2013 Annual Meeting

Bobby Lapin, President, Board of Trustees

State of the Congregation:

                Our Bylaws command that, as part of the Annual Meeting agenda, the president deliver a report on the state of the congregation. Would that all of my responsibilities could be discharged so easily. Ladies and gentlemen, I can unabashedly and without equivocation share with you that the state of our congregation is strong. And, not only that, if I may borrow from the parlance of modern economists, almost all of our key leading indicators are positive and ascendant.

                We’ve already heard from Larry Margolis that our balance sheet is solid and that we continue to prudently and conservatively (and for those who know me — that’s not a word which frequently passes my lips) operate within our fiscal means.  In large measure this is due to the strict scrutiny and watchful oversight of our Executive Committee. However, the lion’s share of credit for this belongs to our Chief Financial Officer, Michael Jenkins. Michael, would you please stand and accept our thanks for all of your dedicated and hard work. I’ve often thought that if Congress would simply hire Michael, words like deficit, sequester and stalemate would quickly disappear to the ashbin of history. Happily for us, he doesn’t begin to have the patience for all their mishegas in Washington, so no risk of their stealing him away.

                We also know that, every time we or our guests walk into this beautiful facility for any meeting, service, celebration or program, it is pristinely clean and ready for the event. We know that, as with tonight, we will be greeted warmly, cared for and well fed and that, after we’ve all left and returned to the comfort of our homes, however long it takes for the chairs and tables to be stored, or for the balloons or confetti or stains to be cleaned up, that work is timely done and with great pride. Needless to say, we should not — and do not — take this for granted. So:

                  —To Patrick Colbert, Willis Patterson and their maintenance staff who care so much for each square foot of our campus, I offer a collective thank you.

                  —to Marsha Gilbert and her kitchen crew who feed us almost as well as one of my grandmothers and, frankly, a little better than my other one, we say thank you.

                  —There are many others on our staff team who, whether at the front desk, in membership services, in accounting, in our library or gift shop — indeed in each nook and cranny of our Congregation — serve us and our guests needs with courtesy, with warmth and with quality, and because time won’t allow me the pleasure of calling them out by name, let me simply ask each member of our staff here to please stand and accept our continued thanks for caring for all of us so well.

                  —of course, guiding our staff and setting the tone is our Executive Director, Kathy Knott. I’m reminded that Pat Riley, a successful NBA coach, once was quoted as saying that: “to achieve long term success in any position of leadership, you have to be obsessed in some way and, as many of us know, Kathy is obsessed with making the membership experience for each one of us a welcoming, comfortable and successful one, regardless of our dues paying level. Whether she is in our foyer greeting members and guests each Shabbat or working the phones with law enforcement after hours when we’ve received a bomb threat, Kathy is 24/7 committed to the stewardship of this place and of its members and staff. Kathy — because of your commitment, the state of our congregation is strong, and we thank you.

                I wish the time allowed me to give justice to all that happens here daily or weekly and which further illustrates the vitality and breadth of Beth Israel. Happily, you can — and do — see it for yourself.

                  —Walk down the halls of The Shlenker School and see how, daily, Ricki Komiss and her team are creating and educating a generation of Jews who, while exceptionally cute now, will surely be running our community — and this synagogue — in the years to come;

                  —Stop off at our beautiful new Miriam Browning Jewish Learning Center offices and learn how Barbara Garber and her staff face the weekly challenge of helping almost 300 religious school students make a meaningful and lasting connection to their faith and their synagogue;

                  —Poke your head in the Margolis Gallery and see a new exhibit highlighting the magnificent permanent collection of art which this congregation owns;

                  —sneak a peek in the Gift Shop and you’ll find not only beautiful Judaica, but likely a huddle involving Sabria Lewis or one of her Sisterhood cohorts planning or executing any one of the many unheralded services which Sisterhood provides for all of us.

                  —Indeed, you could walk into any number of our spaces on a weekly basis and find first rate adult education or Torah study, or groups of volunteers planning our next Tikkun Olam project to ensure that we at Beth Israel never lose sight of the fact that, throughout our history, we have never forgotten that we are of, by and for not just ourselves, but for our greater Houston community as well.

                  —and, for those who cannot come here and avail themselves of what is happening within our four walls — or is it 40 walls — Beth Israel’s services and presentations are now just a click away on their computers, i-pads or smartphones. Thanks to the Burke Family Technology grant and the leadership of Joan Gelfond, every service or program in our sanctuary or chapel can now be live streamed or made accessible on line.

                I’ll bet our forebears back in 1913 couldn’t have dreamed of such a thing.

                All of this should make all of us very proud. Do we have important and significant challenges ahead? You bet.

                  —Barry Lewis and his cohorts on our Endowment Board have told us that our endowment is woefully inadequate for a congregation of our stature and needs, and our legacy giving campaign has been launched to address that need. If this place has touched you at a meaningful time in your life and if you deem it worthy of being here in 2113 for our descendants, please consider making a provision for Beth Israel in your Will. Barry and his team can show you how easy it can be. Each one of us can have our own legacy.

                  —Other challenges command our attention:

                                                —we still have over $2 million in long term debt we are working to eradicate, and we need your help to do that.

                                                —we have no building maintenance fund — but we are working to create one, and we need your help to do that.

                We will meet these challenges, and we will overcome them? Of that I am certain? How can I be so sure? I can be sure because:

                  —we have a Board of Trustees, 30 strong, who give countless hours and priceless leadership to all of us year round. Our Trustees deliberate and determine the key policies which guide our operations, and they serve with inspiring dedication. Indeed, not one has ever said no to me when I’ve asked something of them;

                  —we have a committed corps of past presidents who never disengage and, time and time again, provide the bulwark of support and guidance when we — and I — need it most;

                  —we have 8 extraordinary volunteers who have stepped up to serve on our Executive Committee as officers and who, notwithstanding their exceedingly busy lives, make the time to make Beth Israel’s stewardship a priority in their lives. They give hundreds of hours each year to all facets of our operation and, most painful of all to them, they have to receive all my e-mails, participate in my conference calls, and endure my meetings.  Talk about deserving of hazard pay — to them I am especially grateful.

                So you see, it takes much more than a village to make for a vibrant, thriving Beth Israel. It takes all of them and all of you.

                And yet, at the end of the day, we all know the real reason why the state of our congregation is strong, and why our cup runneth over. It is because, as I am proud to say at any gathering, we have the finest clergy team any place, anywhere, bar none. Rabbi Lyon, Rabbi Scott, Rabbi Miller and Cantor Mutlu — the simple truth is that you are there for our most sublime needs:

                  —you help us appreciate and relish the context and majesty of a baby naming, a bar mitzvah, or the wedding canopy;

                  —you help us navigate the overwhelming grief of a profound loss and to find a way to return to the road of life afterwards;

                  —you teach us what it is about the special gift given to us at Sinai which is worthy of ingestion, contemplation and passage on to our children;

                  —you transform us to a special place with your insights, your beautiful music or, sometimes, a call for a moment of silence;

                  —and, you are — each of you — passionate about what you do and why you do it, imbued with good hearts and exemplary moral compasses.

                  —Would the four of you please stand for just a moment to allow us to do what we’re frequently tempted to do across the hall in the sanctuary but which decorum there forbids — and that is to offer our collective thanks for all you do for all of us.

                So, in June of 2013, the state of our congregation is strong, and the best is yet to come. Please continue to come along for the ride.

                Thank you.

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