This past March, you received a letter from Penny Shnay outlining the beginning of exploratory talks among the three South suburban congregations about the future of our community. In that letter we described how a small group of people started talking, decided that we as a community need to take control of our Jewish future. That small group expanded to include people from each of our three congregations.
We created a committee consisting of all of the congregation presidents, and a variety of other congregational leaders. Reflecting our hopeful spirit, we named our committee the Chavurah. In January we went to our congregation boards for official approval to continue talking. And then we sent the letter you received. Reaction to the letter was positive. People who commented mostly said that it was “about time”. A few people had reservations, but for the most part the reaction was positive.
As you all know, our community is shrinking. And none of us is getting any younger. But despite our size, we are a vibrant spiritual community unique in the Chicago area. We are a still-kicking Jewish community to be reckoned with. We don’t know what our future will bring, but one thing we do know is that we are all stronger when we work together.
We already have evidence of that strength in the results of the first year of our community Sunday school and Hebrew school, Beit AmiChai. The school was a long time coming, and working together was a good experience. We thank all those who worked on the school for their tireless efforts to create Beit AmiChai and get it off to a running start. Their work was rewarded this past year with a successful school year. Larger class sizes and increased social interaction have invigorated our students and our teachers. Being together with their Jewish peers is great for our children. As I said, we are all stronger when we work together
Over the past few years, we have also shared many events. We have CJC Shabbats four times per year. Our wonderful mini-grant programs, funded by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, and unique to the South Suburbs, draw participants from all segments of our community. We all now publicize each others activities and try to support each others fundraisers.
Since you received that letter in March, the Chavurah has met several more times, and I am speaking now to apprise you of our progress. My counterparts at the other congregations, Art Moeckler at Anshe Sholom & Steve Horowitz at Am Echad are giving this same speech today.
Mindful of the delicate nature of our endeavor, what we have been doing is talking and gathering data. We want to make sure we have actual data rather than anecdotal stories about what is happening in our community, so we looked through our temple and community demographics, both numbers and ages. We had a frank discussion about our three congregations’ budgets. We discussed at length what would most likely be roadblocks to success. We each talked about our personal vision for the best future for the south suburban Jewish community. While we each had slightly different visions of that best future, one thing on which we all agreed is that attempting to maintain the status quo by doing nothing is not a good option.
We now need to hear from YOU about YOUR vision of the best future for our south suburban Jewish community. Four weeks from tonight, on Monday October 12, at 7 pm, we will be holding focus groups within each congregation to talk about next steps. Please watch your mail or email for additional information, and please mark your calendars. Monday, October 12.
Bringing our three congregations closer together will not be easy. We do not know what form that relationship will take. Do we merge? Do we not merge? Do we try to come together as one congregation, or two congregations, or three congregations under one roof? If yes, is that roof here at Anshe Sholom or is at BYBS? Or is it at a location as yet undiscovered? If we decide to come together, under one roof at a new location, in what neighborhood would that be? We clearly have a lot to talk about!
As I said before, we have discussed the pros and cons of maintaining the status quo, and have come to the conclusion that doing nothing is not a good option. The rest is up to all of us.
Thank you and shana tova!
Carole Fefferman, BYBS President