Fifteen years ago as a new century began, our community was in turmoil and we did not have a rabbi to guide us. Working together we strove to stay positive. So many of our members put in countless hours to keep Beth El spiritually, socially and financially strong, as we searched for a new rabbi. Our members took on roles that a rabbi normally plays: leading services, preparing our B’nai mitzvah children, comforting the mourners, and in many other ways. We created a search committee to find just the right person to lead us. And boy, did that search committee do a fantastic job!
I still remember meeting Rabbi Alex for the first time. Like other candidates, he came to Pittsburgh to interview, to lead services, to meet our community. His smile, energy and enthusiasm were infectious. His warmth drew us in and his genuineness made us stay. I was fortunate to be a member of the Board of Trustees at the time, and was honored to help make the decision to hire our new rabbi. It was the best vote I ever made. This Spring we celebrated our rabbi’s first fifteen years. Celebrating not only Rabbi Alex, but Rabbi Amy, who has been with us every minute of those fifteen years. Amy adds a sense of kindness and spirituality to everything she does and to everyone with whom she comes in contact: with our children, our members and with the wider South Hills community. Together, Rabbis Alex and Amy Greenbaum make Beth El a special place.
As more of our families contain non-Jewish members, USCJ, the umbrella organization for the Conservative Movement of which Beth El is a member, created a commission to consider this question:
“How might we create a more meaningful space for individuals in our communities who are not Jewish and honor their contributions to our communities? A person who is not a member of the Covenant and yet is a part of our community is more than a participant or onlooker. He or she is invested in some way in the well-being of the synagogue community and shares a commitment to ‘this’ particular community with the Jewish members of the synagogue. Membership, as it is being considered, for such a non-Jewish person would be a welcoming gesture communicating that, in fact, they were seen and their involvement was appreciated and valued. Synagogue membership – understood in these terms – would acknowledge their de facto involvement and investment in the communal life of the synagogue community….”
Following a lengthy process, the commission recommended the creation of the following standard: USCJ supports every affiliated kehilla in developing its own criteria for membership. In so doing the USCJ stated “We call on all of our kehillot to open their doors wide to all who want to enter. Let strive to make the worlds of Isaiah a reality in our time: ‘My House will be called a house of prayer of all people’ (Isaiah 56:7)”
Beth El’s Board of Trustees was overwhelmingly in support of this resolution. On March 1, 2017, I participated in a Special Meeting of the General Assembly of the USCJ in a historic vote to allow its member kehillot to define for themselves who may be a member. This vote provides an opportunity for us to review our own membership criteria and categories. Therefore, we have asked Marvin Lalli to chair a committee, to do as follows: 1)Work with leadership to redefine who can be a member of the shul and auxiliaries; 2) Work with the finance / membership VPs to modify membership categories and dues structure; and 3) Work to modify our constitution as required. Of course, any recommendations of the committee will need to be approved by the Board of Trustees and Congregation, prior to taking effect. The work of this committee is just beginning, and the process of change will be considered and discussed over the next year.
I look forward to this discussion!