When I arrived at Shaare Zion twenty-two years ago, I was determined that should I be privileged to serve until my retirement, I would try to leave Shaare Zion even stronger and more vibrant than the congregation was in 1995. With the help of strong, committed lay leadership and a cohesive team of professional and support staff, I am generally satisfied with our collective accomplishments.

Now, however, is not the time to rehearse our accomplishments. Now is the time to see what work is left to be done in order to leave an even stronger structure on the foundation laid by Rabbi Maurice Cohen (z”l) and Hazzan Solomon Gisser (z”l) and the lay leadership with whom they were privileged to collaborate.

Let me begin with the religious and ritual dimension of Shaare Zion. During my tenure, we succeeded in becoming a fully egalitarian congregation, without relinquishing any aspect of our traditional content. We still maintain a minyan twice daily, three hundred and sixty-five days of the year. We continue to have fully traditional services, including full Torah readings, repetition of the Amidah and an unabridged Pesukei D’Zimra. What I still would like to accomplish is having more lay members engaged in services, by learning the synagogue skills of reading the Torah, chanting a Haftarah and leading part or all of each of the daily services. Training people and rehearsing with them is a labor-intensive task and will undoubtedly require us to engage some part-time staff with the flexibility to meet people after school, after work and on weekends.

Music is one of the hallmarks of Shaare Zion. Besides our long history of outstanding Hazzanim, we also have an equally long history of a professional performing choir. What I would still like to see is a non-professional singing chorale that learns both the congregational melodies of Shaare Zion, as well a repertoire of popular songs from the Carlebach tradition and the classics of the Israeli canon that can enliven Friday night Shabbat dinners, Simhat Torah, Hanukkah, Purim and Israel’s Independence Day.

Over the last five years, thanks to Cantor Stotland and Lishai Goldstein, we have made deep inroads in programming for moms and tots, for elementary school-age children and in our pre-B’nai Mitzvah Family Education Programme. There was a time when Shaare Zion also had a strong post B’nai Mitzvah programme that was part of International United Synagogue Youth or USY. Shaare Zion has re-affiliated with United Synagogue and I would like to see the rebirth of a vital High School youth organization, ideally affiliated with USY.

Three years ago, at the suggestion of one of our members, Lauren Cracower, we opened our first supplementary school class for children who attend public school. Now in our third year, we have three ongoing classes. What started out as an experiment has blossomed into a mini Hebrew School teaching Torah, prayer, holidays and history. Now the challenge is to do curriculum development as we create a real afternoon Talmud Torah at Shaare Zion for the first time in more than thirty years. Equally important is to prepare a parallel track for parents while they are waiting for their children. What do parents want to learn? What do they want to know? Running such a mini-school (now with over thirty students and likely to grow each year) with a parallel track for parents means engaging additional teachers and an educator who can both develop curriculum and supervise and lead a team of teachers.

Adult Education, continuing education for adults, is a core value and critical tenet of any synagogue. Not everyone wants to learn the same thing. Some want more basic classes. Others want peer learning. Some would like classes to be held in their homes. Some are free during the day. Others are only free at night. Our adult education committee led by Dr. Lon Dubinsky already provides an array of learning opportunities, some better attended than others, but struggles to offer enough variety within the limited constraints of our budget and the sometimes extensive demands placed on our limited staff. Teaching requires preparation and preparation requires time and it is the limits on available time that restrict what can be offered. Growing adult learning opportunities is yet another of my aspirations for leaving Shaare Zion on a stronger footing when I retire.

This, of course, is just part of the short list of what I believe needs to be done to strengthen Shaare Zion. Between now and the end of June, I invite you to share with me what you feel needs to happen to strengthen Shaare Zion. Already, through our Board, there are three “think tanks” working on such topics as Social Action Tikkun Olam projects and Youth engagement. As we learn in Perkei Avot, none of us is obligated to finish the work, but we can never stop trying to get a little bit more of the task completed.

Best wishes for a warm and refreshing summer.

 

 

Rabbi Lionel E. Moses