We realized very early on that in order to help fund the cost of maintaining a new sanctuary, we would need the support of a good caterer. As it turned out, we have one of the best, if not the best caterers in the State, as anyone who's attended an affair here can tell you. Evan Bernstein, who is the owner and hands on operator of Classical Caterers, has to compete with numerous establishments that don't have to be Kosher and don't have to wait until sundown on a saturday... So, each year he takes a significant percentage of his profits and reinvests in upgrades to make this place more appealing because, he knows it's the right thing to do to help his business.
We have a very good relationship with Evan, I have helped him over the years and he often goes out of his way to help B'nai Tikvah whenever I asked. But I have a big problem with the caterer... and it's not his fault. And that is.. people who don't have an understanding of our financial situation, visit this beautiful complex and assume we must be doing very well and we don't need their money. Well. They're half right. We are doing very well with an energized Religious School, an abundance of religious and social activities, and a growing Nursery School in spite of the fact that daycare centers are popping up all over the neighborhood. We are doing very well but, we definitely do need their money just to maintain our infrastructure. And we want them to give it because it's the right thing to do.
Now, I was thinking when writing this speech, that it should be less about money and more about what this congregation means to you and what you mean to this community. And I would like to publically thank and name every family and individual who donates their precious time and resources. But, how can I possibly do that without acknowledging Ruth Anne Koenick, and all the presidents before her, the entire Board of Directors, both past and present, and get it all done in less than 5 minutes? So I conferred with the great philosopher, Dilbert, and here's what we came up with....
I'd like everyone to imagine and get a clear picture in your mind of me coming around to you and thanking you for the things you know you've done for B'nai Tikvah in all the years we've been here for each other.... Now you do that while I just read off the names of the 6 families who didn't do nuthin....
Now, I know something about doing nuthin. Because, when Bobby and I lived in Queens... that's exactly what I did. Nothin. Bobby was active in our local synagogue but, I hardly ever went there. But, one time she dragged me to a megillah reading, and I had a really bad experience. They called each person in the sanctuary to read a few lines in Hebrew, and I was trying to hide behind the person in front of me because I couldn't do it. But they spotted me anyway. In those days, when they sang Alenu, I thought "lifney melech" meant "lift your head". I mean, I was so embarrassed and I never went back. But Bobby had friends there... so, we remained members and paid our dues because it was the right thing to do.
But, I want to go back to the late 60's for a moment and reflect on how our society has changed since then, at least from my perspective. Because back then... Social and economic life was quite different. Most of us got married in our early twenties.., most of us grew up in a family consisting of one breadwinner and a corresponding homemaker,.. and most of us expected to retire at the age of 65 on a fixed income of coupon bonds and social security. It was quite natural, and made sense, for businesses and municipalities to provide economic discounts and other incentives to keep the senior citizens in the mainstream.
I look back at the Vietnam war, the gas crisis of 1974 and the resulting inflation that continues to this day, requiring most of us to have two incomes per household with much of the “homemaker's” work aided thru assistance in the form of daycare... cleaning services... fast food..., and technology that we didn't have or need back then. The model of a typical 65 year old couple, living on a limited fixed income, has been turned upside down. Now, there are some families in this room with two incomes that can't make ends meet, and there's others like me who don't view retirement as a viable lifestyle. I wasn't going to wait like my friend, Aaron, to be 90 years old before having enough free time to jump out of an airplane.
For many of us, it's not easy being a member of a synagogue these days because of the economy. But I'm here to tell you, that if you're thinking of quitting because it's too much?... I urge you to call upon our Financial officer, Mark Kasdin, (ask Mark to stand and address him)... You've been part of B'nai Tikvah as long as I have and I know your picture is on the website, along with the other officers and board members but, I want to make sure people know who you are. Thanks Mark.
I can guarantee that Mark will listen to you with compassion and in confidence. You are a part of our community, our family, and we will never turn anyone away for economic reasons. And as Mark can tell you, when B'nai Tikvah was founded in 1981, we made it clear we would not follow the model of other congregations that base their dues structure on someone's ability to pay. Therefore, we decided on a fixed dues amount and provided brackets for single members and retired seniors. But, as I just mentioned, these categories no longer automatically equate to one's ability to pay.
Our society, in my opinion, hasn't really addressed this yet. I'm 67 years old with significant resources, and yet I can take in a movie at a 50% discount, I can buy a half price bus ticket to NYC, yeah and I take them for a ride. I'm also entitled to a reduction in my synagogue dues, if I so elect. Taking the discount and looking to do things the cheapest way possible, is a natural instinct. Often, it's a wise thing to do. But, sometimes, especially at this time of year, we have to look at our situation more objectively. There's a difference between a movie theater (where it's perfectly appropriate to take the discounts offered) and a synagogue (which should benefit from all the discounts that we take elsewhere!). I personally chose not to take the B'nai Tikvah discount, when I turned 65 precisely because I felt it undignified not to support this institution as much as I could, just because some artificial number allows me to. I can only suggest to others in my position to do the same because it's the right thing to do.
When I accepted this role as President, I sought advice from several friends. Most of them just said "be yourself". I said "what choice do I have? Everyone else is already taken." But, the best advice I was given was that all I had to do was be sincere. and once I learn to fake that, I'd have it made. The problem is... we can't fake our way out of our financial situation.
Thanks to the tremendous efforts of our leadership, past and present, and volunteer efforts too numerous to mention, we have worked hard to kept our costs down for health insurance, salaries, and maintenance. We have recently taken significant steps to make repairs to our infrastructure that were long overdue, using State and utility rebates, where available, to further reduce the long-term costs of running this complex.
At our last board meeting, we discussed the new lights in the parking lot, the drainage system, the plumbing systems, the gas utility system, and even the new lines in the parking lot. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the work of David Cukor who has been shouldering the main load for me, as I once did when Danny Greenberg was president. What goes around truly comes around. Thank you Dave.
The new upgrades to our outdoor lighting require less maintenance and provide lower operating costs in the short term. But, we still have 13 years to go on our mortgage, major repairs still need to be made to our infrastructure, and the roof over the nursery school wing has far exceeded its 25 year expected life span.
So, I stand here before you, and ask with all sincerity, that in spite of these hard economic times, in whatever position you find yourselves, that you get a clear picture in your mind of your real economic situation, as you imagine what you are prepared to give..... If you can see your way to reach even one notch higher, it would go a long way to insure the survival of this institution and help us provide the service you deserve. Because it's the right thing to do.