In many aspects, we have had a successful year. Our membership is up despite Covid, the attendance at services continues to grow, albeit them all being only via Zoom, and we are financially stable. These are the three key indicators most congregational leaders look at when assessing how things are going.
I like to take a bit of a different slant – so at the end of each year, I ask all the board members and committee chairs to share with me their thoughts as to what we should be most proud of having accomplished together. This Covid year, as I received and read these comments from my fellow KM volunteers, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for each one of them, as individuals and as members of a team that truly strives for the betterment of our community. Your board’s meetings have been very well attended throughout the year. The meetings are business like, participatory and free of conflict. Speaking as president for just a moment, I must share with you that this is the most collaborative team one could possibly hope for, and I am personally very grateful for this fact.
The remainder of this report seeks to summarize the comments of your board members.
But first, Rabbi Lynn, though not a board member, shared her thoughts as well and her 2 key words were generosity and resilience, thereby showing yet again just how in tune we are. KM has always been resilient, and our members have always been generous with their time and financial resources. Over the years we have bounced back from some tough situations, adapted to a changing environment, and this year is no different. Here we are with 84 voting members and 17 friends for a total of 101 members as we close the year. I also know of 3 or 4 new folks who have already joined for next year – pretty amazing isn’t it?
Rabbi Lynn’s presence continues to transform KM in a very fundamental way – she has engaged the congregation so successfully, despite the stresses of the pandemic. The best evidence of this is the regular attendance at services by about 30 people, be it Friday night or Saturday morning. Also, Rabbi Lynn’s spiritual leadership of our congregation has raised our profile in Victoria, Vancouver Island and elsewhere, including but not limited to life cycle events and education.
KM is first and foremost a caring community of like-minded Jews. This has especially proven true again this 2nd year of Covid. The Care and Concern Committee, led so capably by Deb Weiss, stepped up for this 2nd time by continuing to use its phone tree. Deb tells me the members of the phone tree did not require any direction as all she did was ask them to reach out again as the 2nd wave hit us and they did. Fortunately, this year many in our congregation had established their own support systems with friends, family, and neighbours so our need to “check in” was less than last year. In addition to Covid check-ins, Deb also made her usual 120 contacts with members by phone, get well cards, thank you cards, and deliveries. She is tireless on our behalf, and we should all be grateful she is staying on in this role for another year. I know I certainly am.
Many folks have expressed their pleasure at receiving the Membership Committee’s gifts for various holidays during the year. It was an amazing team be it for the Channukah goodies, the Rosh Hashanah apples and honey, or the Pesach recipe and story. I cannot thank everyone here but please know that everyone I asked to lead or help with each one of these responded with enthusiasm. Each of these many volunteers clearly saw the benefit of making us feel connected even when we were unable to be so. It is so much fun to work with enthusiastic volunteers! Indeed, one of our busiest volunteers when it came to these gifts, Pat Dunphy, has agreed to stand for the position of Membership Chair.
Our very successful Lecture Series this year entitled “Building Bridges: language, song, and story” was developed and implemented by a committee led by Marilyn Wolovnick. Building on her success of last year, Marilyn’s choice of six speakers and leaders generated a great deal of interest in KM. Indeed, we have received a few donations from well outside Victoria in support of this program and our congregation. Marilyn’s mastery of Zoom and attention to detail with each presenter further encouraged attendance. Our online presence was enhanced by these six presentations and quite a few folks have continued their interest in KM services and activities. I think I speak for all of us who attended that we learned a great deal about Jewish music and the arts – thank you, Marilyn, and thank you also for agreeing to continue this important work this coming year. We all look forward to learning with you again.
During this past year, Leah Kinarthy and her Hebrew School Committee worked to bring a children’s program online, with an emphasis on learning Hebrew and Jewish Holidays, starting in January 2021. This program was designed to be temporary with the goal of starting an in-person school program as soon as possible. It started with 5 children and by March had 9 students plus a younger sibling, including one family on Salt Spring. Our teacher, Ora Stefanic, designed the program and worked with each child to improve their language skills as well as their Judaica knowledge. Deb Weiss became key in working with Ora as the class grew. This program was supported by Federation and a generous KM donor. This enabled us to keep the student fees quite low. There is a detailed report written by Leah which will be attached to this report in the online version. This program has lit the spark for further children’s programming in the Fall so we are grateful to not only Leah but also her committee of Gilda Good, and Richard and Deb Weiss. Indeed, such is their commitment that Deb, Richard, and Gilda are continuing in this role for the coming year. Leah, your dedication to childhood learning of Judaica burns on even as you leave the board.
The board has approved a new and different approach to education for the coming year. Rabbi Lynn, Gilda Good, Deb Weiss and Richard Weiss have developed this innovative approach, our Kolot Mayim Jewish Family Learning Circle, a first in Victoria. We are planning on an intergenerational program that meets the first Sunday morning of each month. This will be in-person family learning for 2 hours each time. Sessions will be activity centered and focused on whole language learning. Children and parents will learn together and then be separated for one hour of each session with parents learning with Rabbi Lynn. Esther Silver and Deb Weiss, both very experienced teachers, will lead the children’s learning. Lessons will be based on specific upcoming holidays, Shabbat, and Jewish mitzvot and ethics. We are hoping to launch this program as an in-person opportunity in November of 2021 and continue through June 2022 (8 months). Promotion will begin immediately. We have applied to and received funding from Federation for the endeavour. We intend to cap registration at 8 families. This could involve 8-12 children and an equal number (or more) of parents.
During this past year, we have made more of a concerted effort to raise funds from foundations. Morris Bleviss continues to have success with his requests to Federation for funding and we will be receiving further support in the coming year. Gilda Good has led the effort in seeking out other foundations and has achieved no small amount of success as well as building the basis for further requests for support. As we moved the Introduction to Judaism Class to an online format Gilda was able to obtain about $3000 to offset the costs of doing so. Indeed, the source of these funds, the National Centre for Education on Judaism (NCEJ) has encouraged us to apply again in the future.
Speaking of grants, the Federation’s grant that usually allows us to cover the cost of some folks to attend our Seder was put to good use. We decided to help those in our Introduction to Judaism class celebrate their first Passover by giving them a few items. Gilda put together and delivered or mailed a gift bag for each of them which included a brightly coloured melamine Seder plate, beautifully designed Passover napkins, a square plastic “basket” that looked like matzah to hold matzah, and box of matzah (or chicken soup and matzo ball mix for those out of town). Everyone was thrilled by their gift!
Another project we have undertaken is entitled “Kin Keepers”. While some members of Kolot Mayim’s original members have intermittently shared some of their stories about the origins of KMRT, and a few members are in possession of Board records and possibly other papers and ephemera that document the years of KMRT’s existence in Victoria, these stories have not been adequately, accurately, and sufficiently recorded and archived. Bearing in mind the sociological notion of Kin Keepers – those family members who are the ones who keep family stories, consistently host family events, etc. – we are engaged in a project to complete such a recording of the history of KM to date.
We have hired a Project Manager, Erica Greenup, a graduate student of Lynne Marks, one of our founding members who is quite senior in UVic’s history department. We chose about a dozen people/couples from different periods of time to be interviewed by our five enthusiastic interviewers. These five were trained by Erica in interview techniques and the requisite technology. Every interviewer has shared with me what a positive experience this has been. Also, I have heard from many interviewees how much they enjoyed telling the KM story and reminiscing about our past. Again, I feel I must point out how grateful I am for these interviewers and interviewees as they have made me feel joyous as I worked on this project. Right now, Erica is working on the transcription of these interviews, and we will be writing the first draft of our history next month. I will be asking for volunteers to digitize some of the mementoes as well as printing the book. Stay tuned for more information!
As the vaccination program expanded and Covid cases declined we established a Covid Re-entry Task Force, chaired by Dr. Joel Fagan. The other 2 members are Rabbi Lynn and Gilda Good and the mandate is to follow public health recommendations and make recommendations to the board. While this is a “work in progress” the board has and will continue to receive well thought out advice from this committee. No doubt, we will be discussing this further later in this meeting when we look at Item #5 on our agenda.