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
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