Temple Emanuel President Laurie Reitman said there were no surprises as a result of the non-binding balloting to help determine the future of the congregation.
“After the articles about our proposed merger with Temple Israel appeared in the [St. Louis] Post-Dispatch and the [St. Louis Jewish] Light, people assumed it was a done deal,” Reitman said. “It never was.”
Ballots were distributed in April to members of the congregation to identify their preference for the future direction of the congregation: stand alone, merge with a smaller congregation or merge with Temple Israel. There was a 70 percent response rate with 172 of the 245 ballots distributed completed. The ballots allowed voters to rank their choices preferentially.
“We had 65 percent of the ballots identify the stand alone path as their first choice or only choice,” Reitman said. “Twenty-one percent selected merging with a small congregation and 15 percent selected merging with Temple Israel. When you look at first and second choices, 83 percent preferred the stand alone option.”
Reitman reiterated the balloting is non-binding and is just an advisory vote to the congregational board which has many decisions to make about the future of the congregation.
“The board still has a lot of work ahead of them on how to meet the needs of the congregation: both financially and spiritually,” Reitman said. “None are new challenges. We still have more questions than answers.”
Past president Ken Cohen was pleased with the results. He feels more comfortable in a smaller congregation.
“I am hoping we can make it work financially which is always the challenge for small congregations,” Cohen said. “I hope our new board will look into sharing some of our programming with other small congregations. It is important for small congregations to support each other.”
The congregation worked with B’nai El Congregation and Congregation Kol Am to combine their youth groups over three years ago and created KABEEY (Kol Am B’nai El Emanuel Youth). They also have a joint team with B’nai El for the Intercongregational Softball League. Cohen said the results of their recent opening game further highlights the potential when small congregations join forces.
“At today’s opening games, for the first time in history, our team won,” Cohen said. “Rabbi [Daniel] Plotkin drove in the winning run at the bottom of the last inning. I have never seen a rabbi so joyous.”
Member Claire Kaufman feels the results of the balloting demonstrate the faith and confidence the membership places in the leadership to secure a future for the congregation.
“Our stored vitality and strength places us in a position where our members find a community of comfort, energy and faith,” Kaufman said.
Incoming president David Sherman said he felt the balloting was clearly a mandate from the congregation.
“They want us to remain independent, in our own building and to preserve the traditions, values and culture of the congregation our founders envisioned 50 years ago,” Sherman said.
How that future develops and how the congregation will move forward is still a work in progress, said Sherman. He said there has been a groundswell of interest and enthusiasm from the members and he feels very good about the direction and prospects for the future of the congregation.
“We know we need to grow our numbers in terms of members, our religious school and programming,” Sherman said. “There are a lot of different avenues we can take to accomplish those goals. There are a lot of ways to grow and we are not taking anything off the table.”