Message from new Mancom chair, Prof Merle Williams

The 2015/16 Management Committee met for the first time on Thursday, 26 February. One of our key goals for the year is to facilitate communication and networking between the committee and the congregation, so we have requested our own column in Beit Emanuel’s Bulletin. Each week a portfolio-holder or member of a sub-committee will introduce himself or herself, as well as providing information about completed projects and forthcoming events. Please stay in touch with us, just as we’re committed to keeping you up to date.

As the new chair of Mancom, I will be drawing on 14 years of service to the congregation, including several previous terms as vice-chair and chair of the Management Committee, not to mention an extended period on the Board of Guardians. I am privileged to be collaborating with a creative team, whose range of abilities and knowledge will strengthen our work. In the spirit of Progressive Judaism, we value the enriching diversity of our congregation. We respect the right to informed choice within the secure space of a kehilah that is dedicated to prayer, study, tikkun olam and friendly inter-personal engagement. You might say that we have styled ourselves as a committee of communal unity-in-difference.

I would like to outline 3 of the principal objectives for our term. Firstly, we understand the importance of seeking financial stability for the congregation in order to sustain its future. Drawing on the impetus of the previous Mancom, we have appointed Diane Fine to the donor-funded post of community development worker for a trial period of 3 months. Among other tasks, Diane will be responsible for attracting proposals for a major development on our site, on the understanding that our land will not be sold. Diane will report to the Management Committee, who will track progress on a regular basis. In addition to this initiative, fundraising activity is to continue as usual; details will follow in due course.

At the AGM some congregants expressed concern about the community’s relations to Zionism and to Israel. While reiterating our commitment to freedom of choice within the framework of an essentially religious kehilah, I would like to note that Beit Emanuel is de facto affiliated to Arzenu, the Zionist-political arm of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, to which we are connected through the SAUPJ. Volunteers representing the congregation will manage a table at the SA/Israel Expo in Sandton this Sunday. A family party is being planned for Yom Ha’atzmaut, while JForum will be launched with a special ‘Israel series’ in March. We encourage all members to participate in an open and constructive discussion.

We are keen to enhance the scope of Jewish family education and involvement in our community. It is with pleasure that I therefore announce the appointment of Tal Slome as our part-time youth worker. Tal will devise a programme for the children on Friday evenings with the support of Jody Segel, who has already made a solid contribution in this area. In addition, Tal will join in the process of curriculum renewal in the Religion School and liaise with the NETZER leaders on our campus.

As you can see, we are on the brink of a busy year – all this, without touching on our regular Shabbat services, celebrations of the festivals and High Holy Days, life cycle events, talks, outreach projects and still more. I hope that we will go forward with a sense of kavanah and genuine enthusiasm. May we also proceed in a spirit of peace: as Hillel used to say, ‘Be of the disciples of Aaron – a lover of peace, a pursuer of peace, one who loves living creatures and brings them close to Torah’ (Pirkei Avot 1:12).

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