the wider Reform Movement. When I attended the 2017 Biennial in Boston last December, I got a taste of this when it was quite literally impossible to walk with him for more than 10 feet without being stopped by yet another friend or acquaintance, rabbis and Reform Jewish community leaders from all over the world.
I’d like to pause here to remember our longstanding Clergy Assistant Maureen Logan, whom we were heartbroken to lose only a few days ago. Maureen helped all of us in obvious and in less obvious ways, and we will miss her terribly. We have named the sacred garden outside of Albers Chapel after Maureen. May her memory be an eternal blessing to all of us.
Dorian Farrow is a gift to our community and has brought an astonishingly high level of administrative and financial rigor to Temple Sinai’s operations. Dorian and I work closely together, and I am continually impressed by his energy, his creativity and his sense of urgency to get it right.
The Temple Sinai David Pregerson preschool is thriving under the patient and incredibly wise leadership of Ellen Lefkowitz. It’s sobering to understand the daily intricacies that are involved in running a large preschool. Ours could not be in better hands. Our interim Director of Education, Rabbi Lisa Levenberg, has started the year with tremendous energy and enthusiasm, and we are incredibly lucky to have such an experienced educator lead our religious school this year. We have formed a committee, co-‐chaired by Christina Greenberg and Andrew Shear, that will soon begin the search for our settled Director of Education, who will start next July. As always with senior staff searches, we will seek input from all of you on the strengths and attributes that we should seek in this person, and we look forward to hearing from you.
In addition to senior staff, we are equally blessed with talented administrative staff, and so many dedicated preschool and religious school teachers, including people like Michele Quiat and Rhonda Hartman who have served Temple Sinai so beautifully for many, many years.
I am especially happy to report that Temple Sinai is more financially sound than it has been in a long time. Over the past three years, our Finance Committee, led by our exceptionally talented and hardworking Treasurer Jon Braslaw and our Executive Director Dorian Farrow, have worked very hard on two specific goals: the first was to reduce the mortgage debt we took on in the mid-‐2000s to build our new facility, and the second was to improve our day to day financial management so that we could avoid the budget deficits that had plagued the Temple for several years.
We have made very significant progress on both goals. Our mortgage debt, which at its peak of $7.6 million in 2010 presented a clear and present threat to our operations, is now at a very manageable balance of just over $2 million, an amount that we expect will go down to around $1.3 million once amounts that have been pledged but are not yet collected come in. This happy situation is the result of the hard work and generosity of so many people who both worked on and contributed to the Yesod campaign.
We have also dramatically improved our financial management. As I mentioned in my letter regarding dues, Dorian Farrow is tireless in his efforts to insure that each and every dollar contributed by our members is put the best possible use. This year’s budget is balanced and, for the first time in many years, provides a modest reserve to help us prepare for unexpected costs. Quite simply, Temple Sinai is both an excellent and an economically efficient place for you to invest in the Jewish community. Please keep this in mind when we ask for your help in the coming years to eliminate our remaining debt and provide an even more solid foundation for Temple Sinai’s future.
But for all of the successes of Temple Sinai, there are still so many opportunities we have to grow and to improve in this next year.
It is impossible to overstate the breadth of diversity, of circumstance, of background and of sheer talent that is represented by Temple Sinai congregants. In this room tonight are world-class physicians and teachers, exceptionally talented bakers, architects and builders, published authors and cartoonists. Thirteen-year-olds who will surely save the world. A woman who devotes almost all of her unsleeping hours to helping others and to creating in the rest of us a sense of urgency to do the same, who greets the homeless of Oakland by name. A 71-year-old man who walked – who walked – across the United States and delighted and amazed us with his daily adventures. There are people in this room whose means will vastly exceed their greatgreat-grandchildren’s needs. And there are people in this room who struggle each day to afford rent and enough food for themselves and their kids.
It is beshert, it is meant to be, that we find ourselves all together at this place and at this time. My prayer for all of us this year is that we work hard to become more connected to each other. Temple Sinai should be, even more than it is today, a place where we expect to rush, not walk, to each other’s side, as a matter of sheer reflex, when someone is in need of help. For every person in this room who needs a job, there is another person in this room who has a perfect job or knows someone who does. Let’s consider ourselves to be a giant jigsaw puzzle, where one piece has something that exactly fits the requirements of the other piece.
How will we do this? Here’s just a small example. One evening last April, eight members of our youth group SiTY took a stroll around the synagogue with their teacher, congregant Denise Jacobson, and discovered a number of ways that our facility does not work for people with disabilities. Water fountains that don’t work well. Siddurim in Braille and assisted listening devices that are hard or impossible to locate, navigation challenges in our parking lot. The students then wrote a letter to the Temple Sinai Board describing these problems and their proposals for fixing them. Denise was the missing puzzle piece for her students; she helped them see with new eyes. Her students were, in turn, the missing piece for me and for other community leaders, and more importantly for those congregants who will benefit from their suggestions. I want to publicly thank you, Naomi, Zach, Jackson, Blaise, Ava, Emma, Sophia, Nathan, Denise and Sue for being that missing piece for the rest of us.
Finding our missing puzzle pieces will require us to become radically more curious about each other. My challenge to each of you is to make one new Temple connection this year. This person does not have to become your new best friend. In fact, it might be better if this were someone you wouldn’t ordinarily approach, someone you wouldn’t ordinarily hang out with, someone who seems different from you. Who knows which missing puzzle piece they have for you, and which one you have for them. You might start on this project by joining together with us on October 14th through October 21st for a concentrated week of conversations in congregants’ homes and at Temple. There will be more information available about these conversations soon. If you have other ideas about ways we can become closer and help each other more, please email me.
I have to end with tremendous gratitude. If I had the time to thank each congregant, each of you precious, whole and complicated human beings by name for what you bring to Temple Sinai, I would. Thank you so very much for your time, your talent, your calls, your money, your legal advice, your engineering advice, your critiques, your emails, your friendship. Thank you, in particular, to those of you who serve on Temple Sinai’s Board of Trustees and on its Executive Committee. The collective wisdom and the help that I receive from all of you is a daily blessing.
I’m also so grateful for the experience of this job. What’s it like to be President? I get asked that a lot. People sometimes react with “my condolences” or “isn’t that an impossible job” or “how can you do that and also work full-time”. Well let me break some myths. This job is an honor, it is endlessly interesting, never ever boring, like any job that’s worthy of one’s time, occasionally frightening and sleep-depriving, but above all truly rewarding in a way that is hard to describe. I recommend it highly. If anyone ever asks whether you want to be President of Temple Sinai, particularly if you are lucky enough to be surrounded by the clergy and staff, congregants and lay leaders who surround me, your answer is yes.
May each one of us enjoy a healthy and peaceful 5779, and may we continue to strengthen the ties among all of us.