Summertime to Relax

by Roselyn Allen, July 2, 2020

This year, summer will look very different for many of us. For me, every year of my life I’ve swum in the Atlantic Ocean, spending time with my family on the east coast. This year to visit the Atlantic Provinces one has to quarantine oneself for two weeks before interacting with others. Given that I want to visit my nonogenarian dad but must get back to my business, that timeline just doesn’t work, and so, this year we will have to make do with phone calls and FaceTime visits as we have been since March. And no visits to the ocean. I’m sure I’m not the only one whose summer travel plans have changed, whose kids are NOT off to summer camps and courses, whose friends and relatives won’t be visiting.

There is a saying that a change is as good as a rest. But the changes that we’ve undergone over the last 3 months may have been strange and stressful for some of us. And the rest we are looking forward to may not be what we’re used to. As always, we will take this time as a board to reset, and look forward to our renovations, Torah fundraiser, holidays and celebrations together this coming year. Remember that Solel is a community and not just a building.

I leave you with my address from last month’s AGM for my thoughts on this past fiscal year.

Have a great summer!

2020 AGM President’s Report

I thought at the 2020 AGM, I’d looking back on last year and forward to next. However, the first year of my Presidency has a very distinct dividing line of its own: pre-COVID19 and this new normal we’re experiencing. It feels as if there’s a haze over everything we did up until mid-March – like a dream or a very distant memory rather than only 3 months ago.

Last year we started with a new board and a new board structure as passed at the Special General Meeting. We have been blessed that every member of the current board has decided to stay on as we are faced with the new challenges of governance during the COVID19 crisis.

Our summer saw some of our children off to Camp George, and our own participation in the Peel Interfaith Peace Camp. Unfortunately, along with the majority of summer camps in Canada, these programs have been cancelled this year. Our calendar then took us through the High Holidays, an auspicious start to the Bet Sefer Solel school year, and the quality programming and services that we’ve come to expect from Solel. In the depths of winter, Chanukah and latke making was a highlight. Our Invite Your Neighbour service was very well attended and demonstrated the strength of Solel in the greater Mississauga community. We had a full house for our Totally 80s Purimshpiel, despite the shadow of COVID19 being upon us.

I distinctly remember trying to encourage kids (and some adults) to use tongs instead of their hands when taking food, making sure we had a large stock of Purell in supply, being hopeful that we could maintain a level of hygiene that would allow us all to continue to participate in services and events at Solel. And then, we realized we couldn’t. So, just before official government restrictions forced the closure of houses of worship, we prioritized the health and safety of our congregation and closed Solel’s building ourselves.

When I spoke to you all last year as incoming President, I was looking forward to some new projects, and a continuation of existing ones.

I participated in the inaugural year of the URJ Presidential mentorship program, which has been a great success- so much so that they’ve doubled the size of the program. Through it, I have made a great friend and we continue monthly check-ins on synagogue governance. In November we had a URJ-led board seminar to develop focus for our board under its new structure. In December I attended the URJ Biennial conference with other synagogue members which was eye opening for me. Unfortunately, URJ has suffered financially due to COVID and they have been forced to reduce staff and program offerings this year.

I discussed our plan to hire a summer student through the Canada Summer Jobs Program and we had exceptional help last year with the Peel Interfaith Peace Camp as well as office support including Shulcloud database management. Again, this year, we were able to get another fully funded student employment grant. Since we have been forced to cancel Peace Camp, while continuing to work on Shulcloud, the focus of our student this summer will be the creation of an in-depth procedure’s manual for the synagogue.

Robbin Botnick and John Lewsen, cochairs of our Renovation committee, have already filled you in on the progress made since last year’s AGM. We are hopeful that this very important project can move ahead despite the delays COVID has caused. As reported by the committee, a substantial amount of work and resources has gone into this project and should we abandon it now, many of those costs would have to be incurred again. And it’s not just a matter of aesthetic, no matter what we all think of the bathrooms – with these renovations we will be addressing accessibility and safety.

In the last year, the Safety and Security Committee prepared policy and have written a Security Infrastructure Program grant. With the combination of expected government response time, COVID19, and an overlap of what we’re requesting of the security and renovation contractors, the SIP grant has been understandably delayed. However, we are still in communication with the grantors as we address questions they are bringing to us.

At the 2019 AGM I called on congregants to volunteer at Solel in an area that interested them. We got some responses that were sent to the appropriate committees and I really appreciate your time and effort. During this time of COVID, our board members and staff have been contacting congregants to check in and we have had volunteers step up to provide support, not only to members in need, but to health care workers and seniors in the general community. Thank you to everyone who volunteer their time, resources and efforts to Solel.

Last year I also discussed hopes for a large fundraiser and legacy project. As most of you know, our 50th anniversary is coming up and we had intended to make the centrepiece of this event our new Torah Scroll fundraiser, where we would be able to put quill to parchment alongside a Soferet. We had set a date in late May for our kickoff – planning to honour our generous principal donor, Gerry Willis – one of Solel’s most dedicated and longstanding members, and a true mensch. In mid-March, amidst finalizing these plans and contracting the services of our Soferet, we closed our doors. Our volunteers continue to work on how to move ahead with this project in a meaningful way, despite the limitations of COVID19. Expect an announcement soon on these plans.

So, we are now living in the era of a pandemic where we do not yet have an effective vaccine. One of Judaism’s guiding principles is pikuach nefesh – the preservation of human life overrides all the other rules. Despite government allowances for houses of worship to open at 30% capacity at this time, the board understands that many people are nervous about gathering at all. With the guidance of our public health officials at all levels of government, URJ, CCAR, UJA, the Toronto Board of Rabbis and the Toronto Jewish Community COVID19 Task Force we have decided not to open our building at this time.

Officials are recommending

  • allowing attendance for the service only, no gatherings before or after
  • social distancing at all time. People enter the building, go directly to their seat, and leave immediately after services.
  • everyone must wear a face covering, including while leading services.
  • no congregational singing
  • exclude attendance of children and people over aged 70

If you read my Perspective blog in September, 2019, entitled “The Soundtrack of my Spiritual Life”, you’ll know my opinion on how important music and intergenerational gathering is to the heart of a synagogue, and to my connection to worship personally; I’m sure many of our congregants feel as I do. At least at this time we can sing the prayers and have grandparents and children share the services and events, watching online together in their social bubble. At home, members can pray and still be sure that every surface has been sanitized to their satisfaction.

Keeping these recommendations in mind, our High Holiday Committee is well into planning. Even if all congregants are allowed to attend, we know many will choose to stay home. The committee is planning for various scenarios including all-virtual and mixed online and in-person services. The Committee is planning on making the ultimate decision of whether we go 100% virtual by the end of the summer based on the best information available to us at that time.

Besides the aforementioned recommendations, as you have already heard from Arliene Botnick, plans for the usual operations of Bet Sefer Solel are dependent on the availability of pubic school space as directed by the ministry and the Dufferin Peel Catholic District Schoolboard. Our Education Committee is hard at work to develop alternate plans if necessary, when resuming our school year in October, after the High Holidays.

Given all of this COVID19 upheaval, you can see by the budget presented in your AGM package, that we predict a significant financial shortfall this year. We expect a loss of bingo revenue, High Holiday ticket sales, fundraising opportunities and perhaps even membership revenue as we recognize that some of our congregants’ incomes have been deeply affected by the current crisis.

Your board has worked diligently and thoughtfully to find economies where we can. Though we will have some reduction in expenses, we still have operating costs and staff salaries must be paid. Though we do have other reserves we can draw on, those funds were intended to ensure a future for Solel; if we must draw from the principal of our endowment, that reduces income from interest in the future. We have applied for the COVID19 grants for which we are eligible. We do have enough cash on hand to continue operating for months, however, cash flow is always a concern. I encourage every Solelnik who can do so to make their financial arrangements early and to the greatest extent of their ability to be generous. You will receive a charitable receipt as always.

Please remember that our budget this year is a best guess in an unprecedented situation – only time will tell if the government will reopen bingo this year, or if a vaccine or other effective treatment will be found sooner than expected, allowing us to go about our lives as previously. Hopefully, we may have erred on the side of caution but if we have been too optimistic with our budget, again, it is most important that if you can contribute more to your membership commitment this year that you do so. Thank you for choosing Solel as your Jewish home.

I also want to thank those who contributed to the Solel Covid Emergency Fund – your generosity has gone a long way. This fund remains open if you choose to contribute to Solel in this way. I would like to thank all of you for being so supportive as the synagogue works this out and I would like to thank those of you have contacted us with inquiries, critiques and suggestions; your concerns help us to reflect on our course of actions and move forward.

Thank you again to our volunteers and committee members for pressing on with their work.; to Bet Sefer Solel teachers and tutors who have had to adjust their curriculum to online formats at the drop of a hat; to Rabbi Englander and Cheryl for their guidance. Thank you to the board and executive for their thoughts and actions on behalf of Solel; to Carol vanThyn and Nillon Ross for working as hard for Solel now as if we were gathering in the building every day. Thank you to Rabbi Pollack, Arliene Botnick who have always been models of dedication to Solel. A huge thank you to Joel Brown who has made the streaming of services, and creation of online programs and meetings possible. This AGM has been a huge undertaking which the team and Joel has led with his usual technical aplomb.

We intend to continue providing you with the level of support, service, education, worship and community that you’ve always expected from Solel. We are working diligently to create this content through novel platforms. Please expect a survey on how we can bring these programs to you most effectively, starting with High Holidays.

We so look forward to being together again physically soon. Until then, we will make the best of things, carry on with services, school and life cycle events. Thank you.

Filed under: President's Message

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