Dear Kerem Shalom Friends,
When COVID forced Kerem Shalom to close its building in March 2020, many of us wondered how we could be a “vibrant, inclusive, progressive Jewish community” if we didn’t have regular opportunities to meet in person. Indeed, a few months later, when the Board approved the budget for the upcoming year, no one knew what would happen when people were asked to renew their membership in a now-virtual synagogue.
I am writing today, almost two years later, to let you know the many ways that Kerem Shalom’s members and staff have more than met the challenges brought on by COVID and these tumultuous times.
Unfortunately, I have to begin with security, because in the wake of yet another antisemitic attack, this time in Colleyville, security may be at the top of your minds. Our work in this area actually predates the pandemic. Since 2018, when we created a Security Task Force after the Tree of Life synagogue shootings, we have taken many steps to make Kerem Shalom more secure, while still trying to ensure that we also continue to be a welcoming community. We successfully applied for a state grant that allowed us to install a more extensive security camera system, both inside and outside the building, and to install a shatter-resistant film covering on the many windows in our light-filled sanctuary. We have also changed the way that people enter the building—giving members key fobs for easy entry while creating an intercom and camera system to screen visitors and an emergency call button that allows for monitoring of the door during services and events. We have improved lighting in the parking lot. And we regularly speak with leaders of the Concord Police Department, which regularly patrol our parking lot and building.
While these are critically important steps, they are only a small part of a much larger story that I want to share with you. I’ll begin with our school. As many of you know, the “Reimagining Hebrew School” initiative launched by Rabbi Sam Pollak, our relatively new Director of Congregational Learning (who joined us after the pandemic began), has engaged the students and their parents in an exciting new curriculum that includes an entirely new approach to teaching Hebrew. In addition, thanks to that effort as well as the continued amazing work done by Nancy Kaplan, our long-time Family Engagement Specialist, enrollment in our Hebrew School grew this year, and there is even a waiting list for our kindergarten program!
While we have been holding in-person Hebrew School classes this year, we have had fewer opportunities for the rest of us to come together in person. However, thanks to significant improvements in our Wi-Fi and Internet capabilities as well as the deployment of an entirely new audio-visual system that grew out of work done by a Digital Futures working group, we have been able to meet both remotely and in hybrid settings.
As many of you know, Rabbi Darby and others have used these new systems to create meaningful and inspiring services. We have twice come together to celebrate the High Holy Days online. I suspect that, like me, you were surprised and delighted by the fact that these and other services were meaningful and moving—even without a nosh at an Oneg.
Similarly, thanks to the great work done by Rosalie Gerut, our Director of Adult Programming, and the many people on the Adult Programming Committee, our calendar is filled with a rich array of adult programs from Broth Hours to the Salon Series and the L.E.D. talks. Indeed, it would be hard to find a week without several interesting offerings, such as “The Torah in Space,” “From Shtetl to Ellis—The Untold Story,” and “From Near Destruction to a Second Life: How 1564 Czech Torahs Survived the Holocaust.” And that list doesn’t even include the ongoing programs and classes that touch on everything—from Judaic studies to book groups.
In addition, we have several robust task forces (open to all members). The Racial Justice Task Force meets weekly and is engaged in learning and acting. Our journey has taken us to a deeper understanding of the structural racism that permeates our country and has informed the actions we have been able to take. The task force has also helped organize a host of amazing events, which will be continuing this winter and spring.
Moreover, the newly created Immigration Task Force, which was created in response to the settlement of Afghan evacuees in our area, is collaborating with other faith-based groups to provide support to these new members of our community. Just this weekend, the Task Force carried out a successful furniture and furnishing drive that will aid Household Goods in helping the evacuees and others in the region. And an Antisemitism Task Force is currently in its embryonic stage, and our Social Action task force continues to collect food for local pantries in recognition of the food insecurity facing many of our neighbors.
Behind the scenes, our communications team has worked hard to streamline a process resulting in timely, consistent, and accurate information about all of our activities. Every Thursday, you receive a comprehensive “KS Weekly News” email that lets you know about the many activities without flooding your email inboxes with dozens of separate messages from KS. And if you miss the weekly email, you can always find up-to-date information about events and activities on our revamped Kerem Shalom website, which includes a greatly improved online calendar. In addition, thanks to the efforts of Jody Kotkin, our communications consultant, we are publicizing our events in a growing number of publications, websites, and social media groups focused on both Greater Boston’s Jewish community and on the residents of the many cities and towns served by Kerem Shalom. And, of course, the newly-created Adult Programming Newsletter regularly provides more detail about KS’s many AP offerings.
Our website also now includes a “Member Portal” section, where, thanks to the successful launch of our new CRM (Congregation Relations Management), you can easily find contact information for other members, make sure we have accurate information about the Yahrzeits for the people who touched your lives, and much more useful information. You can’t see it, but the CRM system also updates and greatly improves what had been Kerem Shalom’s outdated and ailing data systems.
Many people have contributed to the improved communications and data system. I particularly want to acknowledge the crucial role played by Robyn Barabe, our Temple Administrator, who, like Rabbi Sam, joined us during the full COVID lock-down. Both of them have beautifully integrated themselves into the Kerem Shalom community. I’m not sure how we would have managed without them.
There are also a host of encouraging and important things going on “behind the scenes.” If you’ve had an opportunity to come to the building in recent months, you may also have noticed that we have replaced, repaired, and updated many elements and critical systems in our 30-year old buildings. You may also have seen the work of the many volunteers and staff who have been carrying out “Operation Clean Sweep,” which has focused on cleaning out areas used for storage and getting rid of old and obsolete materials—an effort that has filled our dumpsters more than once. As a result of this work, we have created a drumming room, a teen room, a teacher’s resource room, more space for our expanding library, and a secure space to house new audio-visual equipment.
Less visible but no less important, our financial situation has been remarkably stable. After declining for several years, membership has stabilized at about 250 families and individuals. Thanks to prudent budgeting and careful management, our costs have not risen dramatically. We are grateful to our many members who stepped up with generous contributions. We have been able to reduce our outstanding mortgage balance, fund badly needed building repairs, and invest in new technology that allows us to provide remote and hybrid services and events. With the help of our Finance Committee, we have refinanced our smaller mortgage at a lower rate, which will further reduce our monthly mortgage payments. And we successfully applied for and received federal PPP funds, which have helped us to weather the COVID crisis. Thanks to all these actions, for the first time in at least many years, we have been able to create a “rainy day fund.”
I don’t know about you, but I think all of this activity is exhilarating and inspiring. It has been done by the staff and many volunteers who, working together, strengthen our community. But let’s not rest on our laurels as there is much more to be done.
Thank you to everyone who has, in large or small measure, helped to make all of this happen.