by Michael Saxe-Taller,
Kehilla is at an exciting time in its evolution. We have been growing steadily for a few years. We now have the opportunity to look afresh at our community and imagine new possibilities, some for the first time.
This was not true only a few years back. Soon after I began working for Kehilla in January 2015, I learned of the synagogue’s recent history. Kehilla, as an institution, had been through a challenging series of years. In the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis, finances at Kehilla had become very tight. We were regularly ending the year with a budget deficit and were spending down our financial reserves. Membership had dipped and there was real concern about our sustainability including questions about whether we could continue to afford to pay for our building. For a number of years, we did not have a full-time, permanent Executive Director.
The Kehilla staff and leadership, and in particular, the Kehilla Board of Trustees worked incredibly hard and made some tough decisions. Fortunately, Kehilla’s most valuable resource, the large group of dedicated, creative and resourceful congregants and staff remained firmly in place. By the time I arrived things were beginning to turn around.
In the last four years, I have been fortunate to witness the Kehilla community going through an extraordinary period of growth.
We have grown in size, with both our membership and school enrollment steadily increasing. Our budget has increased considerably and our staff has increased as well. We have more programs and initiatives and significantly more congregants are taking leadership. And our engagement with the wider communities has increased, as well as our collaborations with other organizations and communities and our contribution to the social justice movements in which we participate.
Kehilla as an institution is back on solid financial ground. Our growth has been steady and there is ample reason to think that it will continue. Expansion comes with new opportunities and also significant challenges. Now that our leadership no longer has to focus on institutional survival, we can look forward and begin to imagine our future. and address these opportunities and challenges.
Over the past six months, Rabbi Dev and I have been thinking seriously about the ramifications of our growth and change. We recently engaged the Kehilla Board in an in-depth conversation in which we identified the various changes that have occurred and brainstormed the opportunities and challenges that have arisen from these changes. Here are a few examples of the issues that arose:
- We are growing and thriving. How do we improve our infrastructure to sufficiently address our growing congregational needs?
- As we increase in numbers, what do we do to maintain the intimacy that is so important to our community?
- How do we continue to deepening the engagement of our congregants, including many newish ones, with the community?
- How do we encourage and empower congregants to create, organize and lead the new initiatives that have always been crucial to Kehilla’s flourishing? And how do we do this at a time when our size requires that we have more centralized administrative decision making in certain areas?
- What do we need to take care of our aging Grand Avenue home at a time when we are making increased demands on our building?
- How do we support and nurture our staff and clergy as the needs of the congregants increase?
I believe that Rabbi Dev, the members of the Kehilla board and I share the understanding that going forward, we must focus on strengthening the foundational structures of our congregation. We must focus our growth on building systems, structures and capacities to handle the increasing demands of a growing congregation.
To do this will require the involvement of many stakeholders in our community. Over the next several months, we will expand our conversations to bring many of you into the process. Thankfully, we have the security and foundational solidity to do so!