Rabbi Joseph R. Black
Annual Report to the Congregation
Temple Emanuel, Denver CO
March 31, 2017
In the Jewish mystical tradition, numbers have important significance. The ancient practice of Gematria involves taking the numerical value of words and phrases and finding hidden meaning in these numbers. For the past 21 years I have utilized Gematria as I have compiled my report to the congregation at our annual meeting – finding meaning in the numerical value of the number of years we have been in existence. Since tonight is the 142st annual meeting of Temple Emanuel, I thought I would try to find some significance in the number 142. Looking into the Torah, I discovered that the Hebrew word, נִצָּב (Nitzav) adds up to 142. נִצָּב means standing at attention. The plural of נִצָּב is נִצָּבִים (Nitzavim). On Yom Kippur morning, in the Reform tradition, we read from the book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 29, verse 9:
אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם לִפְנֵי יְהוָֹה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶם
Ahtem Nitzavim, kulchem, lifnei Adonai Eloheychem
You are standing this day, all of you, before Adonai, Your God
This text reflects on a seminal moment in our ancient history when we, as a people united, gathered together to remember and affirm the sacred covenant between God and the People of Israel. But נִצָּב does not merely mean “Stand.” It means to stand at attention: prepared to act; anticipating a momentous and life-changing event that will impact everything we do and how we see the world.
- When we are about to embark on a new adventure – we stand – נִצָּבִים(Nitzavim)
- When we anticipate a major change in our lives – we stand נִצָּבִים
- When we become aware of God’s presence – we stand נִצָּבִים
The act of standing at attention does not mean that we refrain from moving ahead – it implies a willingness to look at ourselves and explore not only where we are going, but also taking stock in ourselves and measuring how far we have come along on our collective journey.
During the High Holy Days and throughout the course of the past year, we have stood together and focused on a key principle – that of
Honoring our past and celebrating our future.
We have had many opportunities these past 12 months to both look back and ahead as we build upon the solid foundations of those who have come before us while simultaneously planning for our future. What follows are some key highlights of a year of growth and renewal.
Staff Transition and Reorganization
While I will address each member of our professional team individually below, I want to begin with the acknowledgement of the fact that every member of our Senior Team has come on board during my tenure at Temple. This is an important statement because it means that the vision that I brought to Temple Emanuel when I was hired to be your new Sr. Rabbi is now being implemented by individuals who were all hired under the auspices of that vision. Everyone is on board and enthusiastic about the direction we are taking. While we all understand, cherish and celebrate the pathways that were forged that have allowed us to get where we are, we also are not beholden to them. We are free to evaluate and, when appropriate, to make changes to the ways things have been in the past. The phrase: “But we’ve always done it that way….” which can sometimes lead to stagnation and lack of growth, is no longer an impediment to cautious, visionary and serious reflective thinking and implementation.
In addition, the format that we implemented last year of reorganizing into three distinct Staff Teams: Clergy, Learning and Engagement and Operations has been very powerful and effective. We have increased both our efficiency and accountability while opening new avenues for communication and cooperation.
This past summer we held a retreat for all the members of our staff teams. We analyzed our Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) and set forth ambitious but manageable goals for this year. I am happy to report that not only is each team well on the way to meeting these goals, but the process of accomplishing them has been very healthy and inspiring.
New Additions and Programs At Temple Emanuel
Mishkan Ha Nefesh High Holy Day Prayerbooks
These past High Holy Days we successfully introduced our new Machzor (High Holy Day Prayerbook), Mishkan Ha Nefesh. Prior to its introduction, we spent several months working with a lay and professional task force where we explored the book together and experimented with different modalities of prayer. From all accounts received, the roll out of our new book went very well.
We have been blessed with a significant increase in the number of B’nai Mitzvah that will be celebrated in the very near future. Our numbers are rising so quickly that we will very soon be in the position of having more B’nai Mitzvah to celebrate than Shabbat mornings that can accommodate them. As such, we put together a task force to explore options for service timing. We came up with the decision to have two services on Shabbat mornings – one at 9:00 AM and the other at 11:30. In addition, we also decided to offer a community Israel Trip that is primarily (but not exclusively) aimed at B’nai mitzvah families. This summer, during the first two weeks of August, Cantor Sacks, Sue and I will be co-leading our first of what we expect will be a biennial Israel pilgrimage. We have 41 individuals signed up for the trip – during which we will celebrate 5 children who are becoming B’nai Mitzvah.
During the High Holy Days last Fall, I introduced Family Promise – a program where our congregation actively partners with other religious institutions in the community and the Family Promise staff to house and feed a small group of homeless families who are in transition from homelessness to stability. Under the capable leadership of Suzie Moss, Deb Herman and Sherry Stark, we gathered over 300 volunteers who wanted to help with the program. Our first group of guests arrived the week of February 12-19. By all accounts, it was a smashing success. Suzie, Deb and Sherry led an amazing corps of volunteers who did everything from helping to transform classrooms into bedrooms, schlepping beds and cooking meals, to sleeping overnight at Temple with our guests. I am very excited about the many possibilities for engagement, social justice and Tikkun Olam that this national program affords us. Special Kudos go out to our volunteers and leaders – Suzie, Deb and Sherry. Thank you for making my dream a reality!
Racial Justice Programming
Rabbi Immerman has been leading a group of congregants as they discuss issues of racial justice in our community. In the wake of his Rosh Hashanah sermon, we gathered together on Yom Kippur afternoon for a special program on the important topic of racial inequality. The South Social Hall was overflowing with people who wanted to learn more about this topic and continue a dialogue with the African American Community. Following this program, a Racial Justice Task-force was formed. This group continues to meet and we look forward to exciting new developments on this in the near future.
We are very excited about the progress that is being made at Shwayder Camp. Last summer, we installed two new cabins and we look forward to all of the camper’s cabins being in place before the beginning of this year’s camp season. Fundraising for all of our new facilities continues apace and we will soon unveil the final portion of this important campaign to maintain Shwayder Camp and ensure that the “Shwayder Magic” will live on for many more years to come.
Foster Early Learning Center
After a long period of visioning and planning for the future, we are re-imagining our Early Childhood Center. Under the capable leadership of Susan Wartchow and her team, there are many exciting changes in the works. In addition to looking at curricula and program offerings, we also have changed the name of our program to the Rabbi Steven Foster Early Learning Center. This is a fitting tribute to the vision of Rabbi Foster who understood how important it was for our congregation to meet the needs of families with young children and the vital importance of Earl;y Childhood Education in creating a sense of connection to the Jewish People. We have created a new logo with the tagline: “Where Discovery Meets Community.” In addition to our remodeled foyer that was designed to be a place where ECC parents can gather together and celebrate community (see below), we also have added programming for students as young as 12 months old. There are many more exciting changes in the works.
New Lobby Decor
Our president, Ellen Abrams, and Board member, Kelly Pfaff worked with Steve Stark, the ECC Leadership team and a design firm to spruce up our Forest Street Lobby. They wanted it to be brighter, family friendly and more conducive to gathering and schmoozing. New couches, tables and chairs were installed – as well as installing a welcome window for the Foster Early Learning Center. We also built a new welcome area for the front desk of the Temple Office.
Hospitality and Security
As part of our ongoing effort to create an atmosphere of “Audacious Hospitality,” a task force was created to explore signage and security at Temple. Many visible (and some not so visible) changes were made and more are in the works. We re-striped the parking lot and installed security cameras around the building. We also engaged the services of a security firm and we will have security guards in place this spring.
Rabbi Immerman continues to work closely with this important group of young adults in our community. In addition to monthly “Brews and Jews” programs that take place in local taverns around the city, Hineini Project members have become involved in many important areas of congregational life including Mitzvah Day, Family Promise, Shabbat and holiday worship and other educational and social events. They have engaged over 300 individuals over the course of the year.
Nashir Songleader Training
Working closely with the URJ and NFTY, Cantor Sacks and Steve Brodsky have been meeting with 7 Junior High and High School students to train them to be songleaders in our religious school and throughout the community. This is an exciting new program that we strongly believe will be an important part of building leadership and musical resources for years to come.
Programming for Multiple Demographics
A key goal that was identified over the course of this past summer at our team retreat was trying to create opportunities for multiple Demographics to become engaged at Temple. One example of this was our programming for Purim. We created opportunities for every age-group and demographic to become involved – from the youngest Early Learning Center students to adults who participated in a raucous cabaret featuring Temple members.
Artists and Scholars in Residence
We hosted many artists and scholars in residence this past year. Some highlights were:
· Penina Schram
· Billy Jonas
· Josh Feigelson
· David Broza
· Alan Goodis
· Joanie Leeds
· Admiral Herman Shelanski
Task Forces and Listening Campaigns
In order to discover best practices in engagement and program, we instituted multiple task forces to explore ways that we might improve our offerings to the community. These included:
· High Holiday Prayerbook Task Force
· Security and Hospitality Task Force
· B’nai Mitzvah Task Force
· Erev Shabbat Task Force
· Dues and Financial Sustainability Task Force
· Racial Justice Task Force
· Religious School 20/20 Vision Task Force
The work that these dedicated volunteers have invested and will continue to invest in our congregation will be seen in the months and years to come as we continually strive to achieve excellence.
Ongoing Clergy Responsibilities
As your Rabbi – I, along with my clergy partners, am privileged and sometimes burdened with the task of helping facilitate important transitions in the life of our congregation. We have celebrated new life and helped families cope with the loss of loved ones. We have stood under the Chuppah together and celebrated B’nai Mitzvah. We have worked with many eager students of Judaism who wanted to become Jews by Choice and celebrated conversion ceremonies together. The opportunity to share with you in these moments of transition continues to be one of the greatest joys of my rabbinate.
In addition to weekly torah and Talmud study, all member of the clergy team participate in Confirmation, Meals and Mitzvah, Religious School and ECC programming. We have taught about Israel and a myriad of topics throughout the course of the year. We work with every b’nai mitzvah family: with Cantor Sacks and Steve Brodsky working closely to prepare our students to lead the congregation in prayer and chant torah, while Rabbi Immerman and I work with students on preparing their Divrei Torah (Torah Interpretations) for the service. We also work extensively with Conversion Candidates.
We have met with many members of the community who are struggling with issues of spiritual growth. We work with couples preparing to get married. We provide a sounding board for adults and children who need help dealing with difficult situations and crises – guiding them to get the help that they need.
National and Regional Communal Involvement:
I was involved in the community in the following areas:
· RMRC (Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council). I am now the immediate Past President and serve on the Vaad (Executive Committee).
· House Chaplain – I continue to serve in the Colorado State House of Representatives – delivering a prayer every Thursday morning during the legislative session.
· Faith Spokesperson – I work with the Colorado Interfaith Alliance as a spokesperson for social justice.
· I serve on the Board of Jewish Colorado
· I serve on Governor Hickenlooper’s Clergy Advisory Council
· I serve on the ADL Board
· I continue to Teach for RMRC’s community-wide Introduction to Judaism program.
· Both Steve Brodsky and I continue to participate in the annual “Jews Do Jews” concert at Swallow Hill
· I participated in a Religious Pluralism Panel at Iliff Theological Seminary
· I performed a benefit concert for Habitat For Humanity Interfaith Alliance
· I continue to serve on Governor’s Hickenlooper’s Interfaith Clergy Advisory Panel
· I sit on the AIPAC National Council
· I served as scholar and artist in resident for the Woman of Reform Judaism’s Southwest Conference
· Two of my children’s books: Boker Tov and The Afikoman Mambo (both based on my original music and lyrics) continue to be part of the PJ Library rotation. This coming year, Boker Tov will be my first international PJ Library book as they expand into Britain and other English speaking countries around the world.
Lay Leadership Partners:
Ellen Abrams, our outgoing president has finishes her three year term next month. Ellen has been a true partner to me and the rest of our team. She cares deeply about Temple Emanuel and was very involved in many areas of our congregation. She oversaw and co-coordinated the badly-needed renewal of our Forest street foyer – working closely with Steve, Stark, Kelly Pfaff and the design team to create a warm and welcoming reception area. She was very involved in our annual fundraising concert and Shwayder campaign. Her attention to detail and ability to see the “big picture” have been invaluable traits that have enhanced our congregation and the greater Denver Jewish community. Ellen’s passionate dedication to our congregation has truly been a blessing.
I look forward to working with Mark Idelberg, our incoming president over the next 3 years. Mark is not only a dear friend, but he brings a tremendous amount of experience as past president of Hillel, our Temple Brotherhood and a keen insight into organizational dynamics that is coupled with a deep love of Judaism.
Our Board of Trustees continues to impress me with their overall dedication to our congregation. Their willingness to learn, grow and champion new and innovation initiatives – all the while celebrating the important traditions of Temple Emanuel – is a vital part of our continued growth and success.
As I mentioned above, the vast majority of our professional team have come on board during my tenure at Temple. I truly feel blessed to be able to partner with them on a daily basis. Together, we stand, נִצָּבִים – poised and ready to move ahead to even greater heights in the future.
Rabbi Steven Foster is a gift to me and our congregation. As Rabbi Emeritus, he is a constant source of support and encouragement. I appreciate his friendship, encouragement and partnership.
Steve Stark, my co-CEO and our Executive Director – brings a wealth of experience and dedication to his position. He shares our vision for a congregation that is not satisfied with being “ordinary” – he wants us all to rise up and find new avenues of excellence. He makes sure that all of us have the tools we need to serve our community while also ensuring that we are fiscally responsible. Steve’s warmth and mentshlichkeit are genuine and a wonderful reflection of our congregation’s values.
Sr. Cantor Elizabeth Sacks brings so many invaluable skills to Temple Emanuel that I am not able to enumerate them all due to lack of space and time. Not only does she possess a beautiful voice, but her overall knowledge of Torah, Rabbinics, Liturgy, Educational Philosophy and corporate management is invaluable to me and our entire team. Liz is a thoughtful and comprehensive teacher, a visionary in every aspect of our congregation and a true partner. We are so very fortunate to have her as an integral part of our team.
Rabbi Brian Immerman has continued to grow and flourish this past year. He continues to “tweak” our 10th grade Confirmation Curriculum – combining issues of Jewish Values and current events in a way that continues to challenge our students while providing them with a strong basis for making Jewish decisions in the future. As noted above, the Hineini project continues to grow and become more and more integral to our congregation. He has facilitated many listening projects – especially in our Religious School where we are now poised to move ahead with plans. His work for social justice – here in the congregation and out in the community is an important part of our overall vision for Tikkun Olam – repairing the world.
Steve Brodsky, our Cantoral Soloist and Music Director, has had a steep learning curve this past year. While he is no stranger to Temple (He has been a part of our congregation for the better part of the last 30+ years in various capacities), the experience of serving as a full time member of our clergy team has been new for him. I’m so thankful that he has not only taken his new role so seriously, but he has grown tremendously in the process. Together with Cantor Sacks, Steve has brought incredible energy into our worship and educational programs. The B’nai Mitzvah classes that the two of them teach are joyous, intense and filled to the brim. Our Nashir songleading training for youth will be a vital resource – not only for our congregation, but the community at large. Of course, Shabbat Unplugged, Rosh Hashanah Unplugged and Shema Koleynu are a testimony to Steve’s musical vision, but he works tireless behind the scenes making sure that every event has the equipment, sound and staging that we need. Steve’s genuine warmth and incredible work ethic enhance every part of our congregational life.
Zachary Rolf – Our Director of Learning and Engagement, is completing his first year at Temple. It’s hard to believe that he arrived last summer. He has become an integral part of our Sr. Staff Team. His warmth, charisma, hard work and energy have been a blessing to all of us. He has transformed our Religious School into a caring and exciting center of Educational Excellence. I am so excited about seeing what comes next!
Jodie Abrams – our Director of Shwayder Camp – continues to impress everyone she meets. Her ability to juggle managing camp while, at the same time, overseeing the installation of new cabins and facilities at Shwayder is truly spectacular. She has built a national reputation for herself and for Shwayder that is second to none. Her ability both hire and retain a superb camp staff is yet another example of her love to Shwayder and Temple Emanuel and her overall excellence.
Susan Wartchow – our ECC Director continues to weave her magic. The Rabbi Steven Foster Early Learning Center is an incredible place – full of energy and caring, learning and development. Her absolute dedication to the healthy growth of every child – along with parents and siblings – while earning the respect and devotion of her staff, families and the greater Denver ECC community is a blessing. In addition, Susan has shared her expertise in human development and educational philosophy with many other programs at Temple. She and her amazing team did an incredible job with the role-out and rededication of the ELC and we look forward to many exciting new developments in the near future.
Francie Miran, our Development Manager, continues to raise the bar for our fundraising efforts. With our Shwayder Campaign well under way, she and her committee of committed volunteers broke all records with our annual fundraising concert with Israeli superstar David Broza. She also coordinates our “Live On” Endowment campaign and many other projects. She is a loyal and long-time member of our congregation who gives of her time to lead our 5:30 service, chant Torah and lead in many other areas.
Sarah Brown, our Director of Adult Engagement, has more energy than anyone I’ve ever met! She works closely with many members of our professional team and lay leadership – helping to ensure that every program and event that involves membership is successful. Sarah was an integral part of the success of our first week of Family Promise hosting. She helped smooth out the rough edges as we learned the ins and outs of a new program and its implications on our facilities. She greets every new member with a smile and is a wonderful ambassador of our congregation to the community. Sarah also continues to teach in our 9th grade Confirmation program and has forged wonderful relationships with our students.
Julie Lucas, our bookkeeper, keeps us all in line with her laughter and enthusiasm. Her love for Temple and everyone involved in our congregation is a blessing for us all – and we love her in return.
Rita Dahlke, our religious school Assistant Principal and Librarian does a wonderful job making sure that everything is in place in our school programs. She and Zach have developed a wonderful working relationship and are busy planning for the future of our Religious School. Stay tuned!
Patricia Lackner, my administrative assistant has the unenviable task of managing my crazy schedule – as well as that of Rabbi Immerman and other members of the Senior Team - and keeping me organized. Her patience, persistence, professionalism and sense of humor mean the world to me.
Rayna Wandel, our Educational Assistant, keeps the religious school humming. She also is our Bulletin Editor – an often thankless task that involves chasing down errant clergy to hand in their articles on time….Her energy, enthusiasm and joy are truly a blessing.
Kathleen Holt serves as Steve Stark’s personal assistant and is a wonderful addition to our team. She works very hard and, in just a short time has become an integral part of everything we do.
Sura Veta, our receptionist, is the voice of Temple Emanuel – her warm welcome makes everyone feel at home the minute they call or step through our doors.
Cairo Lopez and the rest of the maintenance staff do an incredible job of keeping our building spotless and making sure that every service and program is set up.
Simi Adler, Assistant Director of Shwayder Camp, is moving on this summer. We will miss his hard work, integrity, love of Judaism, devotion to Shwayder and the Jewish people and strange sense of humor. We wish Simi only the best in all of his future endeavors.
Robyn Kaplan, Director of Youth Engagement, is also leaving us at the end of the year. Robyn has developed wonderful relationships with our young people. Her approachability, compassion, professionalism and joy have been an important part of our team. We will miss her and we wish her well as she moves on to new opportunities.
As we continue to Celebrate our Past and Move Into the Future, I am thankful for the opportunity to serve this holy community. Sue and I are truly blessed to be able to partner with all of you. Tonight we all stand – נִצָּבִים
- poised to enter into new opportunities for growth and renewal. Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of something so remarkable. Shabbat Shalom.