Dear Beth El Family,
As the Temple’s fiscal year comes to a close on June 30, let’s take a look back at a few of the highlights from the past 12 months. It was another ambitious year at Beth El, jam-packed with exceptional Jewish experiences.
We began the 2022-2023 fiscal year with the formal launch of an extensive strategic planning process that will guide us for the next three to five years. A task force of lay leaders and staff members are working with a national consulting firm to help shepherd us through this complex process. You may have already participated in the process by answering our congregational survey or attending one of our focus group meetings. The strategic planning process is still ongoing with an estimated completion date in late 2023.
As we welcomed back our members and students from summer vacation, we kicked off another year of forming bonds of friendship through Beth El Circles and Beth El Chavurot groups. Beth El Circles are small groups based on shared common interests such as hobbies, movies, running, arts, trivia, pickle ball, and many more. There are currently over 40 Circles to choose from. For those who prefer to be matched up with a group of other folks of a similar age and stage in life, there are Chavurah groups which meet occasionally for social and Jewish events. If you are interested in joining a Circle please contact Julie Guzy, or a Chavurah please contact Rachael Rand.
In August we welcomed back to school over 500 Religious School students (kindergarten-12th Grade) and over 300 Early Learning Center students (0 to 5 years old). The Beth El Early Learning Center (“ELC”) was once again completely full with a substantial waiting list. The Religious School exceeded our available classroom capacity on Sunday mornings at the Beck Family Campus so we offered additional mid-week and Schaefer Family Campus options this year. This fiscal year we held 68 Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and we graduated 80 Pre-K students from the ELC who are moving on to kindergarten.
In September we welcomed the Jewish New Year with meaningful High Holy Day worship services in person at Temple Beth El, Florida Atlantic University and online through Virtual Beth El.
The High Holy Days officially begin with Selichot, and this year Selichot was also the kick-off of our three-part series on antisemitism. We began the series with a weekend of thought-provoking conversations with Dara Horn, the award winning author of the book, People Love Dead Jews, a startling exploration of the fascination with Jewish deaths, as emblematic of the worst of evils the world has to offer, and so little respect for Jewish lives.
In October we experienced the depth and personal reflection of our Yom Kippur congregational worship services, and the joy and celebration of our annual festivals of Sukkot and Simchat Torah. As is our tradition at Beth El, on Simchat Torah we unraveled the entire Torah scroll around the perimeter of the Rabbi Merle E. Singer Sanctuary as we read the final verse of Deuteronomy and then begin the Book of Genesis with the story of creation. And then, of course, we ate!
Also in October was Part 2 of our antisemitism series where we welcomed Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League. His visit was timely because he was interviewed extensively that same week by many national media outlets in response to rapper Kanye West’s antisemitic comments made a few days before Jonathan’s visit to Beth El.
In November we installed Rabbi Elana Rabishaw as the newest member of our incredible clergy team. Elana grew up in Los Angeles, California where her father is a rabbi as well. Rabbi Elana graduated from the University of Wisconsin- Madison, followed by graduate studies at the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion where she obtained her Rabbinic Ordination. Elana has fit right in at Beth El and her presence allows us to connect with a broader segment of our members, particularly younger individuals and Early Learning Center parents and their children.
Throughout the year, Religious School Tribal Gatherings are taking place, allowing students to hang out with their friends for enjoyable, social activities. Each school grade has its own tribe and they get together on Sunday afternoons or on weeknights for fun times like sushi in the sukkah, movie nights and scavenger hunts. We also have a Parent Tribe where Religious School parents can get to know one another through fun and relaxing get-togethers organized by other Religious School parents.
In December Sisterhood held its marquee event, the annual Sisterhood Luncheon. This year’s theme was Women Leading Women, a Celebration of Women’s Accomplishments on the 50th Anniversary of the Enactment of Title IX. The event featured a dynamic panel of three outstanding women in the world of sports. Sisterhood also honored two well-deserving Temple Beth El legends – Wendy Walin and Shelley Marcus. The event also raised significant funds to support Sisterhood and other Temple initiatives and programs.
We also welcomed to our bima at the Schaefer Family Campus, David Friedman, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and member of the team responsible for the Abraham Accords. Ambassador Friedman’s visit to Beth El was Part 3 of our antisemitism series. Rabbi Levin conducted a fascinating interview with Ambassador Friedman about the State of Israel and the complex relationship it shares with the United States and its Arab neighbors.
Of course, December would not be December without Beth El’s annual Chanukah extravaganza. This year we celebrated the Chanukah Celebration of Miracles at the Schaefer Family Campus with a lively service filled with music, song and light, followed by a Chanukah party outdoors on the back lawn. There were food trucks, a fun photo station, a DJ, dancing and of course a whole latke gelt and dreidels.
December is also the busiest month of the year for The Giving Tree of Temple Beth El. At this time of the year, this amazing group of tireless volunteers undertook their annual Holiday Giving program which provided over two-thousand holiday gifts for underprivileged children, teens and adults in our local area. Started at Temple Beth El over thirty years ago, The Giving Tree’s annual holiday project makes the holidays brighter for those among us who lack many basic resources that we take for granted.
Cantorial Soloist Michelle Auslander-Cohen treated us to a moving musical experience with her concert “Bellissima”. Michelle sang beautifully with her special guest, esteemed New York Cantor, David Katz. Michelle and David enchanted the audience with duets from opera, Broadway and more. This concert, as well as several other cultural events throughout the year, were made possible by the generosity of those Temple members who participate in the Friends of the Music and Arts.
Brotherhood held its most successful fundraising event of the year in January – the annual Brotherhood Golf Event. Our honoree this year was Bruce Moldow, a member of the Board of Trustees who has held multiple officer positions at Beth El for over a decade. The Brotherhood Golf Tournament included 18 holes of golf at the Boca Rio Country Club, as well as a gourmet lunch, cocktails, an awards dinner and several golf competitions throughout the day.
In January, the Temple hosted Dr. Michele Borba, an internationally renowned educator, award-winning author and parenting expert. Dr. Borba’s lecture, “Helping Children Thrive in an Uncertain World”, and the follow-up workshops on various child rearing topics allowed Beth El parents to learn from one of the nation’s leading experts on ways to raise resilient children in these challenging times.
The Early Learning Center team and an outstanding group of volunteers from the ELC’s Parenthood organization put on Family Fun Day in January. This is the marquee ELC event of the year where we invite existing ELC families and children, as well as prospective ELC families, to the Beck Family Campus for a fun-filled carnival and open house. This year we welcomed over 1,000 guests to this event which included rides, carnival games, a petting zoo, arts & crafts, food trucks and a special Shabbat experience.
Beth El Teens went to Washington, D.C. in January as well. Six of our teen leaders went with Rabbi Greg Weisman to the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s L’taken Teen Social Justice Seminar. Joined by 300 of their peers from around the country, they spent the weekend celebrating Shabbat including Havdalah at the Jefferson Memorial, and visiting national landmarks including the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The seminar highlight was each teen having the opportunity to go to Capitol Hill to speak to the staff of our elected officials, advocating their vision for a better world.
In 2019 Temple Beth El received a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to help fund a portion of a perimeter security enhancement project at the Schaefer Family Campus. After years of governmental delays and supply chain problems, we finally completed the project in February 2023. Enhancements include a 7-foot-high perimeter fence, vehicular and pedestrian access control gates, additional exterior lighting and additional surveillance cameras.
In February we hosted Musical Artist in Residence Elana Arian for a melodic weekend including Blue Jeans Shabbat Shira (The Sabbath of Song) followed by a delicious BBQ dinner. On Saturday morning we were treated to a unique musical Shabbat morning worship experience with Elana Arian, Cantor Lori Brock and Cantorial Soloist Jake Harris.
One of the best ways to meet new friends is at our annual Night of 50 Shabbat Dinners which took place in February this year. Hosts and guests are matched up with one another based on age, stage and geographic location and they share a Shabbat Dinner in a host member’s home. This year over 350 members participated as either a host or a guest.
Purim was rockin’ at Beth El this year with a 1950’s themed Purim Rock-N-Roll service and spiel. This year’s Purim spectacular featured your favorite melodies from the musical Grease, followed by a Hamantaschen Oneg with live music from the 50s. Hopefully you were here to see Queen Esther in her poodle skirt and King Achashveros with his hair slicked back.
Speaking of Purim . . . a group of talented Beth El Religious School students put on the incredible “Esther – A Persian Musical”, a hilarious, timely and authentic Purim spiel that reframed the story of Purim through the lens of one of the most relevant and inspiring musicals of our time – Hamilton! This play featured Beth El Religious School students and was directed by Barclays Performing Arts.
March was also the launch of the We’ve Got You Covered Fundraising Campaign. Two years ago at the Beck Family Campus we opened our new “Natural Themed” playground. But there was something missing: a shade structure on this playground which will keep our kids protected from the harsh Florida sun. “We’ve Got You Covered” is a fundraising campaign which will bring a much-needed shade structure to the “Natural” Playground. We anticipate this structure will cost around $50,000. We have raised over $35,000 so far, thanks to support from Beth El Early Learning Center parents, grandparents and teachers, and a generous matching gift from the Brotherhood of Temple Beth El.
The Beth El Mausoleum is a unique component of Temple Beth El. It provides a final resting place for Beth El members and their loved ones, as well as for the Jewish community of South Florida, right here on the sacred grounds of Temple Beth El. When individuals and families are experiencing the most difficult times in their lives, we are here for them, providing end-of-life planning and comfort in the embrace of our Temple community. There is a need for more available space at the Beth El Mausoleum, and so this year the Board of Trustees authorized the construction of an expansion. Architectural plans were completed in March and have been submitted to the City of Boca Raton for building permit review. We hope to break ground in approximately one year.
On April Fool’s Day (April 1st) we hosted a 1920s-themed Beth El Bash at the Schaefer Family Campus to raise money to complete the refurbishment of the Rabbi Merle E. Singer Sanctuary. The honorary chairs for the Bash were Rabbi Emeritus Merle Singer as well as Sheila & Dick Asher. 350 guests attended the Bash year and we are pleased to report that we far exceeded our fundraising goal for the evening thanks to the incredible generosity of our sponsors and attendees. It was a spectacular evening that could have only gone better if the FAU Owls had not lost their NCAA Final Four basketball game on a last second buzzer beater.
Rabbi Dan Levin and Cantor Lori Brock led over 200 guests for a second-night Passover Seder at Temple Beth El in April. If you didn’t want to cook and clean all day to host a Seder at your home, you could have joined us at the Schaefer Family campus as we retold the story of Passover and enjoyed a wonderful Seder meal catered by Artisan Foods.
The Omer is the 49-day period between Passover and Shavuot. After the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, it became the custom to count the 49 days of the grain harvest leading to Shavuot, marking each step in our journey to Mount Sinai to receive the gift of Torah. This year in the month of April we marked the counting of the Omer through the wisdom of Rabbi Karyn Kedar’s book Omer: A Counting. Each of the seven weeks focused on a theme related to growing our spiritual awareness.
In April, Beth El hosted the annual Nuremberg Lawyer’s Luncheon in conjunction with the South Palm Beach County Bar Association and Lynn University. Rabbi Jessica Mates spearheaded this blockbuster event attended by over 300 guests, mostly local attorneys, which featured nationally renowned lawyer and art historian Amy Herman. Ms. Herman spoke to us about how viewing art can impact our perceptions of the world.
Project Nuremberg included an additional special event this year, a sneak peek and discussion of the documentary film “Nathan-ism”, with appearances by the filmmaker Elan Golod and producer Nancy Spielberg in conversation with Rabbi Mates. The event also included a display of the artwork of Nathan Hilu, of blessed memory. Temple Beth El’s Project Nuremberg is graciously underwritten by Jay and Marilyn Weinberg and provides programming that explores the Holocaust, Law and Ethics.
We also celebrated Israel’s 75th Birthday with several events, capped off by our annual Yom Ha’atzmaut – Blue and White Israel Shabbat service and dinner. In addition to a delicious Israeli-themed dinner catered by Artisan Foods, we took the opportunity as we approached the end of the year to welcome Shabbat with Israeli music and prayer, and also honor our volunteers and 10th grade confirmation class.
May saw the launch of the Temple’s newest innovation – the Essential Questions Podcast with Rabbi Dan Levin. This podcast, which is produced, recorded, edited and distributed in-house, poses essential questions and then invites a conversation with remarkable people in the Jewish world to consider what the questions and answers mean. The Essential Questions podcast is made possible by the Rabbi Dan Levin Jewish Ideas Incubator, committed to creativity and innovation in modern Jewish life.
Temple Beth El was honored to welcome N.Y. Times Op-Ed Columnist Bret Stephens to our bima for a conversation with Rabbi Levin about the state of Israel as Israel celebrates its 75th Anniversary. Mr. Stephens is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who is currently an op-ed columnist writing about foreign and domestic policy for the New York Times. Bret Stephens came to the New York Times after a long career as an editor at the Wall Street Journal, and prior to that as Editor in Chief of the Jerusalem Post. If you missed this captivating conversation between Rabbi Levin and Bret Stephens, you can hear a rebroadcast of this outstanding interview on the Essential Questions Podcast.
May is a time when much of Boca Raton slows down as snowbirds head north and the school year ends. This time of year is also one of great excitement and change for our Early Learning Center pre-kindergarten students as they prepare for graduation and the transition to Kindergarten. All five Pre-K classes are welcomed to the bima in the Rabbi Merle Singer Sanctuary in May to receive their diplomas and commemorate this educational milestone, followed by a celebration party with food and fun.
In June the Temple’s programmatic calendar slows down to give everyone a much-needed rest. However, there are still plenty of great events coming up, including:
- Temple Beth El Annual Meeting on Thursday, June 1 – See below for more information and to register.
- A Choir Concert featuring the Music Ensembles of Temple Beth El on Sunday, June 4 – Register here
- Pride Shabbat with the Gay Men’s Choir of South Florida on Friday, June 9 – Learn more
- Temple trip to Israel with Rabbi Levin and Elinor Josephson – June 5 – 18. Email Elinor Josephson if you are interested in learning more about next year’s Israel trip.
We hope you will join us at the Annual Meeting on June 1st for a taste of Italian cuisine as we celebrate our shared successes, honor our award winners and, of course, tend to some important temple business.