CAt the Annual Meeting on Wednesday, June 5, Incoming President Shirley Davidoff shared her vision for the next two years. Here are Shirley's remarks:
Thank you. It is truly an honor to be the 58th President of Congregation Shearith Israel, following many other dedicated leaders of this synagogue. I want to specifically thank those Presidents who onboarded me to the path of Presidency—Sharon Levin, Todd Chanon, Gail Mizrahi and Jack Jacobsen. And Jack, it has been an honor to be your Executive Vice President and thank you for your leadership.
Little did I know, growing up in Galveston, that I would be following in the footsteps of my parents, Frances and Elihu (Chuck) Klein, of blessed memory, to become a synagogue president. Both my parents were President of Congregation Beth Jacob, our Conservative synagogue, and they individually or collectively were presidents of medical staff and auxiliary organizations, numerous Jewish organizations, and served on both community and nonprofit boards. I saw firsthand how they cared for others and how their commitment positively impacted our Jewish and non-Jewish community. Their leadership, volunteerism and philanthropy shaped my values and I am standing here tonight because they led by example.
I’d like to thank my husband—no—it is not Mark Davidoff—Mark is married to Tina and he is actually my uncle—Bill is my husband. Bill and I met the first day of college moving into a dorm at UT and since that moment he has been my constant supporter who understands my involvement and need for a strong sense of purpose. I am extremely grateful for our partnership and love.
I want to thank my other husbands—yes, I have a work husband Chuck Levin and two shul husbands, Jack Jacobsen and Irving Prengler.
Chuck, you’ve done this before with Sharon, your real wife, so this will be much easier. Thank you in advance and I appreciate your support.
Jack and Irving, my shul husbands, it’s been wonderful working with you—you both are true mensches and dear friends.
Jack—good news—Mark is stepping up as a shul husband so you are now off the hook.
Mark—welcome to the “family” and I’m thrilled to lead this congregation with you and Irving. With the two of you as doctors, and me as a nurse practitioner, I feel confident the “health” of our congregation is in good hands.
I want to thank my children, Eric and Kayla and Jeremy and Tina for being here tonight. I am extremely lucky to have raised two wonderful sons and I now get to nurture two wonderful daughters. I am proud to stand here as your mother so that you see how giving back to an organization is a good investment of time and resources as it can greatly impact and strengthen you personally.
And I want to thank each of you, from the professional staff, to you as congregants.
Thank you to our Klei Kodesh, (Rabbis Sunshine, Wallach and Roffman, Cantor Zhrebker and Avi Mitzner) for your dedication and commitment to move us spiritually, educationally and emotionally. You are true partners that raise us up and steer us on our Jewish journey.
Thank you to Kim West, our COO, and the entire Shearith staff, who work in front of, and behind the scenes, engaging us in programs, teaching us and our children in creative and thoughtful ways, communicating our strengths internally and out to the community, assisting and supporting each other’s work, tracking our budget, greeting us at the front desk, on the phone and in the hallways, maintaining our building, and cleaning up after our many Kiddushes, simchas and programs. You are all exceptional and appreciated.
A few other thank yous…
To the Board of Directors, Board of Education and the numerous committee chairs and members – thank you to those who have served - and to those coming on board, thank you in advance for being forward thinkers.
To our gabbayim and minyan supporters, thank you for your daily and weekly dedication.
To our SISterhood, thank you for your deep commitment and support of Shearith.
To our Men’s Spirited Study Group, thank you for revitalizing our Men’s Club, let’s keep it going.
And to You, our congregants, thank you for your participation and ongoing support. Because of those who came before us, Shearith has been around for 135 years and YOU are the reason we will continue to be here in the future. You make up our Shearith Community—as new members to multi-generational members; singles and families—each bringing commitment, loyalty, enthusiasm, ideas and VALUE to Shearith Israel. One of the many highlights from our Strategic Planning Process was developing new Mission/Vision and Value statements with our core value statement stating—We are: A Caring Community, A Spiritual Community, An Innovative Community, and A Dedicated Community.
These words are not hollow but represent not only what we value but what we can accomplish. As your President, I believe it is my job to help us reach this potential and strengthen us as a community. After working on the strategic plan, “Ma’alot—Ascending New Heights,” as a co-chair with Irving Prengler and Brad Altman along with the planning committee and foundations, I had the unique opportunity to help identify and discuss the many strengths and challenges we have as a congregation. These opportunities and discussions translated into a robust strategic plan document with initiatives that will structure our path moving forward. Our goal is to begin communicating and implementing these initiatives over the next several years, but we will be asking for your help. Don’t shy away—I, along with the officers, board, committees and staff will set things in motion but it is My role/Our role to energize You in this work. This isn’t about just showing up or the new service or program that is being planned for you. This is about partnering to create something bigger. It is about “creating meaningful moments”—moments of joy, wonder, understanding, reflection and kindness both individually and as a congregational community. Too often Presidents, boards or staff get caught up in prioritizing problems over creating moments. As president, I want to focus on creating “moments” through four areas that were so eloquently described in the book “The Power of Moments.”
It is my hope, through these four areas:
ELEVATION INSIGHT PRIDE and CONNECTION
we will see both positive and meaningful outcomes of:
—enhanced value and membership experience,
—increased commitment and volunteerism,
—positive financial trends
—and personal growth.
Our board, committees, Klei Kodesh and staff will work hard to organize events, enhance prayer experiences, and provide volunteer opportunities but You/All of Us have to be the one to create or identify “moments”—big or small. What will you hear, see, participate in that could lift you up, spark discovery and understanding, empower you, and deepen relationships based on shared values?
Here are some ideas of what to look for in regards to creating these moments within our Shearith community:
Elevate – Moments of elevation are experiences that change your expectation; break the script from your everyday, moments that make you feel engaged, motivated, joyful. These don’t have to be “wow moments” but are experiences that still impact you. Elevation is something we even describe in our new Mission statement: Elevate your soul.
Intriguing, but how do we get there? Let us show you.
Creating elevated moments will be in:
—our religious school where new teaching modalities awaken the student that can have a lasting impact for years to come. This year, we plan to take out four Sunday School days moving them to Friday night experiences to ELEVATE the learning of both the child and the parent, trading conventional learning with family-based learning.
—Moments will be available through our evolving prayer options ELEVATING meaningful, spiritual experiences from traditional to innovative. If you want traditional, we have it. If you want music, we have it. If you want young family options, we have that, too. Everyone is welcome to drop in. Make a point to come -to something- to see what it is about. It might be your style or it might not, but don’t formulate an opinion until you’ve tried it.
—Other moments of ELEVATION can be through a sensory boost—having music played tonight as we were eating, Elevates this installation; an alternate reading on Shabbat or even jokes after Shabbat announcements are elevating an experience.
—And look for Elevation through our social action projects. They will trigger your participation and stimulate your core beliefs while, at the same time, ELEVATING someone less fortunate who will benefit from your kindness. I became involved at Shearith through social action—those “moments” spoke to me and ultimately gave me my “voice” as a leader.
Insight What do moments of insight look like? These would be moments where you feel empowered or reflective.
—Insight can come from one-on-one conversations with our Klei Kodesh, staff, or other congregants that stretch our thinking and empathy.
—You can find insight through a sermon or teaching that awakens you and broadens your understanding and interest. We need to ask: What are the things Judaism needs to say that will be important enough to galvanize you or a younger generation to be involved and connected to Jewish life? Discussing poverty, hunger, human dignity, through a Jewish lens, can stimulate insight. It is important to speak out on anti-Semitism and hatred; and to support inclusion and civility. These issues concern all of us and energize younger generations. Don’t look through a red or blue lens – we are bigger than that, look through a human lens that can ultimately inspire us to live and act Jewishly.
We want to give you the tools to find insight - we can teach and motivate you but YOU will have to pursue what is offered. Imagine what you can learn, achieve, participate in, if you open yourself up and search for insight.
Pride: Shearith Israel has many proud moments of being a strong, vibrant conservative synagogue:
—moments of pride as our members grow as leaders and as philanthropists
—and moments of pride as we stand with Israel, committed to its existence and future.
These moments of pride are sparked by sense of accomplishment, of recognition and of achievement but it can also be about gratitude and telling our story.
Look for moments of pride as we become more “mission driven” in all that we do.
Pride…when we implement initiatives from our strategic plan – setting goals for committees to provide structure and accountability.
WE will have pride… as we embark on an Ambassador program where everyone representing Shearith, from our greeters and committee chairs to our volunteers out in the community, will go through a program to enhance our interactions and to be able to tell our story. This is essential as we connect with each other and the greater Dallas Jewish Community.
WE will have pride… in retiring the debt—not a popular topic but it’s there and not going to go away without each of us. Our pride IS connected to our financial stability. We are fiscally sound with tight checks and balances for us to continue to move forward but in order to strengthen our Jewish life here at Shearith, we need to pay off that debt. Join me and others in stepping up.
And... WE will have Pride in volunteering—I want to put the “Do” back in “Donate.” Show your pride by being on a committee, or volunteering for a one-time project. One person.. and another person.. and another person multiplies, adding pride to our synagogue, pride to the volunteer efforts and pride in ourselves. No successful organization or religious institution can have members with high standards but low commitment. Let’s shoot for high standards and high commitment. We will thank you and I hope you will thank us.
And lastly, moments of Connection: In a world of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, where connections are brief “likes,” emoticons, shared photos and 140 max characters, moments of connections can be difficult. Our Klei Kodesh and staff truly value and care about each of us, but how to we deepen our relationships with one another?
—Based on our strategic plan, we will be creating engaging opportunities for smaller groups to connect for more meaningful interactions.
—We will work on spotlighting our members—each of you—in unique ways to get to know each other better
—We will reach out to introduce ourselves to younger generations, not forgetting about those of ALL generations that are already here
—And we will connect through shared community experiences, first rolling out a Shabbat program and dinner on Sept 20th to honor and thank our Shearith Holocaust survivors, Holocaust museum docents, volunteers and board members. We will then, after the High Holidays, have a Shearith night at the new Dallas Holocaust Museum to share this museum together, as ONE Shearith community.
Tonight, I have spoken to you about creating moments through ELEVATION, INSIGHT, PRIDE and CONNECTION. You now have your first assignment. You were handed a piece of paper as you were walking in that asks the question, “How can we help create moments with you?” Please give it some thought and let us know.
I am honored and excited to be your President and I look forward to helping you SEEK “moments” as well as YOUR help in creating them. Let’s focus on meaning and moments, not just on membership.
In closing, as I routinely do at Shabbat services, I’d like to leave you with an additional reading from our Siddur. I pick each reading based on what speaks to me that week and tonight I’d like to leave you with an adapted prayer for our congregation.
May the one who blessed our ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, bless this holy congregation, men and women, sons and daughters, and all that is ours. May it be Your will to bless us, to hear our voices raised in prayer, and to protect us from any trouble and difficulty. Spread over us the divine canopy of peace and plant within us love and unity, peace and friendship. And let us say: Amen
At the Annual Meeting on Wednesday, June 5, President Jack Jacobsen reflected on his two-year presidency at Shearith Israel. Here are Jack's remarks:
Rabbis, Cantor, fellow officers, members of the Board, our staff and our Congregation:
Where to begin? The journey to ascend to president of this sacred institution began over eight years ago when Mark Davidoff asked me to meet him for drinks. I walked into the bar at the Westin Galleria and was ambushed by Mark, Sharon Levin, Todd Chanon and Gail Mizrahi where I was “asked” if I would consider becoming a vice-president; actually I believe I was told I didn’t have a choice, and thus I got on the track to becoming president. And now those eight years are coming to a conclusion.
These past eight years, and in particular the past two years, have been enormously rewarding. I have gotten the opportunity to know so many people throughout the congregation. I have heard your stories — about things you like about Shearith Israel and in some cases what you don’t like.
At my installation speech two years ago, I pledged to ensure that each of you would be heard. I hope you feel that I upheld that pledge. Whether it was the result of our high holiday survey and the actions we took based on the responses we received, or the input we sought in developing the strategic plan. But I’m confident those steps are only the beginning as I know Shirley, Irving and Mark will continue to seek your input as they continue to move the Shul in a new direction.
And while on the topic, when I started my presidency, it of course coincided with Rabbi Sunshine beginning his tenure as our new spiritual leader. Rabbi Sunshine, along with Rabbis Roffman and Wallach, Cantor Zhrebker and Avi, have done an amazing job to establish a direction for our future. And just in the past two years there have been so many new programs that have been implemented, including Torah on Tap, Prayer Rhythms, the Couples Class, Women’s Torah Study and Guys' Night Out and some that just continue to grow like Shababa. And under the leadership of Sarah Lipinsky, our religious school is once again the place where families want to send their children. People again are talking about Shearith Israel in the community for the right reasons.
When I took on the presidency, one of my foremost goals was to retire the debt. Unfortunately, we are not there yet. At this point, the current balance of the loan is $3,475,000 and we have $711,000 in outstanding pledges. I am very pleased to report to you that 91% of our board has made a donation or pledge to the Burn the Mortgage Campaign. Why is this significant? Because when we go to potential donors, we can show that our board is fully behind the campaign and to helping us eliminate this burden. With the help of Kenny and Sherry Goldberg who are chairing the campaign, we will get there. Thank you Kenny and Sherry for all your efforts on this important endeavor.
And now for a few additional thank yous.
To our Gabbayim, the various committee chairs, and the countless members and volunteers who have given your time and helped make the last two years a success, I thank each and every one of you.
To Kim and the entire staff—thank you for all your hard work throughout the year. Many congregants have no idea how hard you all work to make all services and programs appear seamless to us. I would ask the entire staff to please stand so we can all acknowledge and express our appreciation.
To the Klei Kodesh--Rabbis Sunshine, Roffman and Wallach, Cantor Zhrebker and Avi: I have so enjoyed working with all of you these past two years. You all have such diverse perspectives on prayer, but ultimately you ensure that all congregants are touched, enriched and feel special. And that’s what is most important. And to Shira and Adam – thank you for helping to increase our membership with the recent arrival of Rebecca.
Ari—I was lucky to start my presidency at the same time as you started here. I would joke to many people that we had our honeymoon period together. I have truly enjoyed working with you but will also forever value the friendship we have developed these past two years.
Mark--I am so pleased that you are coming on board as an officer. The bond that you will develop with Shirley and Irving is something truly special--I am just jealous that I won’t be a part of that circle with you all.
Speaking of bonds--Shirley and Irving--I’m not sure I have the right words to describe the love and admiration I have developed for the two of you. We truly were a team, we had lots of great laughs, mostly from Irving’s jokes, a few difficult moments, but I cannot think of two other people I would have wanted to serve my term of president with. You know I will be here for both of you--just as you were always here for me. I love you both very much. Shirley --all the best as president. I know you will do an amazing job.
To my kids--Elliott and Emma. Elliott, who just completed his second year at Colorado and Emma who just yesterday returned from her gap year in Israel, I am so proud of you both. But I also want to publicly apologize to you. I know that many times when you guys were still living at home and I had shul meetings, I got home later than you would have preferred. I know we can’t get those times back but please know I was always trying to do the best I could as your dad. You have both grown up so much and are remarkable kids. I love you both so much.
And lastly--to the Congregation—thank you for the opportunity to serve as your president these past two years. It has been a true honor and privilege.
I would like to close with a passage from the Torah, from this week’s parsha Bemidbar, chapter 27:15:27:
“Moses spoke to the Lord, saying, 'Let the Lord, Source of the breath of all flesh, appoint someone over the community who shall go out before them and come in before them, and who shall take them out and bring them in, so that the Lord's community may not be like a sheep without a shepherd.”
How is this relevant? While Shirley will be taking over as the leader and shepherd of our community, shepherds work not only from the front of the flock but also from within and at the rear as necessary. While I will no longer be leading this sacred community, please know that I will continue to be in the middle and at the rear, continuing to offer guidance and support to help our congregation move forward into its future.
It is with extreme gratitude that I say Toda Raba.
At the Annual Meeting on Wednesday, June 5, Rabbi Ari Sunshine thanked outgoing President Jack Jacobsen for his exemplary service. Here are Rabbi Sunshine's remarks:
Jack, Pirkei Avot offers us another teaching that speaks of the derekh tovah, the good path in life to which one should cleave. Among the characteristics that are listed, we find “chaver tov,” a good friend and colleague, “ha-ro’eh et ha-nolad,” foresight, and “lev tov,” a generous heart. All three of these characteristics befit you to a "T."
Throughout your presidency you have partnered and collaborated expertly with your fellow officers and lay leaders and with our Klei Kodesh and staff team, making for an extremely smooth two years that has seemingly flown by in the blink of an eye as our congregational life has flourished. You have the gift of foresight, trying to stay one step ahead of things and plan for our congregation’s exciting future with the development of Ma’alot, our new strategic plan, during your tenure.
And you most certainly have a generous heart. You are generous with your time, always finding ways to carve out the space for meetings or to deal with an issue on the phone or via text or email amidst your incredibly busy professional commitments with your day (and night and weekend!) job. You are generous with your resources, leading by example both a couple of years ago, and again last month, with your meaningful and significant donations to our Burn the Mortgage Campaign. You never seek accolades or credit for your efforts, you’re comfortable just doing what needs to be done, because our community needs it. And you are generous with your friendship, the nexus between chaver tov and lev tov, caring and unwaveringly loyal to those you care about. You readily make space for them to be a part of your life, as you have done so warmly for me and Jen and our family over these past two years since we arrived here in Dallas. It has been a real honor and a pleasure and, quite frankly, a lot of fun. Jack, working with you during your tenure, I’m personally grateful for all of your support and for your friendship which I know will long outlast these two years of our partnership. I’ll miss my Chai Tea Latte and Blueberry Muffin on Wednesday mornings, but I know there will still be many shared l’chaim’s in our future.
On behalf of the Klei Kodesh, I’d like to present you with this gift of a beautiful wine fountain. We know how much you like to host others in your home for Shabbat and holidays, and with this fountain you can easily share kiddush wine with all of your guests just as you have shared with us so much else as president of our shul. We hope you will enjoy this and use it often in the months and years ahead.
Jack, we extend a hearty and heartfelt yasher koach to you for all of your efforts as president of Congregation Shearith Israel over these past two years, and we know you won’t be a stranger as you continue to be an integral leader in our community. With that, I now formally discharge you from your position as president of our congregation and welcome you to the “past presidents club!”
By Rabbi Ari Sunshine
For those of you who attended my installation here at Shearith Israel back in December of 2017, you might recall that I was installed by Rabbi Murray Ezring from Temple Israel in Charlotte, NC. Murray is my rabbinic mentor, the Senior Rabbi I worked with at the beginning of my rabbinic career, and a dear friend and trusted advisor and confidant throughout the years since. This past weekend I was privileged to return the favor and celebrate with Murray and his wife Barbara and their kids and grandkids in Charlotte as he retired from Temple Israel after 25 years of service. I was honored to be able to offer him a charge during Shabbat morning services, and I wanted to share with all of you what I shared with Rabbi Ezring and the assembled congregation, reflecting on his impact on my life and rabbinate and on his entire congregation.
It’s a real treat to be with all of you today back in this beautiful sanctuary and on this bimah that was the first pulpit I ascended when I was a “baby rabbi”. Moreover, it’s a special privilege to be able to stand before you and before Rabi Mori, my rabbi and teacher, my mentor and dear friend Rabbi Murray Ezring, to honor him on this milestone weekend celebrating his retirement after 25 years of faithful and dedicated service to Temple Israel.
Where to begin? How about we start with 5 things I learned from Rabbi Ezring in those first 5 years of my rabbinate:
1) When you write a sermon, first come up with the message you want to give and then look for the text that will reinforce that message. People want to hear about real life and want to hear Torah that is relatable and impacts the way they think and the choices they make.
2) Never be afraid to experiment when it comes to synagogue services, programming, or initiatives. Rabbi Ezring used to say he was always willing to try something once, and I have followed that advice in my own rabbinate.
3) Be accessible as a rabbi and a human being and always go out of your way to be there for, and with, people. Rabbis should not be distant from their community. The way we celebrate with a family at their simcha or are fully present for them when they are in crisis or after a loss is vital to building relationships and being the pastor congregants need us—and deserve for us—to be.
4) When clergy colleagues earn your trust, partner with them and work together to create an effective clergy team. Empower each other and encourage each other to do what each of you does best and the congregation as a whole will benefit. Among other things, this is partly why Murray gave me flexible time on Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings when I worked here so that I could play in the JCC basketball and softball leagues and build important relationships that way.
5) Seek out partnerships in the interfaith community and cultivate them, and not just for the sake of educating each other and our congregations about different religious traditions. We live in a world that is much larger than the walls of any one synagogue, church or mosque, and we need to work together to make that world better. The faith community can play a vital role in that effort. The relationship Rabbi Ezring has with Dr. James Howell at Myers Park United Methodist Church and so many other local clergy has been a model for me to follow in the congregations I have served since I left here.
When I sat down in a room at JTS with Rabbi Ezring and David Miller back in the spring of 2002, I was already a finalist for several associate rabbi positions and the three of us had a frank discussion about whether Jen and I could see me taking the job and us moving to Charlotte. I told them, of course we could see it happening, otherwise we wouldn’t be talking about it and considering an interview weekend. But it’s important that you all know what the single biggest reason was that I chose to take this job at Temple Israel back in 2002. That reason was Rabbi Murray Ezring. Having met with several different senior rabbis that were looking for associates, and then having spent time talking with Murray that night in NY and then here during my interview weekend, I quickly became convinced that Murray would welcome me as a trusted partner and provide me the opportunity to learn and grow, and succeed and fail, as a “baby rabbi”. I knew he would be the right mentor for me. And I am so incredibly grateful for the choice I made, and for the relationship and friendship that developed between us in those 4.5 years and continued to thrive in the 13 years since. Murray and Barbara and their kids and grandkids came to Maryland to celebrate Jonah’s BM with us back in 2016, our families vacationed together in Orlando for Pesach one year, Murray and Barbara came to Dallas in December of 2017 to install me as Senior Rabbi at Shearith Israel, and they also came to visit us this January for several days. That’s not to mention the time I flew down to Charlotte to take Murray and his family out to dinner to make good on a bet after the Yankees beat the Orioles in the 2012 ALDS. Moreover, Murray and I still talk frequently and if I’m ever in a pinch and need Rabbinic advice, I’ll always pick up the phone and call him.
Being a congregational Rabbi is an incredibly demanding job, one that never really stops or yields even late at night or when on vacation. It can be exhausting and there are days when it can feel burdensome for a rabbi and his or her whole family who pay the price for the rabbi needing to be available sometimes on a moment’s notice to help with a crisis. In today’s parasha, Bechukotai, we find a juxtaposition of 11 verses of blessings God will provide us if we do what we’re supposed to do, followed by 32 verses of curses in case we choose not to follow the plan. At first glance one might think the curses—the burdens—of a pulpit rabbinate might outweigh the blessings, which at times could appear to be fewer in number. But at the end of the day the blessings that we experience as rabbis when we become an important part of your lives are so much deeper, richer and more powerful than those burdens or curses. And likewise it is a tremendous blessing for a congregation to be in relationship with their rabbi for such a long time, reflecting the importance of mutual care for each other as human beings. Temple Israel is so fortunate to have experienced Rabbi Ezring’s leadership, wisdom, wit, and warmth, over this last quarter century—yes, 25 years. We’re all better off for being able to call him Moreinu Rabbeinu, our rabbi and our teacher, and our friend.
Murray, thank you for all you’ve done for me over the years, thanks for trusting me, for laughing with me and occasionally at me, for advising me, and for being my very good friend. And thank you for all you’ve done for Temple Israel over these last 25 years of partnership. Mazal Tov to you and Barbara, to Aviva, Tami, Adam, Ron and Gil, and to Addison and Kobe of course, for reaching this amazing milestone. May the years ahead bring you as much fulfillment as these years you are concluding now. Love you, buddy.
Shearith Israel clergy, staff and congregants share