Honor the Past & Embrace the Future Temple Leadership & Covid-19 Update

Dear Temple Family,

We hope this email finds you well and safe. As a follow-up to our Annual Congregational Meeting last month and with summer in full swing, the clergy and Leadership Team want to continue to keep you updated on what is happening at Temple Emanu-El.

As you can imagine, the first half of 2020 has proved itself difficult and painful. The Covid-19 pandemic forced us to change completely our way of life and worship experience. Despite these challenges, Temple-Emanu-El remains a vital and vibrant institution and will always strive to enhance our Judaism, as well as serve as a sacred light to our community. We have not wavered in our intention to serve our congregational family, the Jewish people, and the city of Birmingham. The level of enthusiasm and engagement in our services, programs, and classes over the past few months has been remarkable. During times of uncertainty and adversity, being part of the Temple Emanu-El family helps us all to find meaning and continue building lasting Jewish experiences. We cannot thank you enough for your ongoing support.

Though we hoped to open the building for in-person worship in mid-July, our Physician Task Force recently advised us to continue to pause in-person worship experiences indefinitely because of the recent increase of Covid-19 infections. While Temple Emanu-El remains open for necessary activities and meetings, all visitors are now required to wear masks and undergo a CDC recommended screening before entering the building. Furthermore, after extensive and thoughtful conversations, the Executive Committee and Clergy team have made the difficult and heartbreaking decision not to conduct any of our High Holy Day services, including Sukkot and Simchat Torah, in person. The Senior Staff and Clergy have already begun to build new exciting ways to expand and customize a virtual High Holy Day experience; we will conduct focus groups and surveys to ensure that our worship experience will complement our spiritualty and Jewish ethos. We will be inviting you to help us, by giving us your thoughts and ideas. Our goal is not just to create another webcast – but, with your input, to fully capture the meaning, the majesty and the holiness of our High Holy Days.

The great rabbi and physician, Moses Maimonides taught us, “Maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of God. Therefore, we must avoid that which harms the body and accustom ourselves to that which is helpful and helps the body become stronger.” We are obligated by the commandment, pikuah nefesh: safeguarding one’s life takes priority over everything.

In synagogue life, June traditionally signifies the end of our program year. The Clergy, Senior Staff, Board Leadership and our partners at the Grafman Endowment Fund generally spend time reflecting and planning for the upcoming year. During this time of planning, we evaluate our congregational needs and organizational structure, and especially staffing. In particular, we want you to know that:

July 1st marked an exciting time at Temple Emanu-El as Cantor Robert Wittner joined our Clergy team. In addition to his incredible musical talent, he is warm, engaging and has the innate ability to easily connect with all demographics.
Lynda Gutcheon returns as our Director of Education at the Gail & Jeffrey Bayer Religious School. Monika Singletary also returns as our Director of Engagement and Membership. Monika recently earned her master’s degree in Educational Leadership from The William Davidson School at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.
Executive Director Robin Gotlieb will not be returning following her medical leave of absence. Robin has served the congregation and Temple Emanu-El for a total of 16 years. Robin was instrumental in the development and growth of our congregation, and we thank her for her service.
Evaluating what is best for the future of our congregation, we have decided not to engage a new Executive Director. Rabbi Adam Wright will supervise all Temple operations. Thankfully, we already have outstanding personnel who will expand and lead in their respective portfolios. Monika Singletary will add to her current engagement responsibilities, now overseeing the supervision and coordination of membership relations and Temple communications. She will be assisted in her responsibilities by Kathryn Pautler.
The Leadership has named Danielle Barnett the Director of Finance and Accounting. The past year, as Accounts Manager, she has proven her strong leadership and financial acumen, especially during the pandemic and staff absences. Danielle will continue to collaborate with Jann Blitz at the Grafman Endowment Fund and implement the Temple’s policy of financial stability, forecasting, and transparency to our congregants.
Ben Singletary has been promoted to Facilities Manager, and will oversee the recruiting, on-boarding, training, scheduling, and supervision of all custodial personnel. He will monitor and negotiate supplier and vendor relationships, working in collaboration with Rabbi Wright, the Board Leadership and the Building Committee. He will also coordinate security services for our congregation.
Judy Edwards and Kathryn Pautler continue to excel in their support staff roles. Judy continues to support the Clergy team and Board Leadership, as well as serving as the staff administrator of the Gail and Jeffrey Bayer Religious School. As noted earlier, Kathryn will continue to help maintain daily synagogue operations and communications working closely with Monika Singletary.
We believe that this new organizational structure is the best path forward for our congregation. We will continue to evaluate our staffing and make changes if needed by evidence-based recommendations.

“Honor the Past and Embrace the Future” is our motto, appropriately defining how we plan to approach the coming year — with patience, determination and creativity. Together with your Temple and Grafman Endowment Fund leadership, the senior staff has already planned an amazing year filled with innovative programs, adult lecture series, and worship experiences. We will explore our intellectual curiosities through our love of Torah and loving-kindness will continue to permeate, not only our sacred walls but the city of Birmingham. And, always know that your congregational family will be here for you to catch your tears and assist you by word and deed.

Thank you for your continuing support, commitment and engagement during this pandemic and staff restructuring. Temple Emanu-El is 138 years old and has been through so much during its history. However, through it all we know that we can always take on a challenge because we are here for one another. As the Mishnah reminds us, “We are not incumbent to finish the duty, but neither are we free to neglect ourselves from it.” Let us together keep on doing our duty.

Respectfully yours,

Rabbi Adam M. Wright Robert Berman, President