Synagogues bring home awards from convention


Shaare Zedek Synagogue and Congregation B’nai Amoona are bringing home six Solomon Schechter Awards for Synagogue Excellence from the 2007 International Biennial Convention for the United Synagogues of Conservative Judiasm.

B’nai Amoona won a Silver Award for Publications, and Shaare Zedek won five awards during the convention that was held this past weekend in Orlando, Fla. Shaare Zedek received three Silver Awards for Kadima/USY, Publications and Inclusions of Individuals with Disabilities, and two Honorable Mentions in Performing Arts and Publications.

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Harriet Shanas, national board member of USCJ and chairman of Shaare Zedek’s board, said the synagogue received one of the awards for its work to make the service more accessible to handicapped members.

“Shaare Zedek is a sanctuary that was built in the 1950s with a stage model theater-style seating, and with an elevated bimah that you had to climb up stairs to get to,” she said. “We installed a new floor-level bimah with two ramp accesses. It served two purposes. Not only did it provide a way for people to receive Torah honors that could not ascend the stairs, it also brought the Torah into the middle of the sanctuary close to the congregants.

“It allowed one of our members who had not received an aliyah in 30 years to come to the Torah for an honor,” Shanas said. “At the same time, we added assisted-listening devices and special large-print siddurs. It was a package to try to meet the needs of our congregants.”

St. Louis, which had one of the largest contingents at the convention, was represented by 12 people from the three Conservative synagogues in St. Louis: B’nai Amoona, BSKI and Shaare Zedek. In addition, Michael Landy, regional executive director of the Mid-Continent Region of USCJ based in St. Louis, also attended.

Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose of B’nai Amoona said the “most important part [of the convention] was to hear the new chancellor, Dr. Arnold Eisen, share his vision of the future of the Conservative movement. He was very upbeat and optimistic, and clearly indicated that for us to have a glorious future we must always keep in heart and mind the balance between tradition and change; maintaining past ways and questing for newness and innovation.”

Rose said Eisen “made the point that this has always been the hallmark of Conservative Judaism in particular.”

He also said the convention, which is geared toward lay leaders, provides an opportunity for “cross fertilization” because rabbis, executive directors, cantors, education and lay leaders attend.

“There was a lot of practical hands-on information about synagogue management, assessing and evaluating professionals, tools utilized in budgeting and fundraising,” Rose said.

Rose said this year the synagogue submitted its bulletin to the Schechter awards because it was an area that B’nai Amoona had upgraded under the direction of Cindy Schuval, executive committee member and bulletin editor.

Gary Kodner, vice president of Shaare Zedek, said the convention was “inspiring and encouraging and a rare opportunity to meet with the leaders and shakers of the Conservative movement. I am encouraged that the movement is alive and well and addressing a number of issues that are going to promote Conservative Judaism into the next generation.

“There was a lot of hands on how-to-do workshops that help a lay leader come back to his synagogue and implement programs whether they be board leadership development, fund raising, and membership retention and development,” said Kodner, who also is a vice president of the Jewish Light.

“Some of the real and most meaningful moments of this conference occurred in the many conversations at meals, on breaks … Everyone is anxious to learn, to listen, to teach and to share ideas and experiences. An open laboratory for improving and promoting Conservative Judaism,” he said.

Joy Fisher, board member of BSKI, said the convention, which was her first, was exciting. “The title [of the convention] is ‘Bring the Magic Home.’ I have to say they’ve given you a lot to come home with.”

Fisher, who attended a session entitled “From Generation X to Millenials — and Beyond!” said she is bringing back to St. Louis a concept of how to build the community. “I think about building community. That’s the most important part. From there, everything grows.

“You start with one relationship at a time, and each one makes the group stronger and better,” Fisher said, adding that she looks forward to implementing everything she learned in “little doses and then keep building on that.”

Rick Kodner, first vice president of BSKI and a member since birth, said he learned “how to work through problems within synagogues, how to build boards, how to build cooperation within synagogues.”

“I’ve learned about tools that I didn’t know were available to me on the local, regional and national level,” said Kodner, who is the president-designate for BSKI. “I’ve found people from Kansas City, Fort Worth, Tex., that are willing to come to St. Louis to help teach, do board training, to help us grow as a community.”

Kodner also learned how the Conservative movement governs itself, which he said was “kind of cool, kind of eye-opening.” There was one initiative on organ donation, which was defeated, that would have required individuals to “opt out” of being an organ donor as opposed to the current process of opting in.

The St. Louisans attending the convention also included: Lisa Gellman of Shaare Zedek; Marsha Birenbaum, president of Shaare Zedek; Rabbi Mordecai Miller of BSKI; Susan Miller of BSKI; Michael Rosenblatt, president of B’nai Amoona; Muriel Carp, regional president-elect and B’nai Amoona member and Cindy Schuval, executive committee member and bulletin editor.