View from the President

The present is now...
A message from Daniela Zanzuri-Beiner
President, Temple Beth Am

I am writing this month’s Commentator article in San Diego. Edward and I are guests of the Vision Council of America, an organization for those in the vision care industry. The only other time I was here was about ten years ago for my first URJ (Union for Reform Judaism) Biennial. David was a high school senior, Howard Wolofsky was president of Temple Beth Am, and my friend, past president Susan Henkin, had encouraged me to come and follow the seminars for those lay leaders involved in the “youth track.”

My son David had been President of BAFTY, (Beth Am Federation of Temple Youth) and also Regional President of NFTY-STR (North American Federation of Temple Youth-Southern Tropical Region). My younger son, Steven, was already involved in BAFTY, and would also go on to become BAFTY President as well. As a parent, I was observing first-hand how important Jewish Day School, youth group and camp experiences are in forging Jewish identity. As a volunteer, I was learning more about an area that is still important to me. If there is one thing I am passionate about, it is educating our youth and giving them a healthy love and understanding of our history, traditions and heritage.

This past December I went to my third URJ Biennial in Boston and heard Rabbi David Stern, President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, deliver an impassioned sermon entitled, “We Have Company.” Rabbi Stern spoke about our responsibility to our kids. “…You may think you have aged out of responsibility for creating a vibrant youth community in your congregation, but you’ve got company. You may work on the finance committee or the building committee, so you think that youth is someone else’s department. Well, guess what? You’ve got company, too. Because our children are not our future. They are our present.”

It is not just being in San Diego, or reading Rabbi Stern’s speech that makes me think about the youth of Temple Beth Am. I am writing this month’s Commentator article on January 26th, the evening of the YERS Shabbat Program. This fundraiser helps those who need financial assistance in sending their children to Religious School, camp or youth group events. Our Youth Engagement Religious School program is flourishing under the professional leadership of Tamara Donnenfeld and Jacki Altman.

Under Rabbi Jeremy Barras’ guidance and encouragement, all our clergy now teach and participate in our Religious School programs. In 2013–2014, our 7th–12th grade program had 71 students. We now have 134, an 89% increase. This does not include the 165 students enrolled in our Pre-K through 6th grade program. Rabbi Barras has scheduled his Clergy team whereby they all teach in our Religious School. There has been an 89% increase in student enrollment, and 2.5x more educational hours offered.

Last year, our teenagers participated in Social Action programs that included a trip to Guatemala. This year, the fellows have an additional track that takes them to Peru on an ecological journey. We have Shabbatots, Shul-ins, interfaith dialogues, and Israel advocacy forums, to name a few. BAFTY, together with the rest of NFTY-STR, raises money every year to send underprivileged/inner city children to Camp Jenny. This four-day camp, which takes place at Camp Coleman just north of Atlanta, is an amazing experience for both the campers, and the staff, our teens. Some of the teens continue to volunteer at Camp Jenny well into adulthood. I know a young woman, now in her late 20s, who was recently contacted via Facebook, by a former camper. This young man had received a full scholarship for college and was reaching out to his Camp Jenny counselor to let her know how meaningful and impactful his Camp Jenny experience had been.

Jewish Education at Temple Beth Am starts for many at our incredible Day School. We were one of the first Reform Jewish Day Schools in the country. Today our school is under the astute leadership of Dr. Deborah R. Starr and is considered one of the top Jewish Day Schools in the United States. I recently asked Dr. Starr to give me an official tour of the school. Steven is 25 and graduated in 5th grade, so it had been a while. I was amazed by the changes that had taken place and listened intently as Dr. Starr talked not only about the wonderful programs that now exist, but also what will be needed to keep our school relevant as the future knocks on our door.

Thursday, March 15th is our Day School’s Annual Auction and I encourage all of you to consider attending. Our chairs, Barbara W. Havenick and Jessica Moskowitz are working tirelessly to organize an evening complete with food trucks and entertainment. Last year’s auction profited $230,000, with one hundred percent of the proceeds donated to the school. This year, we strive to incorporate 21st century learning into 54 classrooms, aiming to enhance and upgrade our campus with commercial grade Wi-Fi connectivity. We also hope to hire an educational technology consultant to guide us with the technological needs which are an integral part of today’s education. The money also is used to aid and support need-based scholarships within the Day School.

Just to note the Early Childhood Center at Temple Beth Am Day School recently sought re-accreditation from NAEYC, a national accreditation agency for Early Childhood facilities. After a year-long process of self-study, the collection of classroom and program portfolios, and a three-day on-site visit — the Early Childhood Center was re-accredited. On eight of the ten standards we received either 100% or 100+% and 92% and 94% on the other two standards. A facility only has to receive 80% or better on 70% of the standards to earn accreditation. Only 7% of the nation’s Early Childhood Centers have NAEYC accreditation. Our Elementary School has numerous accreditations: AISF, ISSF, Advanced Ed and FCIS. Under our most recent FCIS accreditation, the Elementary School received 11 Special Commendations. We are very proud of all we do here.

Our Day School students become young teenagers who continue on to our Religious School and youth group. Dan Farkas, our VP of YERS, is working with our professionals on the creation of an ambassador program that will educate and unite the Religious School and Day School. We are also creating social events focused on bridging families from both schools.

To quote Rabbi Stern again,

“…Our children are not our future. They are our present. And the more we treat them not as hot houses to be experimented with, to achieve some demographic end, but as living, breathing, living, thinking, laughing members of our communities, the better off they and we will be. The more we ask them what they think about worship or Jewish learning, the more we put them on search communities and task forces, the more we invite them to be synagogue social justice interns for the summer or song leaders for the younger kids, they will help us to be better at what we do. And the more every single one of us accepts the responsibility to be company to them, to walk with them, to listen to them… I believe the valued metrics will take care of themselves.”

For those of you who were at our YERS Shabbat service and stayed for the YERS Live fundraiser, featuring Cutler Stew and The Click bands, I hope you enjoyed it. We brought in over $12,000 for YERS. For those of you who did not attend, I hope you will consider attending next year.

The Day School Annual Auction is Thursday, March 15. Please consider joining us and supporting our school and our students in any way you can. And when you see a teenager on our campus, reach out to them, say hello and ask them what they think of Temple Beth Am. If you serve on one of our many committees, reach out to Jacki and see if there is a teen you could engage.

As we look toward 2019, we are envisioning ways in which we can evolve our school and campus into a community and learning center primed for the 21st century. It starts with our children and continues with you. The present is now.


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