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tbe farkas icon The President's Blog


Through the President's Blog, Paul Farkas will share insights and personal reflections, as well as sneak peeks into daily life at Temple Beth El. The President's Blog will be updated occasionally with posts from Paul. Readers can expect to learn about items being considered by the Board of Trustees and experience event highlights from the President's perspective. We will include many important discussions in our synagogue community, but Paul also mixes in some fun, light-hearted observations through this blog. He invites your readership and comments.  

Please email him here with any comments.

President Farkas' High Holy Day 2015 Remarks

My requests, from my HH speeches . . .

Thank you again, for the honor and privilege of leading this unique and glorious congregation for 2 ½ years.

This past year we have shared so many wonderful, meaningful, and inspiring moments.   Last Simchas Torah, our new social hall was filled with singing and dancing as we honored our USYers and rolled our scrolls back to the beginning for another great new start.  We and Sinai Temple celebrated Shavuos with dinner and a klezmer band.   We laughed and ate and schmoozed (and even listened at times) as David Brinnel and friends brought NYC (NYC, not Chicago!) to Temple Beth El in December.  Shortly after December 25, we laughed over our movie and the great Chinese food cooked by our Program Committee.   Our entire social hall was truly packed as we celebrated Purim (thank you Caryn Resnick and Marie Sampson and friends!).  We grown-ups may have had more fun with our costumes than the children all around us did!   I hope you didn’t miss the falafel at Israel Day or the instrumentalists and singers and schmoozers at the Beit Café, our very own coffee house!  At the Nechamen-Chernick Breakfast, with more great food from the Program committee, we honored our favorite clown Craig Kazin.  We celebrated wonderful Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, auf rufs, and baby-namings.   Craig and his committee arranged another inspiring day, the dedication of this sanctuary in honor of Cantor Shames.

Many of our greatest moments are those that occur quietly, day in and day out . . . at daily services, Shabbat Zimrahs, Lunch and Learn, Cuppa Joe, Shabbat Kiddush lunches, as well as at the dinners and parties, classes and get-aways for the younger set.   

And we continue to look forward . . .

Soon, we hope to have our new year-round prayer books,  with transliterations, explanations, and extra readings, like the prayer books in your hands today.  How special that our Rabbi is one of the editors.

Planning with Sinai Temple has become more intense as, with the leadership of Stuart Anfang, we hope to create an outstanding afternoon religious school for our children.  

The preservation of our building demands our constant attention.   Early in my presidency, Paul Cohen’s generous donation made possible the repair and modernization of our Social Hall.  Less apparent, but crucial, were such tasks as fixing the artesian well, searching for efficient lighting, repairing heat and air conditioning.  (Thank you Rhoda Peskin and Dan Plotkin and friends!)   

You must have noticed our new entryway already.

We are grateful to Helen Goldband for her generous bequest, and to the Feldmans and Schulmans for their support; and to the Rahn family and friends, whose bequest helped us create the beautiful back patio and garden.  And we all appreciate the work of the Art and Architecture committee under Susan Firestone and Howard Smithline who worked on putting all of this together for us.

And challenges go on . . . Although Curtis Blake School has closed, AIC is honoring its lease.  By June of 2017 we hope to have plans for using this space.   

Continuing a new tradition, I come to you with three requests:

My first request is that we all realize that it is we who are all responsible for the growth and development of our Temple.  

We cannot afford to be complacent . . . you can’t assume the person in the next seat will be the one to offer new ideas, time, energy, and financial support.

In contrast to other causes appearing in envelopes and robo-calls, I want to remind all of us that this is our synagogue.  I am aware there are many worthwhile causes in our valley and beyond, but this is our spiritual home.  This is where we share so much . . . as we study, learn, pray, celebrate family events, come in times of need, and just get together.  

Temple Beth El belongs to each of us.  And unlike so many other charities, we the members sitting in this room are the only donors.   This is our responsibility.  

My second request is that as we donate, each of us makes a pledge to ourselves that we will take full advantage of this temple we support.  Please, come for our weekly Kiddush lunches, our Shabbat Zimrah’s, our speakers, our study groups, our services big and small.  

It is interesting, but the more we come, the more we will want to come, and the better we get to know members who now may seem like distant relatives.   At least as important as our new members is the increasing presence and caring of all of us, as we grow together.  

We may have the greatest clergy, office team, and building, but it is our being here that makes all of this so special and meaningful.

And while you’re coming to all these great gatherings, please remember that there is no reason to keep this place a secret.  One day I was minding my own business . . . when Stu and Michelle Anfang invited me to a Hanukkah party here!  Please invite your friends and neighbors to times like the next rousing Shabbat Zimrah. Let them find out how great a place this is!

My third request is, for me, special.  A gift to ourselves, to each other, and to our temple.  And it does not involve money, time, or effort.  

I know that we really love and appreciate this second home of ours.  Most of the people who really need to hear about this gift are not even here today.  Please, be our emissaries, and discuss this gift with friends and neighbors.  

Now and then, when I talk with people about our temple, they become serious and start their “stories,” often involving a problem from the past, often years ago.

Someone wrote that holding a grudge is like drinking slow poison … the only one hurt is the grudge-holder.

This is the day of forgiveness …we  ask it of God and we ask it of each other.  Let’s ask it of ourselves.  

I would like to see this day, in part, be a day of personal forgiveness and acceptance  

We need to think of our “bad stories,” and let them go.

We also need to think of current issues, and accept that we are in many ways like a real family…

Now I understand that occasionally family members disagree and argue.   At least that is what I have been told….   This is not new.  In Rosh Hashanah’s Torah portion a mother and son were sent out into the desert with a skin of water!  In that day’s Haftarah, Elkana’s two wives torment each other!

Here, within our Temple family, I fully understand that not all of us are happy with every decision that has been agreed upon.   My request would be that we accept that we will not always agree, that there are many conflicting voices, but we understand that we all have the best interests of our Temple at heart.  I, too, do not always personally agree with every decision made here.  Please please, let’s continue to participate and work together to make TBE all it can be.  

And that is my third request… let’s let the old conflicts go, accept that we will not always agree, and accept each other as trying to do what’s best for our temple.  Let’s never be afraid to express our opinions – for as one member recently reminded me, Jews always have different opinions… but at a certain point, it is time to leave the disagreement behind and move on …  together.

When we give a gift, whether the gift of support, the gift of showing up, or the gift of acceptance and forgiving, we are giving to ourselves, individually and to each other. .…

Notes from the Meeting with the Architect, February 7, 2015

On February 7, 2015 we met with our architect, Scott Cohen, and Cantor Shames.  The meeting was in the Sanctuary and lasted about 1 hour and 45 minutes.  Initially there were about 100 people.  As it was Shabbat, notes could not be taken, but I have done my best to summarize the meeting.  Please email me at if you have additions or corrections.

Rabbi Katz started by welcoming us and emphasizing our values in this endeavor including being fiscally responsible, making our services handicapped accessible, and our services more interactive, warm and welcoming as we cultivate and strengthen our community, and building for our future.

Scott presented two alternative plans…

(Please see attachments below…)
He emphasized that we have not chosen one plan over another and that we are still in an early stage of exploration.

He discussed the center “Chapel in the Sanctuary” with about 120 seats that could be re-arranged as for High Holy Days or other events.  (These would be individual seats linked together.)

He discussed accessibility.  We are in the 25th year of the Americans with Disabilities Act which mandates physical accessibility being essential, and also that we should recognize that those who are disabled should have a similar experience as non-disabled people have.  Their experiences should not be isolated.  To include them in the sequence with non-handicapped people.  “Spatial Justice.”   

Plan 2/2/15 -- More “arena-like” with a skewed angle.  Seating in the middle again would be movable.  This does shape a somewhat more unusual flat area, and more limited in terms of numbers of seats in the center.

Plan 2/4/15 -- Similar to earlier plan, but with the seating pivoted slightly towards the high bimah.
In the October plan, the flat floor area is more regularly shaped.

Discussed building the main floor that might be with either wood or concrete, for which we will need engineering input.

We can add a central aisle in the October design (on the side seating…so each row is not so long).

Acoustics discussed…need to have a formal evaluation of this. 
A question of application of some material to the ceiling.  Also, the audio system in this room is old.  Our sound contractor a year ago stated it was then adequate, but what they have today is leaps and bounds better.  Many ways to improve our audio experience.  Could consider acoustic tile or dropped speakers.

Seat positioning discussed…how to keep us engaged during the service.  Each plan, as well as the current plan, will have seats where some folks have to twist a bit… the newer plans have less of this.

Discussion on facing the central speakers podium (bimah on the flat surface) vs. the ark.  The ark holds the Torah, but not a focus of worship for most.  It has an important role.  Our ark is beautiful.  Our sense of community, though, is important, our ability to interact with each other.  To keep an eye on one and another.  The new seating arrangement is common both historically and increasingly in the present.  Should the ark be the center of our experience???
Much of the seating is frontal in all these plans, so each person has the option to choose their preferred focus of attention.

Can this room be an “intimate space?”  We can agree we all want a more intimate space???  Can this happen?  With the height of the ceiling…can we have intimacy?

If we are all sitting closer together it will be more intimate.  Cantor Shames used to point out that this (where the new lecturn would be) is the acoustic center of the room.  Other rabbis have requested change in our past.  If we are speaking from the center of the room that has to help the hearing problem.  Handicapped accessible…nothing better than flat and close…as opposed to the trek to the bimah…no trek, closer distances, close to bathrooms.  People complain that it is too hard to come to services…

What makes the chapel so special is not its ark, but its intimacy.

Cantor Shames:  we are all friends. Our goal is to make our congregation better if we can.  He recalled the 75th anniversary, buring the mortage.  He praised the magnificent bimah.  Talked about how every Friday nite would have 500 people.
The rabbis always wanted to come down from the bimah…this is not the right way.  Our society has changed; we are a more and more elderly congregation…harder for people to get up the stairs.  If I came today, I could not get up to the bimah ….I could not do an aliyah up at the ark.  What are we changing…we are not changing the windows, the ark, the shape of the room.  I gave up an organ and a choir which I adored very much.  He wore robes when he came.   The music changed.   We want people to come and talk with the rabbi and sing with the cantor.  This may not be what everyone wants, but we are a great congregation.  We have to come together.  We have to work together.  Give a little, take a little.  We will love whatever we do.  I love this congregation, I hate the conflict, this should be fun, excitement, something to look forward to in this century.  Let's come together.  

Scott explained the ramp next.  Can’t put ramp on right side of the bimah as there is a stairway to the basement.  The ramp does wrap around the marble, so that there will be minimal change in the marble and the menorah will remain in place.  There will be a brief period where folks using the ramp will not be clearly visible.

Some discussion on the differences between the designs of 2/2 and 2/4.   

A reminder that the ark will remain where it is, but the two steps in front of it would be removed, we would lower the Torahs within the ark.

Notes from Sanctuary Parlor Meetings, December 3 & 8, 2014

We are continuing in our discussions regarding re-envisioning our Sanctuary.

Since my last “posting” we have had our final two parlor meetings, and had the opportunity to meet with our architect, Scott Cohen.   

Our second parlor meeting was on 12/3/14 and had 21 in attendance.
Our third parlor meeting was on 12/8/14 and had 25 in attendance.
Approximately 50 attended our meeting with Scott on 12/16/14.

Rather than summarize each meeting, I want to try to compile various comments and, when appropriate, Scott’s comments.   

I am attaching a graphic showing the proposed plan.

Again, please remember that the center area is flat.  There is a lectern (Bimah) in the center with movable seats facing it.  The movable seats mean that we can create a center aisle if we need to.  

Comments discussed at our meetings:

To have the seats staggered so that we are not looking at the back of the person ahead of us and people could see better.

To leave out some of the seating deep in the triangular spaces near the windows.

One thought we had been considering was to have radiant heat in the central, flat area . . . If we proceed with radiant heat for the central area, the floor in that area would not be carpeted.   Radiant heat does not work through carpet.

Some of the seats in the central area will be facing each other.  This engenders a sense of community, feeling connected.  Many traditional synagogues are set up this way.   Of note is that for those who do not want to directly face others, the seats in front of the central Bimah do not face other seats.   We would be able to see and hear better.

Concerns were expressed about a lack of symmetry regarding the marble in the front, if we proceed with a ramp.  

Size:  Scott is estimating the central (flat ) area will seat 120-140, which should meet the needs of most Shabbat services, Musical Shabbat services, many bar/bat mitzvahs.  For overflow, the gently graded seats around the central area will work very well.

Concerts:  A question was raised in terms of concerts . . .  The plan would be to have the center seats movable.  Options would be to have the concert performers in the center area (the center podium would also be movable), or to have them on the main bimah and move the seats in the center area to be facing them.   Of course, on the other end of our social hall we do have a full stage with lighting, etc. . .

Seating and visualizing the center bimah:  It was pointed out that our present seating does not work too well if one is on the sides of the room.  In the new model, folks will not have to turn as much.  The two podiums on the central bimah will be closer.   Also, there will likely be only three or four times when the sanctuary will be that full each year.  The vast majority of services would involve the center flat space, and the center bimah.  

How long will this take???  If we are set, the goal would be to time this so that the bulk of it would be done over the summer, when there is less need for the sanctuary.
Perhaps some bar/bat mitzvahs would have to be done in the social hall.

Front Steps:  By raising the front end of the flat area (to make the floor flat) we will eliminate two of the steps to the current bimah.   We would also plan to put hand rails on these steps to make them more “user friendly.”

Could we do all services from the central bimah (podium)?  Certainly . . . for the HH services we would have to elevate it on a temporary platform. 

Transitioning???  Perhaps we could start with services on the HH from the upper bimah for a year or more, and then consider moving HH services to the center as folks get more comfortable with this arrangement.  

Acoustics:  This has been a real problem for many.  Even on the evening Scott was here, many complained that they could not hear much of the discussion (the portable microphone needs to be held within about an inch of your mouth) . . . Just using a center podium, and working on the sound/acoustics could be a major improvement . . . Consulting with acoustic engineers is part of the plan, once the arrangement of the room is discussed.

Weddings:  Although we have not had a wedding at TBE in years (it is not the “new” style), there would be options of having a chuppah in the center area or on the higher bimah.   Again, center seats would be movable.  We could create a center aisle, but again the aisle from the door is fine . . .

Interesting question from Scott:  If we had the “new” sanctuary right now, would we be considering changing it to what we have now???    

At the end of the meeting with Scott, Cantor Shames spoke.  He recollected how for 60 years, this has been his sanctuary and his home.   He reminisced about many of the changes that occurred over that time, and pointed out that, compared to previous changes, this one would be easy.  (He pointed out that the discussions on allowing women onto the bimah were a real challenge.)   He referred to Scott as our “Impresario,” who feels part ownership in our sanctuary.   Cantor Shames also remarked on how happy he was that Rabbi Katz was his Rabbi, and how pleased he has been with her leadership.  He pointed out that many other synagogues have changed their seating and approaches to services.   He said how excited, happy, and proud he was to have called this his home for 60 years, and now to be starting a “new adventure,” which will be “wonderful.”   “We’ll make it work and we’ll all come together.”

Sanctuary Parlor Meeting Notes, November 23, 2014

First Parlor Meeting
November 23, 2014

Attendees:  About 30

Thoughts shared* 

1.    The Chapel:  There was some discussion on the chapel, including the possibility of enlarging it to meet our needs.  As was pointed out to us, all of the architects who toured our building described our chapel as a perfect space, although it clearly does need a face lift.  Also pointed out was that the cost of enlarging the chapel, which involves changing our footprint, might be more expensive, and not solve our problems.  Also, it would no longer work for our twice-daily minyans, and our smaller services.
2.    Use of the bimah (i.e.: seats on the bimah) -- this issue was raised.  The use of the bimah, both the high one and the new one, deserves serious consideration by clergy and by the Ritual Committee.   It was pointed out that for most services, the lower bimah would clearly be used.  The question would be High Holy Days and larger services.
3.    In the new model, where would the clergy sit???  Answer was that, similar to the chapel, they would likely claim seats in the first bench.
4.    Can we make the handicapped access symmetric, i.e.: the plan calls for a ramp on one side, and stairs on the other.   
5.    Two people pointed out that they had visited shuls with similar plans to what we are considering and it felt great to them, “intimate and very spiritual.”
6.    What about the menorah on the left, and the US and Israel flags???
7.    Pews:  There was much discussion on the pews.
  1. Placement of Pews:  One suggestion was to have the pews on the sides placed at a slight angle so that both main bimah and new bimah could be viewed, and used.  One  suggestion was to have movable pews.
  2. We addressed this with Scott.  His thoughts:  As a result of the way the seating arrangement exists today, all of the people sitting in the right side section of the sanctuary must crane their necks to look leftward toward the rabbi.  The closer they are to the front, the more they must turn.  The opposite problem exists for viewing the cantor from the left side of the auditorium seating.  The problem is that the auditorium was designed to be exceedingly wide, and the rabbi and cantor are spaced too far apart.  Compare this with how much people will need to turn to look at the rabbi on the pulpit in the new scheme.  Note that in the new scheme, the lecterns on the pulpit will be at the same level they were before, but are set back somewhat and are closer to the center than they are today.  This position helps the rabbi to be viewed well from the side seating areas that face the windows.  The pews in the flat floor area should be movable to be reoriented toward the pulpit during High Holy Days.
  3. Seats in the center:  One suggestion was instead of pews here, that we have individual seats that could be moved, linked together, etc.  Greater flexibility for different types of services . . .

8.    Center Podium:  What would this look like on the High Holy Days???  One option would be to raise this for the Holy Days . . . perhaps with a ramp to facilitate handicapped access.  How would this work??
9.    Heat:  Present plan calls for possibility of radiant heat . . . Would this work?
10.    Cost:  Pointed out that as this is a plan in progress, we have not yet sought out bids in terms of cost . . . we need to have a better idea of what it will look like when done.
11.     Next Steps:  Plan is to have the three Parlor Meetings, then to re-group, and ultimately there will be one or more meetings with the architect to review all these comments and others.


* I am limiting this write-up to thoughts regarding our sanctuary/worship spaces.  There were comments regarding the process . . . which will all need to be carefully considered.    
**  My comments are in italics . . . comments from participants at the meeting are in regular print.  (Also, I did add comments from Scott.)

As we prepare for the coming year

September 2014

As I write to you today, in mid-July, it is difficult to picture your reading these words in September.  I am truly hoping that by that time the situation in Israel will have calmed down, and perhaps (am I daring to hope for too much?) a real truce will have been established. We pray for a time when Israel’s right to exist will be accepted, when there will be no more rockets launched into Israel, no more terrorist excursions into Israel, but rather a life of peace for everyone in the region.

Recently Aleza Falk, Alyson Grodsky, Eva Draymore and other Shabbat Torah readers have told of our people’s arrival at the bank of the Jordan River. There they wait, preparing for life in the Promised Land and listening to the words of Moses.

In the present, we at Temple Beth El are also in a quiet season, as we prepare for the coming year, and for the years after that. The background rhythm of synagogue life continues, with daily services morning and evening, with Shabbat services weekly. In the chapel and the conference room, we continue to gather and learn.

Even during this short quiet season, we get together for fun. If you missed our evening of pastrami, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit and Toffuti this summer, please try not to make the same mistake next year! Thank you, Program Committee!

We also look forward to the first Shabbat of August, with Friday night dinner and talks with our visiting Rabbi from Israel. A few days later should find us remembering our past on the Ninth of Av.

Our teachers are already planning our Melton classes for September, as well as our Beth El classes on Wednesdays and Sundays.

Preston Scott Cohen is also busy thinking about our coming years as he plans for our Sukkah area and our Sanctuary. It’s common for synagogues to have large sanctuaries. It’s unusual to have an architect of Scott’s stature tackling the challenge of preserving our sanctuary’s beauty and look and “feel” while creating a new and more inspirational space within, applying modern acoustics so that we all hear each other, and addressing such issues as lighting, temperature, companionship, and spirituality. His ideas could become a model of synagogue renewal.

Scott considers this a personal mitzvah, and is donating his time. Two generous gifts should cover the expenses of his firm, and his portion of the project should be budget neutral.

Of course, we are planning for the High Holy Days. This year marks my second High Holy Day fund drive. I am already searching for the words to adequately express how important it is for us all to donate to our very own synagogue. One of the biggest challenges of being president is dealing with our need for a balanced budget and our need to maintain the vibrant, growing, and supportive community we all want our temple to continue to provide.

As we all struggle with these concerns, please remember that Temple Beth El is open every day of the week. Perhaps you stop in often, or perhaps you can barely find the entrance. No matter. Just Show Up! Please email me here if you have any questions.


Drums and lyres

tbe paul beitJuly 2014

As I sit down to write, I believe that winter has indeed ended (this time). It still amazes me that, like the weather, each season at shul is so distinctly different.

As spring seemed to arrive, we took out “drums and lyres” and played and sang at the Beit Café (special thanks to Cantor Barber, Curt Freedman, Dennis Gordan, and all our musicians). While we raised funds for our Jewish campers and enjoyed a gourmet breakfast (thank you Program Committee!) at the Nechamen/Chernick Breakfast, two great honorees spoke of synagogue life: Gene Baker spoke eloquently of daily services, and Dennis Gordan described his own fascinating journey, starting as the boy who lived across the street from the shul and growing into a true gabbai (someone who assists with the running of services) on Shabbat. As part of the festivities at our SKLC fundraiser, our honoree, Michelle Anfang, life-long learner, left no doubt that she would put her new lunchbox to great use! During the Purim Megillah reading on the big screen, I learned to adjust to having a tail (beware of Purim costumes!) and partied with other strange characters afterwards! Our pre-Passover Shabbat dinner would have still been just as great fun, even without that welcome respite from cooking in an about-to-be-chametz-free environment! Newcomers to our “Musical Shabbat” Friday night services marveled at their beauty, no less captivating for having their ticket-free, parking-hassle-free environment! 

Our rising bar/bat mitzvah students have been giving our chapel a special aura on Shabbat mornings. We thank Gabrielle Zeller, Joshua Peck, Kayla Weiss, and Nina Katz for leading us through some difficult Torah portions, and celebrating with us afterwards on their bar/bat mitzvah days.

Meanwhile, our younger set prepared for “pizza and guitar” as they celebrated a great year of school and a great night of Shavuot!

And the treasured background rhythm of temple life continues, with our daily services (morning and evening), Just-Show-Up Shabbats, Lunch and Learn on Wednesdays, and Cuppa Joe on Sunday morning. On various Sunday evenings, late in the month, several members bring a special glow as they stop by for a few prayers and greetings at minyan after serving dinner to the less fortunate.
And we continue to plan for our future. As I write this, we are starting to structure plans as we work with our architect, Preston Scott Cohen, to consider our worship spaces, to search for ways to make our beautiful sanctuary feel comfortable for smaller groups and still work for large services. We also would like to make our chapel more welcoming and comfortable, and our Sukkah area more useful and flexible. By the time you read this, we will have had our initial meetings with our architect, and hopefully be working on the initial plans and schematics.

Unfortunately, though, not all of our hopes and plans proceed smoothly.

Perhaps you recall that we have been discussing our afternoon religious school programs with Sinai Temple. A joint task force, with members from both temples, has been meeting regularly through the year. We have hoped to explore ways to combine resources and to enhance our children’s educational and religious experiences. We thank our dedicated task force members: Iris Linson (chair), Stuart Anfang and Mallory Caplan (vice-chairs), Maxine Bernstein, Meredith Dragon, Erica Kaplan, Rabbi Amy Katz, Caryn Resnick, and Amy Wistreich (ex-officio, Paul Farkas).

In May, we were advised that the Sinai committee wanted to re-examine this process and its goals. After further discussions with Sinai, we have both decided to put this particular process on hold for a while, and so our May and June meetings were cancelled.

Despite the difficulties presented by our evolving modern society, our own religious school is excellent and continues to explore exciting educational ideas. One unified message delivered by all task force members surveying both schools concerned the dedication of our teachers and the excellence of our programs.

“Taking a break” (with the hope of coming back together soon) from this particular process does not mean “taking a break” from exploring ways to keep improving our religious school. In this continuing effort, we will seeking other re-sources in the valley as educational partners.

It is my conviction that we do need to work together with other congregations to share and enhance resources. We can all maintain our individual identities and missions while we help each other. Together – as a congregation and as part of the greater Jewish community -- we can maintain our strength and excellence while we plan for the future.

Meanwhile, we hope you are enjoying our summer. And please remember that no matter what the season, we at Temple Beth El are always open and always welcome you to “Just Show Up.”