rak hapb

  • 04

    Week of  May 18 - 22, 2015  (29 Iyar- 4 Sivan 5775) 

  • 06

  • 18

    Week of  May 25 - 29, 2015  (7 Sivan - 11 Sivan 5775) 

President’s Message


Welcome to Congregation Beth El! For those of you getting acquainted with this site, Beth El is an egalitarian conservative Synagogue, affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. We have a very long and proud history, dating back to 1920 in Camden, NJ, moving to Chapel Avenue in Cherry Hill in 1968. In April of 2009, we moved into our beautiful new home here on Main Street in Voorhees.

Today, the Beth El family boasts about 900 member families (and growing), consisting of members going back to our Camden days, as well as lots of new families who now call Beth El their spiritual home. While that makes us a large congregation, we work very hard to make sure it feels like a very comfortable place for our members. Our various groups engage in many educational, religious, and social activities designed to appeal to a wide variety of interests and virtually all age groups. Additionally, our award-winning schools, the Beth El Early Childhood Center, and the Beth El Religious School, educate our children (from the very youngest) in a comfortable and uplifting environment.

At Beth El, we are also blessed to have wonderful clergy. Rabbis Krupnick, Arnow and Furman, and Hazzan Pomerantz-Boro are warm, friendly, accessible, and knowledgeable. They represent the embodiment of our mission: to integrate, educate, and elevate. I encourage you to come to Beth El to try out our services - either Shabbat morning or Kabbalat Shabbat on a Friday night. If you do, you will see our clergy in action, and I am sure you will not be disappointed.

In the meantime, thank you for visiting our website. We think that you will be enthusiastic about our clergy, our facility, and everything else that Beth El has to offer. Please contact us if you have any questions.

~ Eric Clayman

Below is a copy of my remarks from Kol Nidre 5774.  Although this was written as a speech rather than to be read, I did receive favorable feedback about the remarks and wanted to be able to share them with the entire congregation.

Shabbat Shalom and Good Yom Tov!

In November congregations throughout the world will read, chant and study the Torah portion Vayatze.  Included in this Torah portion is a story which has inspired great works of art – music, literature, sculpture – for many thousands of years.  In Vayatze, Jacob is wandering the desert; he gets tired and wants to go to sleep.  He finds a round, smooth stone and uses it as a pillow and as you would imagine, as here is a man using a stone as a pillow, he has some very vivid dreams.  He dreams of a ladder which goes up to Heaven and on this ladder there are angels who are constantly going up and constantly going down.  If you could imagine a giant stair master in which the angels struggle to go higher and higher but never reach the top this is what Jacob was dreaming and, this is the way I think of Beth El.  Your synagogue affords you the opportunity to keep striving, keep learning, keep improving yourself and there is always another rung of a ladder to climb, always more to do, always more to learn, always ways to improve.  

During the first Shabbat in May, we honored those members who have been members for more than 25 years and what the Rabbi did is that he asked those who were members for more than 25 years to stand on the left hand side of the main Sanctuary and for every additional 5 years members moved up the left side and by the top there were members who had been members for 50 years or more and on the bottom, closest to the Bimah, there were members who have been members for the longest time.  David Gutin handed the Torah to the first member and the Torah was handed member to member from the 25 year members to the 30 year members, all the way around our Sanctuary until Ethel David held the Torah and told our Hazzan that this was her first time in her life she ever held the Torah.  Ethel has been a member for 70 years. It was beautiful, inspiring, we were being pushed up the ladder.  When Michael and Nanci Epstein wanted to cap off their amazing year and Michael’s 200 pound weight loss by renewing their wedding vows on national TV, it was their Rabbi and Hazzan, our Rabbi and Hazzan, that were there with them.  It added more to Mike and Nanci’s amazing journey; we were being pushed up the ladder.

At the Evening of Honor Drew Katz spoke so lovingly about his mother and we as parents asked ourselves whether we would deserve such praise from our children and we as children wondered if we could praise our parents so;  we were being pushed up the ladder.  At the same evening, when Eric Boory explained that after their son Seth was born, Eric spoke to Rabbi Furman about the complicated issues and feelings related to the birth.  Rabbi Furman asked him if Seth would be able to smile and if Seth would be able to hug. Hearing the story pushed us up the ladder.  Quite frankly anytime I have the good fortune and opportunity to speak to Rabbi Furman, I am pushed up the ladder.  Our Hazzan is teaching youngsters and those not so young to read Torah for the first time.  Rabbi Krupnick is giving sermons on Shabbat that are connecting to people like no other sermon in no other synagogue. When people leave the service they are inspired, they are moving up the ladder. 

However there was more to Jacob's dream. There was also the vision of angels moving down the ladder.  In life, we all find that Family, close friends or work provide our greatest meaning … and our greatest challenges.

Everyone is struggling with something – health problems, emotional challenges, deep disappointments and loss. Sometimes these pains are evident, but most of the time we hide our true feelings from those around us. We talk to a young mom with advanced breast cancer, the parent of a young adult with mental illness, a friend who can’t find employment, and another friend contemplating divorce. 

When this is happening we can feel ourselves slipping down the ladder.  Well I also see Beth El in this part of Jacob's dream.  We are the ultimate stop that keeps you from falling down the rungs.  You know your Rabbi and your Hazzan - each of whom have lifetime contracts - and they know you.  You have shared your life with them and they have shared their lives with you.  See them, speak to them, listen to them. They will help. Come to a Shabbat service or morning minyan where you will be greeted by your fellow congregants, your friends.  Be inspired, inspire.  Be educated, educate. Be elevated, elevate. Beth El will keep you from falling down the ladder. I started my remarks by commenting on the great works of art inspired by this story and maybe the most beautiful is the ladder on the ark behind me.  You see, eventually Jacob's dream ended and when he woke up, Jacob realized that he was in a holy place, a House of God.

He named that place Beth El.

In 1920, the largest employers in Camden were the predecessor to RCA which employed up to 10,000 people and the New York Shipbuilding Company which  employed up to 40,000 people.  The big department store in Camden on Broadway and Federal Street was Munger and Long.  None of these entities survive today.  Also in 1920 Benjamin Natal, the first Jewish lawyer in Camden – there have been a few since – saw to fruition his vision of the first conservative congregation in our region.  He wanted the large influx of immigrants to be part of a congregation in a setting other than an orthodox synagogue so they could more comfortably integrate, educate and elevate.  The first conservative synagogue in our region was formed – our Beth El. Certainly we have had some challenges.  In 1929, during the depression, as a cost cutting move, the Beth El News was not printed but instead it had to be mimeographed.  I can only imagine the emails and texts the president received after making that decision.

In 1944, the Beth El News listed 89 men who were members of Beth El who were serving overseas in the Armed Forces.  In 1960 it became clear that Beth El's future was not going to be in Camden and there was a meeting at the Cherry Hill Inn where the decision was made to move east, perhaps as far as Pennsauken.  Eventually, the decision was made to buy a large lot in DelawareTownship, right down the street from the Cherry Hill Inn on Chapel Avenue. 

It would be interesting to ask those in attendance at that meeting if they would believe that 50 years later the Cherry Hill Inn would be a movie theater and Beth El would be housed in this magnificent facility in Voorhees. 

We have survived and thrived our first 93 years and the way we will continue is through the strength of you, our members and our many dedicated volunteers, our clergy and our staff and the way we all work together and work in our community.  Let me give you just a few examples.  Right now we believe we have the right people in place with Megan Nachod at the helm of our revitalized ECC and Yaffa Fuchs as the head of our religious school and its 400 students.  But we have to make sure they have the right tools to work with.  This is why this summer a group of highly motivated volunteers led by David Backal began a one year study in collaboration with Megan and Yaffa to make sure they have everything they need to make sure we are using best practices –from day care to Hebrew high.  We will be the religious school that other synagogues from across the country study and try to emulate because we do things the right way. 

Our Rabbi Arnow observed that many of our synagogue leaders had participated in our Shabbat retreats and yet the program no longer existed.  Well Rabbi found the young family leaders he needed and this past year the retreat was re-established and there will be another one this year and the next group of Beth El leaders are being cultivated by Rabbi Arnow. 

For this and so many other reasons we are so fortunate to have Rabbi Arnow, Tammy and their family with us.

As president, I went to a lot of graduation programs this past summer.  However, no program was more poignant and emotional than the graduation of the 8 developmentally disabled young adults who successfully completed the Soups and Sweets program in order to become equipped with the skills and experience to work in a commercial kitchen.  The program, run in conjunction with the J F C S, is a perfect example of our ability to leverage our magnificent facility, in this case particularly our kitchen, in order to make a positive impact in our community.  

The Jewish Federation is conducting a major population survey and it is our members who are leading this effort.  This spring, the Jewish Community Center will be hosting young athletes from around the world as the Maccabbi Games will be held in Cherry Hill.  Over 2,000 volunteers and 500 host families will be needed and we know that it will be our members who will be leading the way. 

This gives me the opportunity, on behalf of our congregation, to congratulate Donna Bell who on Monday will be installed as the next Jewish Community Center President.

Leadership in the South Jersey Jewish Community begins at Beth El.  This is what we do and this is what we do so well.

We look forward to continuing to work with JFCS on this program and many others as well as the other arms of Jewish Federation.

This year marked the second year in a row that dues did not increase and we are exploring all options as we look to possibly tilt a bit from our dues model as we approach our centennial celebration.

Another group of highly experienced, dedicated and motivated volunteers led by Steven Eisner have been working for quite some time to analyze our finances in order to understand the feasibility of an endowment model going forward.  The conclusion is clear. An endowment program will pave the way for our next century of success. You can read about it, you will hear about it and let me assure you with this group in charge, we will have a $10 million endowment by 2020 our 100th anniversary.

However, there are short term budget needs as well and we are so fortunate to have Shari Smith on board as our director of community life.  Not only is Shari responding to the many families who are looking to join Beth El, she is the professional in charge of our many activities including the next big fundraiser, our Boardwalk Empire Casino Night.  Josh and Beth Brodkin and Eric and Kelly Shore have a super fun night planned with casino games, simulated horse races, great food and drink all at an affordable price and we are all set for a great night of fun on Saturday evening October 12th. Please plan to bring all of your friends and to be there.

So how does this work so smoothly.  Two words, Hanina Ruttenberg.  Our executive director is the calm and confident captain despite occasions when the waters we are attempting to navigate can be quite choppy. My goal as a volunteer is to assist Hanina but often I find myself seeking guidance from her and I am grateful for the guidance and for this opportunity to publicly thank her for her service to Beth El.

No set of remarks to this congregation could conclude without glowing complimentary remarks about our Rabbi and Hazzan.  Last season I was part of the Bar Mitzvah circuit and I visited many shuls.  No one is as familiar with their students, trains them as well, has them as comfortable on the bimah and makes menches out of them the way our Hazzan and Rabbi do. I cannot guarantee you that after your child is Bar or Bat Mitvahed at Beth El it will feel so comfortable that they will get enrolled in a play at the Walnut Street Theatre like Hannah Backal did, but they might.  The Rabbi and Hazzan’s love for what they do is obvious, recognized and so appreciated. We have had 3 senior rabbis since World War II and while other community leaders may come and go our Rabbi is committed to be our inspirational and spiritual leader for many years to come.  His sermon series this past year covering personal relationships was simply outstanding.   We learned so much about ourselves. Thank you Rabbi. And thank you, too, to our wonderful Hazzan.  Tonight is merely one perfect example of what she means and adds to our service and to our lives.  To some, having our Hazzan lead our service provides an opportunity to sit back and to listen, to others to sing along and to others to have memories brought to life. Her voice and her presence on the bimah are second to none. We are so fortunate.  Thank you Hazzan.

Once again, I do have to come back to praise our congregation, to thank you, our members. 1960 was the 40th anniversary of Beth El and an editorial in the Voice marking this anniversary spoke to our wonderful membership and the words are as applicable today as they were in 1960. Quote: “From Beth El’s ranks have come scores of leaders who have left a firm imprint on the civic, cultural and religious affairs of our community.”  You are an outstanding and amazing group and I thank you so much for providing me with the opportunity to be president.  More than that, I thank you so much - each and every one of you - for your membership, your assistance, your commitment to the one institution designed and proven to effectuate Jewish continuity. You have made the right choice by choosing to become members of Beth El and I once again thank you for that choice.

On behalf of Amy, Garrett, Josh and our entire family, many of whom are here tonight, we wish you all a meaningful and uplifting fast and may this be the year for you to climb your own personal Jacob's ladder to higher and more gratifying heights.

Shabbat Shalom and Good Yom Tov.