I hope this message finds you well. It has been a month since the COVID pandemic has impacted our lives, and I continue to find myself both thoughtful and longing for the ease-of-gathering that all of us took for granted just weeks ago. As this pandemic has affected both our personal and professional lives, Temple life and personnel have also sadly not been immune to the impact of this unprecedented event. While our building remains closed for routine gatherings, our clergy and professional staff continue to put considerable effort and energy into virtual gatherings and on-line resources that create novel opportunities for engagement and connection amongst our Temple family. Whether streaming Shabbat services, attending online Torah study or accessing web-based Passover resources, Temple leadership remains committed to creative approaches that keep us both connected and protected.
Your temple leadership remains uniquely committed to enhanced communication during this period of uncertainty. Over the past weeks, both the Temple’s board of directors and the Grafman Endowment board are in the act of placing phone calls to every single Temple family to ensure that they are safe and that they have the resources necessary to keep them healthy during this lengthy quarantine. To that end, I wanted to take a moment to bring our congregation up-to-date with several additional points of communication that feel overdue and important to know:
Cantor Robby Wittner: As previously communicated, Temple Emanu-El is thrilled to announce the addition of Cantor Robby Wittner to our Temple clergy. Cantor Wittner, and his wife, Alex, will join our Temple family in July, and we look forward to facilitating opportunities to introduce them both to our congregation in advance of their physical arrival this summer. Stay tuned for virtual opportunities to connect with this amazing vocal talent and wonderful, young couple. Heartfelt thanks and gratitude to the work of our Cantorial search committee for all of their efforts in finding such a wonderful complement to our professional team.
Annual Meeting: While our annual meeting was previously slated to occur on May 15th, in light of the likely current need for social distancing to extend into the early summer, the annual meeting has tentatively been rescheduled for Friday, June 12th. Whether this meeting will occur in-person or by-proxy is yet to be determined, and rescheduling/pushing-back the date of the annual meeting will allow for a more well-thought-out contingency plan if we are unable to meet in-person. We will certainly keep you updated about our plans related to this meeting and appreciate your understanding and flexibility with the decision-making process.
Temple Gala: It remains our heartfelt intention to reschedule our annual Gala at some point in the fall and specific reschedule dates and details will be forthcoming. We remain anxious and excited for the appropriate moment for our Temple family to celebrate our ability to reunite in our beautiful building once again.
Discovery School: At the March Temple Board Meeting, our Discovery School taskforce presented a motion to the Board with the difficult recommendation to close the Temple’s Discovery School permanently as of June 30, 2020. In short, the Discovery School has been facing significant financial challenges during this academic year. Our existing program had long prided itself on its ability to provide both full-time care as well as partial-week care that was customized to meet the needs of the individual families. The open-ended and fluctuating enrollment model that had previously worked, in combination with the need to strictly adhere to recommended student: teacher ratios, ultimately created a model where unless enrollment was over 65 students consistently, tuition from enrollment was not able to cover the necessary teacher salaries. This financial disparity was only made recently apparent as the Discovery School budget was more appropriately analyzed and dissected as a separate entity, apart from the general Temple budget, over the last two fiscal years. This decision has been an extremely difficult decision with every effort made to critically analyze opportunities to keep the school viable and operational. Temple leadership is all-too-aware that closure of our Discovery School will inevitably produce hardships on families and teachers who have been long-standing advocates and supporters, and we do not make this decision without an earnest belief that this decision is in the best interest of the Temple’s long-term viability, mission, and purpose.
The parents and staff were notified, by letter, of this decision on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. By the end of that week, the decision to temporarily close Discovery School because of the virus had been decided, as well. The school has been closed since March 16th. The Discovery School families paid tuition in March and partial tuition for the month of April, and as a result, we have been able to pay our teachers’ salaries during the last two months. The likelihood that pre-schools will be permitted/encouraged to re-open prior to June is looking less likely as we approach those summer months.
We have tried to serve both our congregational families and our larger community families with the highest standards of preschool education. Providing a high-quality, Jewish preschool experience to families with young children continues to fit with the mission and purpose of our Temple. It is our plan to reflect on lessons learned from the Discovery School, and re-evaluate how we can best provide this service in an intentional, thoughtful manner that is both designed for the needs of our families and sustainable for the Temple’s long-term support.
Federal Stimulus Package/PPP loan: When the stimulus package was announced, both the Temple and Grafman Endowment Fund promptly moved forward to apply for the stimulus-related funding to assist with staff salaries and overhead expenses. To date, despite getting all of our financial paperwork submitted within the appropriate timeline, neither the Temple nor GEF has received any guaranteed confirmation of funds related to the submission of our PPP loan/grant application.
Executive Director: Our executive director, Robin Gotlieb, remains out on excused leave through the next several weeks. Please direct any relevant questions or concerns to Kathryn Pautler at firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can ensure that the needs of our congregants are being addressed as accustomed.
We are here for you: Despite the unique set of circumstances, the Temple is doing everything we can to make ourselves accessible and available to our families. B’nai mitzvah lessons continue to occur online with our clergy using teleconferencing technology. Lifecycle events are being dealt with in an appropriate manner and pastoral services continue to be provided. We continue to broaden the array of online educational opportunities provided, and we are working to ensure that your Shabbat experience can be as meaningful in your home as it is when you are in Temple. Our administrative team is working in close collaboration with select Board members to help with budget forecasting under multiple scenarios, and we have implemented cost-cutting measures to control expenses while our facilities are closed. Your ongoing financial commitment to the Temple during these periods of uncertainty is critical now, as they have always been.
In the days to come, the Temple leadership, clergy, and staff will certainly be tasked with making additional decisions that attempt to address an uncertain future. Rest assured that every decision will continue to be made with the health and sustainability of our Temple and our congregation’s well-being as the foremost priorities. The board joins me in gratitude to all of the individuals who are involved in the front-line fight against this pandemic, and we hope that you are able to find some hidden blessings amongst your increased family time and mandated slow-down.
I apologize for the length of this message; it cannot be helped that there is much to discuss. Your temple leaders remain committed to their promise of transparency, dialogue, and communication despite the challenges of the day. I am available, as always, to discuss any concerns or issues that may need further clarification.
I wish each of you health and happiness wherever this message finds you.
Al Cohn, MD
President, Temple Emanu-El