Beth Abraham & Beth Jacob agree to continue merger talks
BA & BJ agree to continue merger talks, August 2010 Jewish Observer
Beth Jacob also considering ways to stay independent
|Stained glass windows of Beth Abraham Synagogue (L) and Beth Jacob Congregation
By Marshall Weiss, The Dayton Jewish Observer
On July 11, the board of Beth Abraham Synagogue voted to recommend to its members that it merge with Beth Jacob Congregation. On the same day, Beth Jacob’s board agreed to keep the merger process alive while it explores a sustainable model to remain independent.
The board decisions come a year after the congregations approved merger talks, and a few weeks after the Merger Exploration Committee of both congregations presented its findings to the congregation boards and posted its 42-page report at both synagogue websites.
Beth Abraham will hold a congregational Q&A meeting on Aug. 15, with a full congregational vote tentatively scheduled for Oct. 3.
Beth Jacob’s board won’t vote on the proposed merger until it reviews the specific proposals of the synagogue’s renewal committee to save the congregation.
|Beth Jacob Pres. Erv Pavlofsky
“What we decided,” said Beth Jacob President Erv Pavlofsky, “was that we are pursuing both options. We were not looking to finish anything, we’re not voting to support anything too, because we’re still in the middle of doing a lot of research, mostly on the renewal side.”
For now, Pavlofsky said, Beth Jacob will continue the process at the board level and has scheduled an informational meeting for its full membership on Aug 15.
“At some point, the board will have to decide,” Pavlofsky said. “But we’ll have two options, where they (Beth Abraham) had one option.”
David Fuchsman, president of Beth Abraham, said his board’s vote to recommend the merger was “almost unanimous.”
Beth Abraham, located in Oakwood, is a member of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. Its services are egalitarian.
Beth Jacob, located in Harrison Township, is not affiliated with a Jewish movement but identifies itself as Traditional in practice, a non-egalitarian movement to the religious left of Orthodoxy but to the right of egalitarian Conservative Judaism. There is mixed seating at Beth Jacob.
Co-chairs of the Merger Exploration Committee are Beth Abraham’s Dr. Michael Leffak and Beth Jacob’s Debbie Feldman. The chair of Beth Jacob’s Renewal Committee is Dr. Robert Weisman.
|Beth Abraham Pres. David Fuchsman
The MEC’s report recommends that a combined congregation would worship in an egalitarian service at the Beth Abraham building, with some modifications such as an annual Torah reading cycle instead of Beth Abraham’s current triennial cycle.
In the report, the committee states that it determined this arrangement would satisfy “the vast majority of congregants of both synagogues.”
The report also adds that “despite these modifications, it is likely that a minority of Beth Jacob congregants will prefer to maintain a Traditional service. The MEC proposes that if there is a viable number of individuals that would so desire, the merged congregation would provide funds to help seed an autonomous Orthodox congregation near the current Beth Jacob Synagogue location for a specific period of time.”
Currently, Beth Jacob has 189 in-state membership units; Beth Abraham has 274.
The report also paints a candidly stark picture of Beth Jacob’s finances, a result of shrinking membership, reduced bingo income and donations.
“Currently annual expenses are running about $600,000 per year with revenues estimated at $300,000,” the report states about Beth Jacob. With Beth Jacob’s cash resources at a little more than $800,000, the report projects that in the absence of significant fund raising or a reduction in expenses, “Beth Jacob will have depleted its cash reserves completely by the second quarter of 2012.”
Beth Abraham, also hit by declining membership and bingo revenue, had operation deficits in 2008 and 2009. It is currently running operating and endowment fund-raising campaigns and has an endowment/reserve fund of $2 million.
The finance subcommittee of the MEC projects in the report that the sum of the predicted shortfall of the two congregations for 2010, approximately $500,000, could be reduced to $50,000 through a merger.
“I concede that if bingo had been doing well for both synagogues, it’s very possible that these merger discussions wouldn’t have started,” Fuchsman said. “But, in my opinion, that would have been wrong. Even though these are somewhat desperate times with money and the decreasing Jewish population in Montgomery County, I don’t look at this merger as coming to fruition out of desperation. I really look at this as an incredible opportunity for both synagogues if we were to combine.”
“Emotionally we’re all invested in Beth Jacob and we all want Beth Jacob to survive,” Pavlofsky said. “But as a board of directors, we have that responsibility that you’ve got to put your emotions and your feelings aside and say, ‘What’s really the best here?’ And that’s very difficult for a lot of people to do. The more we go through this process I think the more people realize that.”