View from the President
Hello Temple Beth Am!
A message from Stuart Ratzan
President, Temple Beth Am
I am writing this on the cusp of taking the office of President of Temple Beth Am. Ours is the largest Reform Jewish Congregation in Florida and one of the largest in the United States. What happens here is often a benchmark for the Reform Movement, so I am humbled and honored to take on this role.
Temple Beth Am has been part of my life since I was an 8-year-old child enrolled in the elementary school. It was 1973 and my parents joined Beth Am as members. At the time Temple Beth Am Day School, as a Reform Jewish elementary school, was in its infancy. But even then it was a place full of light, learning and love. Temple Beth Am Day School was then, like now, about family, community and excellence.
In 1975 Beth Am invested in its future and built a basketball gymnasium and a new library. The Beth Am Basketball League became a powerful driver for community bonding through playful competition. The gym and the league brought Jewish kids together from all over South Miami Dade County. I was 10 years old when the gym was built. I played in the league for the next five years, and so did my younger brothers after me. My father coached us, and we loved every minute of it.
My brothers and I were all b’nai mitzvah at Beth Am.
As the years passed and after I went away for school, I returned to Miami, became a lawyer, married my wife Mycki (Beth Am clergy Cantor Rachelle Nelson sang at our wedding 26 years ago!), and had two children, Baylar (20) and Leo (18). Soon, we joined Beth Am in our own right, enrolled our kids in the Day School, and life continued its cycle. We enrolled our kids in the basketball league, now much bigger than when I was a child, and I became a coach. Our kids (and us!) loved every minute of it.
Today, our children are grown, but our son Leo, who just graduated from high school, is — guess what — coaching Beth Am basketball in the Junior Boys division. And so it goes...
But Beth Am for us has meant so much more than basketball. It has been all that its mission espouses: lifelong learning, spiritual growth and community engagement. Through Beth Am, we have learned and celebrated, expanded our curiosity and spirituality, and made lifelong friends. We hope this continues well into the future.
I love Temple Beth Am and the community it provides, and so I am ready to help move Beth Am forward during this most exciting time. We are all blessed to be part of this vibrant community. Here are a few of our blessings that we can count today, a few reasons why Beth Am is such an amazing place:
Capital Campaign: Beyond the Curve
Temple members Colleen & Richard Fain brought their vision of a new, 21st century Temple Beth Am Day School to temple leadership a few years ago. When I first learned about the project, I immediately realized it was the most important thing any of us in leadership could undertake as stewards of the future of the institution.
Our Day School is the lifeblood of our community. It educates Jewish children for the future, with both a secular and religious education. In this way, the Day School empowers our children with knowledge and identity, intellectual confidence and spiritual roots. This gives life to the Jewish community, here and elsewhere, and through the Day School we as a community fulfill the mitzvah of passing the beauty, moral guidance and righteousness of Judaism to the next generation. The Day School also brings parents and families to the congregation as members of the overall Temple community. The overwhelming majority of Temple leadership comes from current and former Day School parents. And so, our children are not just our future. They are our present. By building a 21st century campus in a highly competitive educational environment in Miami, Beth Am bestows gifts on our community that we should never take for granted.
Beth Am as a whole is now imbued with the Fain’s vision. Our community is abuzz with talk of the future and the great things we can do with a new campus, not just for our Day School, but for all our members: new social spaces, a welcome center, outdoor café, athletic facilities, performance halls, a second prayer space, youth lounge, technology and so much more.
It will take commitment and contribution from our entire community. But our mutual love for Beth Am is a powerful force. Already, our campaign has raised $30 million, well over halfway to the fundraising goal of $55 million. This is a remarkable time. We are blessed with the generosity and capacity of so many families, and now it is our responsibility to not only be thankful for the blessing but also be responsible stewards for the future of our beloved Beth Am. Let’s make it happen and go Beyond the Curve!
Rabbi Barras and our Clergy Team
Rabbi Jeremy Barras, has, for the past few years of his tenure at Beth Am successfully spread his love for Judaism, Torah and the State of Israel to our community. During his tenure, Beth Am has grown by 400 families and we are now well over 1,500 families. We are blessed to have Rabbi Barras as our senior rabbi. He continues to inspire the congregation, motivate our youth, and lead our community with wisdom, humility and passion. And our clergy team — Rabbi Rachel Greengrass, Cantor Rachelle Nelson, Rabbi Judy Kempler and Rabbi Jaime Aklepi — are an all-star team of spiritual and community leaders. If you haven’t taken a few seconds to stop and appreciate the quality of our clergy at Temple Beth Am, you should. We are truly blessed.
For the past two years I had a front row seat to watch Daniela Zanzuri-Beiner lead Temple Beth Am with passion and ease. Her kindness and compassion are exactly the qualities that have always made Temple Beth Am a special place. Daniela has made great decisions as a leader. We all owe her our gratitude and we should stop to thank her for her boundless energy and years of unmatched service to our community.
Bob has been a superstar in the role of Beth Am’s executive director for the last 15 years. Over that time, Bob figured out how to put and keep Beth Am in a financially sound position. But for his tireless devotion and management intelligence, we would not be in position to take on the campus, nor would we have grown to over 1,500 families. Bob has been one of Beth Am’s greatest assets over the years, and if you’ve spent any time with him you know he’s a genuine and caring man. After giving us so much, Bob recently announced his retirement. We are blessed for Bob’s leadership these past years, and wish him a fulfilling and peaceful retirement.
Dr. Deborah Starr
From the moment she arrived nine years ago, Dr. Starr has brought energy and excellence to the Day School. We now have wait lists on every grade and we are bursting at the seams. The learning environment, programs, events, creative and modern learning methods, and great teachers make Beth Am Day School a superlative place for elementary education. We are blessed with inspired leadership at the top of our Day School.
Tamara is yet another blessing for Temple Beth Am. As the leader of both our Religious School and Youth Departments for the past five years, she has helped turn the program around, infusing it with dynamic ideas and exuberant energy. Tamara is a special soul, whose Yiddishkeit touches everyone she meets. When she is not leading our Temple youth, she is leading Jewish teens from all over Miami-Dade County on the Leo Martin March of the Living. I know because as I write this she is leading our son, Leo, on that profound and inspiring trip. Thank you Tamara Donnenfeld for all the wonder and magic you bring to Monday Night Chai, YERS and BAFTY!
There is so much more to say, and so many great people giving to our community every day. Our new board of directors and new executive board will be great leadership groups, our Day School Board is engaged and energized; the Annual Auction was again a resounding success; the Religious School is going through a renaissance, thriving with new programming and direction the last few years; and, of course, our basketball league continues to be the best recreational league in Miami-Dade County.
I look forward to the upcoming two years of service as President of Temple Beth Am. I know it will be filled with challenge and opportunity. I also know, based on the people who make up this incredible place, that these next two years should be filled with light, love and laughter. As Rabbi Barras says, cain yihee ratzon, let it be so.