President’s report: virtual services, busy board help maintain Temple’s energy during Covid era

By Betsy Frank

Betsy Frank is UHC para-rabbinic fellow and president. She delivered this message during the congregation’s annual meeting — held via Zoom teleconference — on July 19.

The past year split abruptly into segments following two distinct realities — one pre-Covid and one post-Covid.

Before the middle of March, we worshipped weekly at the Temple. We celebrated monthly onegs when student rabbi Remy Liverman led services.

Boom! Zoom! A stay-at-home order changed everything.

Religious school studied weekly under the capable leadership of Karen Harris with help from Debra Israel and Jennifer Garcia-Israel. Sisterhood gathered on the second Tuesday of each month, weather and health permitting.

Norma was on-site each morning and Lori cleaned regularly.

Then, Boom! Zoom! A stay-at-home order changed everything.

UHC took a week off, then resumed with virtual services

You might think the congregation closed up shop and sat back to wait out the pandemic. On the contrary, United Hebrew Congregation during the Covid era has been active as ever.

After one week off to regroup, we began, similar to many congregations around the country, weekly Shabbat services via Zoom.

Our student rabbi never missed a beat and kept to her regular schedule. In fact, Remy has contributed Torah readings even after her commitment officially came to an end.

Attendance actually grew at Shabbat services. Family members from around the country joined us and some sent donations.

Religious school continued to meet, as did the Temple board. We even held our Seder via Zoom.

Thanks to our treasurer, Bruce Black, we obtained a small Paycheck Protection Program Small Business Administration loan to pay secretary Norma Collins while Indiana experienced its stay-at-home order.

Attendance actually grew at Shabbat services. Family members from around the country joined us and some sent donations.

We gained a new member and others have expressed interest. Longtime members who have not been able to attend, in-person services found Zoom a convenient alternative.

Yes, unlike many congregations our size, we continue to offer weekly Shabbat services. And those services are more viable than they have been in years.

What will the High Holy Days bring?

Still, we face the question, “what will the future bring?” The realistic answer is, “who knows?” Covid will be with us for some time, with many of our congregation at high risk.

The board, however, continues to plan for meaningful engagement of members through Zoom.

Hebrew Union College (HUC) has assigned a student rabbi to us for the next academic year. While we will keep the option open for in in-person visits, Emily Dana is well-versed in liturgy and the board has full confidence in her ability to lead meaningful services from a distance.

Following a difficult decision by the board, those virtual services will include the High Holy Days. Many congregations around the country have faced the same reality.

Incoming student rabbi Emily Dana is well-versed in liturgy and the board has full confidence in her ability to lead meaningful services from a distance.

These plans may change should the situation improve. Meanwhile, the Union for Reform Judaism and HUC have provided much guidance to inform us during the evolving Covid situation.

In fact, I have participated in more virtual conference calls during the past four months than in the past two years combined. As the High Holy Days get closer, we’ll keep you informed.

Our sense of community remains strong

You might question the value of virtual activities. I can safely say for those who have participated, our sense of community and Jewish identity remains strong. Virtual participation is not ideal, but the Zoom-sphere can help us maintain strong ties until we can safely return to our beautiful building.

In fact, the congregation will continue to offer a virtual participation option for activities, even when those activities resume on-site. Virtual services and other activities allow greater participation of our members and guests and may help expand our membership. Keep in mind that many other congregations have offered a virtual option, even before Covid.

The congregation will continue to offer a virtual participation option for activities, even when those activities resume on-site.

Finally, I want to thank the board for its hard work in dealing with the pandemic.

Bruce Black has ably ensured our financial responsibilities are met. Terry Fear has continued to work on restoration initiatives and security concerns and represented the congregation for many interfaith initiatives. Wilma Turetzky and Debra Israel have served as our faithful representatives to the Farrington’s Grove Historical District.

Giving thanks

I want to express a special thank you to Debra, who is leaving the board. I will miss her wise counsel but will still call on Debra for advice and participation in various initiatives. I also want to thank Scott Skillman for coordinating cemetery activities. Sadly, Scott has been busy the past few months.

Norma Collins deserves special thanks for serving as our corporate memory, checking in with congregants and generally keeping us on track.

Norma Collins deserves special thanks for serving as our corporate memory, checking in with congregants and generally keeping us on track.

I also want to thank my husband, Dick. He has provided tech support for our Zoom services and performs many behind-the-scenes activities that benefit our congregation.

Covid may have changed the way we operate, but that pesky virus has not kept us down. UHC will continue to serve as a vibrant source of worship and well-being for all of us!

Shalom,

Betsy Frank

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