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Updates from Robert Salston, Co-President

 

 

June 18, 2020  26 Sivan 5780

President's Address Delivered at the Congregational Meeting June 11, 2020

I will state the obvious: This has been a unique year not only for EBJC, but
also for the nation and the world. When Steve and I were elected this time
last year, we never could have anticipated how events would unfold. But
before we get into the current situation, I would like to look back at some of
the highlights and accomplishments of this synagogue over the past year.


The Jewish year begins with the High Holidays. We had some of the best
High Holiday services in memory. For the first time in almost 30 years, we
davened Musaf together on Rosh Ha Shannah and Yom Kippur as one
community. We thank Rabbi Pivo for his sermons and leading the services,
Cantor Larry for his breathtaking davening (no one will ever forget his
chanting of Hinenei), and all of the lay leaders who participated in services.
The chagim were successful despite the fact that our Succah could not
withstand the wind storm in mid October (at my own home, a tree limb fell
on our roof doing extensive damage to our home, but our Succah was
unharmed).


In December we celebrated Hanukkah with a laser light show with
participation from several local synagogues. Another rousing success. We
have had several communal Shabbat dinners. And on February 22nd, we
held our annual Gala honoring Mayor Dr. Brad Cohen. With attendance at
capacity, we were able to exceed our budgeted goal.


We continued this year with two minyanim each Shabbat morning, one
egalitarian, one traditional with full Torah readings in each minyan. How
many Conservative shuls do even one full reading each week? We have
had multiple congregants participate with Torah reading, Haftara chanting,
and davening, and several newcomers have stepped up to the plate to
begin participating in services.


On the financial end, we want to note that at the beginning of March, EBJC
was directly on budget. At that time, I began fantasizing about how this
year’s annual Congregational meeting would be one big celebration of all
we have accomplished together as a community. And then the world
stopped.
On Thursday night, March 12th, following the advice of our
Religious Committee, the clergy and presidents decided to suspend all
activities at EBJC. Just eighteen hours later, we held our first virtual
service, Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv on Microsoft Teams (thanks to Eric
Rabinowitz for sharing the platform, and to Steve Zeidwerg for obtaining
the hardware in record time). We have held Zoom services every day of
the week since then, and virtual attendance has been phenomenal. We
have managed to maintain a sense of community in times when we have
been on lockdown in our homes. We have also had adult education
classes almost every day of the week. Our preschool and Kesher teachers
have had virtual classes as well. We are beginning to explore the options
of opening our synagogue to live services, and I will comment more on that
at the close of this meeting.


It has been no secret that most religious institutions in our country have
been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some experts have
predicted that 20% of those institutions will be forced to permanently close
their doors as a consequence. When I spoke to you last year after being
elected as your co-president, I felt it important to state that I had no
intention of turning this shul completely egalitarian. I did this because there
was a perception among some in the synagogue that I had an agenda.
And, truth be told, I do have an agenda. My agenda (which is also shared
by Steve Zeidwerg and our Board of Directors) is to assure the survival of
EBJC.


Since the middle of March our revenues have shrunk. After closing the
shul, rental income from our gymnasium has gone to zero. The same can
be said for the Church that rents out a room in our rug wing. The financial
crisis has been a burden on many of our members, some of whom have
been unable to keep up with their dues payments.


We have not stood idly by watching the ship sink. We immediately put a
moratorium on all non essential spending. The heat in our building has
been turned off to save on gas and electric costs. We have canceled
garbage collection and water bottle deliveries. We have furloughed many
of our employees and have reduced several full time employees to part
time. I have to note that I take no pleasure in telling you this. Our
employees have been very loyal and we appreciate all that they do for us,
but we were forced, as many businesses have been, to take this drastic
step.


We spoke to TD bank which holds our mortgage. They have allowed us to
defer mortgage payments for 3 months (and we are in negotiations with
them to extend this for another 3 months). The deferred payments will be
tacked on to the end of our loan.


We have applied for and received a Payroll Protection Loan from the Small
Business Association. Most, if not all of the proceeds of this loan will be
forgiven. We have applied for a second significant loan with 0% interest
with payback over 3 years from the Jewish Community Response and
Impact Fund, the JCRIF. We have also applied for a $10,000 grant from
the New Jersey Economic Development Administration. We have not had
an answer on either of the last two items I mentioned. We can hope for but
cannot assure a positive response.


This brings us to this year’s budget. There is a huge amount of uncertainty
in predicting our financial needs for the coming year. We have felt that the
prudent course of action is to plan for the worst case scenario and hope
that the actual outcome will be less bleak. This budget is an austerity
budget. Neil Kosher and Steve Zeidwerg will walk you through the
assumptions they used in drawing up this budget. They will explain why a
one time COVID-19 assessment had to be made. This budget was
overwhelmingly approved by our Board of Directors on Monday evening [June 8th].
Nobody was happy about the assessment, but the Board felt that this was
the prudent thing to do to assure the survival of our shul.


There is no way to sugar coat this budget. But if you think about all the
ways this kahal serves our needs, both spiritual and communal, if you think
about how this community is there for each and every one of us to help
comfort us in times of trouble as well as to celebrate with us in times of joy,
if you love this synagogue and its members as much as I do, and I know
most of you do, then please vote to approve this budget.
May we, as a holy kahal, continue to go from strength to strength. And I
pray that you and all whom you love remain safe and healthy. It is an
honor to serve you. Shalom.

 

May 25, 2020  28 Iyar 5780

As most of you are aware, Governor Murphy is allowing religious institutions to begin having in person services with a maximum of 10 people present.  I want to reassure the congregation that, at the current time, we will not be opening our synagogue to in person services. We have already formed a committee of synagogue members who are physicians to help guide us in decisions regarding COVID-19.  This committee will be meeting in the near future to help develop guidelines that we will use when considering reopening. .  As always, the safety of our members, our clergy, and our staff will be paramount when making decisions.  We will not open until we deem it safe to do so.  Additionally, we are committed to continuing twice daily Zoom services indefinitely.  We will also keep the membership informed of developments.

 

 

May 18, 2020   24 Iyar 5780

The following is the article which will appear in the next issue of the Recorder.  Since some of the information may be outdated by the time the Recorder is published, I am including it here.

What has become clear to us is that the live streaming of daily services seven days a week (including Shabbat) has been enthusiastically received by many EBJC members. “Attendance” at our Zoom Shabbat services has attracted over 50 families each week. Many of our members have read a portion of the weekly parsha from a Chumash as well as have chanted the weekly Haftara on Zoom. We have already celebrated 3 B’nai Mitzvah and have attracted non-members who find our services spiritually uplifting. Yasher koach to Rabbi Pivo and Cantor Larry for providing us with an opportunity to daven “together alone.” And although we cannot have a virtual kiddush (though Steve Zeidwerg attempted to pass out gefilte fish through the computer screen a few weeks ago!) we have been able to virtually “hang out” after services wishing our friends a Shabbat Shalom, a Chag Sameach, a boker tov (good morning), or a laila tov (good evening). It has brought us joy to see our community remain as connected as it is. We would be remiss if we didn’t thank Jack Silverman as well for leading morning services.

 

At the time of this writing, it appears that cases of COVID-19 are on the wane in New Jersey. Governor Phil Murphy (along with the governors from New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Delaware) have been working together to coordinate the reopening of our economies. Some nonessential business will most likely be opening in the near future. So the question arises, how will this affect our services at EBJC, and how will we handle the High Holiday services? It has become apparent that EBJC has been among the leaders of Conservative synagogues in the planning and implementation of COVID 19 responses. We were in the first group of shuls to decide to close our physical plant as well as arrange for online services. Our parent organization, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, has scheduled a webinar on May 20th to discuss how synagogues can develop task forces to begin planning their High Holiday Services. EBJC has already formed such a task force and has been meeting for over three weeks to initiate planning (with the input from our Ritual Committee). In addition, the Rabbinical Assembly, the professional organization for rabbis in the Conservative movement, has sent a letter urging synagogues to be among the last organizations to open (especially because opening our synagogues to services with members present would create a temptation for the elderly or people with underlying medical conditions to attend services when they should not attend for their own safety--one of the very reasons EBJC decided to close as early as we did). They also recommended that synagogues develop committees of physicians to give informed medical advice relating to these issues. Again,we have such a committee already in place, and we will be relying on this committee to inform our decisions. The overriding factor guiding us will be the safety of our members, following the Jewish principle, pekuach nefesh, saving a life takes precedence over all other considerations.

 

Having said all this, it is important to state that even in the unlikely event that all restrictions are lifted, we are aware that many members would still not feel comfortable attending services in person. We will therefore continue to provide online services (including on the High Holidays) until such time as the risk of the COVID-19 pandemic is sufficiently mitigated so that even our at risk members could feel safe in returning to shul. We intend to have meaningful, spiritual High Holiday services available in some form, and we are committed to keeping our congregation informed on the progress of this planning.

 

We hope you and your families remain safe and healthy.

 

B’shalom

 

Bob Salston and Steve Zeidwerg

Co Presidents, EBJC

 

 

 

This year as we sit down at our Zoom sederim with fewer people present than in a typical year, it will seem strange and lonely.  As we begin reading the Magid (the telling of the Pasover story) section of the Haggadah, we recite Ha Lachma Anya.  We raise the matzah and say in English or Aramaic, "This is the bread of affliction which our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt."  It ends with the refrains,"Hashata hacha, l'shanna ha'ba'a b'ar'a D'Yis'rael.  Hashata av'dei, l'shanna ha-ba-a b'nei chorim."  Now we are here.  Next year may we observe Pesach in the land of Israel.  This year we are slaves.  Next year may we be free people.  The Talmud teaches us that when we tell the Passover story, we should tell it from the degradation to the glory.  The degradation of being slaves will with God's help, bring us to the glory of freedom.  In the dark days of the current plague of COVID-19 we feel degraded.  But we hope that God will bring us to the glory of redemption from this plague as God had done for our ancestors in Mitzrayim.  The Salston family will add a final line to the recitation this year.  Hashata babayit, l'shanna ha'ba'a b'yahad.  This year we are like prisoners in our homes.  Next year, with God's help, may we be together with our family and friends.  

On behalf of Liz, Michael, Jen, and Rachel, I wish our entire community Chag kasher v'sameach.  A kosher and happy holiday.  And I pray that our wonderful Kehilah will emerge from this current trouble b'sha'a tova (at it's proper time) and be able to pray together in person.  Until then, remember to shelter in place, wash your hands frequently, and don't touch your faces. wink

Mon, September 28 2020 10 Tishrei 5781