Jewish organizations take stock and envision future at annual meetings

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As the evening sun shone and a warm breeze riffled the white tent perched in the parking lot of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, the Baltimore Jewish Council’s June 20 annual meeting was about to start. Attendees nibbled on catered treats, chatting with friends, colleagues and a bevy of area politicos.

It’s annual meeting season, the time when Jewish organizations across the region celebrate the past year’s accomplishments, honor changemakers and set next year’s initiatives and goals. While legally required for many nonprofits, annual meetings also offer the opportunity for creative connection with members and the community. Organization leaders said they need to find innovative ways of engaging the community at annual meetings that to some may seem, as one administrator put it, “a yawn.”


Combining issues of interest with annual meetings enhances communication with the community and its engagement with the organization, said Joel Frankel, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Howard County.

“To get that messaging out on a consistent basis, sometimes you do have to combine it with something else of interest to the community,” Frankel said. “It’s our responsibility to find innovative ways to let the community know what we’re doing. And sometimes that is a huge challenge. I imagine most nonprofits will say that’s one of the things they can improve on.”

This year, the federation combined the premiere of the Howard County Jewish history project exhibit, “Made From Scratch: Creating the Howard County Jewish Community,” with its June 16 annual meeting. Drawing more than 120 people, it was the “largest annual meeting in as long as anyone can remember,” Frankel said.

Pearlstone incoming Board Chair Becky Brenner, Pearlstone outgoing Board Chair Emile Bendit and Pearlstone and Hazon CEO Jakir Manela
From left: Pearlstone incoming Board Chair Becky Brenner, Pearlstone outgoing Board Chair Emile Bendit and Pearlstone and Hazon CEO Jakir Manela attend Pearlstone’s annual meeting. (David Stuck)

At Pearlstone, annual meetings are a chance to share accomplishments, and for the community to experience what Pearlstone is about, such as its farm-to-table kosher food and environmental sustainability efforts, said Emile Bendit, Pearlstone’s outgoing board chair. Pearlstone held its annual meeting on June 14.

“We keep people engaged by touring the facilities — new retreat rooms, bathhouse and bunkrooms, visiting the goats and chickens, and pedaling to make fresh strawberry drinks,” Bendit said. “And just to take a deep breath and chill.”

Chizuk Amuno Congregation Executive Director David Schimmel said annual meetings are “our way of showing to our membership and greater community who we are today, who we were in the past and who we can become in the future.

“Our outgoing president, Stephen Pomerantz, did a fabulous job telling our story of the past two years, how we have overcome numerous obstacles, and that we continued to deliver a variety of programming and spiritual offerings to our community, in person and virtually,” he said of the congregation’s 151st annual meeting June 16. “Robert ‘Bob’ Hallock, our incoming president, spoke about how we will continue to strengthen through engagement as volunteers and participants in our programs.”

Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation, whose merger was official just prior to the High Holidays in 2019, ended their transitional board the summer of 2021 and elected their inaugural board. At their annual meeting at the end of June, the congregation honored six outgoing board members and installed six new ones.

Board President David Buchalter said the meeting will be a continuation of the five-week Festival of Installation in May and June, celebrating their new rabbi and cantor, Rabbi Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi and Cantor Alexandra S. Fox.

“The festival represented a celebration of sacred partnerships with new clergy,” Buchalter said. “And the annual meeting at the end of this month is going to be one part. We’re going to be recounting our accomplishments. That’s one of the things annual meetings are really good for — looking at the past year, and looking at how far we’ve come.”

The theme of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore’s annual meeting June 22 was “Let’s Celebrate All the Good We Did!” Outgoing Board Chair Beth H. Goldsmith and incoming Chair Yehuda Neuberger were honored there.

“The work that each agency does for this community is incredibly impactful, and the annual meetings are an important opportunity to reflect on the year’s achievements,” Goldsmith said. “The meetings are really unparalleled in the opportunity for organizations to share their impact and to honor the people — clients, volunteers, donors and professionals — who make their work possible.”

Back at BJC’s meeting, Executive Director Howard Libit looked over the growing crowd and beamed — happy to be hosting the first major in-person organizational meeting since the start of the pandemic.

“Two years ago, when we did our board leadership transition a couple months into the pandemic, it was all on Zoom,” Libit said. “We’ve been on Zoom ever since for our board meetings.”

The BJC celebrated retiring State Sen. Delores Kelley and Del. Maggie McIntosh, recognized for their decades of service. Previous BJC Presidents Rabbi Andrew Busch and Neuberger were also honored, while incoming President Elizabeth Green closed the meeting.

“Through my activities with the BJC, I have had the opportunity to work with members of the Jewish community who may have different observances but share a common goal of working for our one Jewish community,” Green said. “I have also been privileged to learn about so many other areas of our larger community, not just the Jewish community, and the ways in which we, as representatives of the Baltimore Jewish community, are able to participate in order to improve that larger community. I look forward to continuing this work.”

 

Susan C. Ingram is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.

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