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Temple Shalom

Rabbi Pinsker

Temple Shalom in Dialogue with New Shul over Space Sharing Arrangement- Looking into Capital Campaign

By Rhonda J. Prepes and Rhonda Spivak, October 9, 2013

[Editor's note: We are doing a series of articles examining the state of synagogues and synagogue life in our community in order to look at issues of community strategic planning and to try to anticipate what a given congregation may look like ten years from now, whether it is in decline or not, whether it is likely to financially survive without a merger, etc. Last week we took a a snapshot of Etz Chayim congregation and this week we will look at Temple Shalom]

Temple Shalom, which now has over 100 family unit memberships and is in the process of paying for building renovations, is currently in dialogue with the New Shul (whose Rabbi , Rabbi Pinsker has left the city) over a possible space sharing arrangement.

As Ruth Livingston, past President of the board of Temple Shalom told the Winnipeg Jewish Review, “We are in the process of discussing a possible space sharing arrangement with the New Shul now that they are without a rabbi and without a dedicated space to hold their services. The advantages for them are that they would have a sanctuary (they have been renting space from the Italian Caboto Centre and meeting in people’s homes) and use our Torahs. They like to have potlucks and so do we. Their demographic is not that different from ours.”

We asked Joanne Seiff, communications chair for the New Shul what their membership is. Sieff answered that in their first year when Rabbi Pinkser was leading the congregation, "we had about 24 membership units, with a 70% participation rate at events.  Our Shabbat services from September - June had roughly 20-40 people in attendance each week."                                       

Seiff added that "We are in transition as our rabbi left a month ago...we're reorganizing and meeting about once a month while we establish a new location for services and a new lay-led routine."

Regarding the membership of the Temple Shalom, Livingston said, “The membership at the synagogue is slowly growing. Our membership is up by about 10%, but we were starting with only 100 family units. Our membership has been close to 100 family units for the last 2 to 3years. We have families and singles in a wide age demographic. We offer a free membership with High Holiday tickets. This year we sold 130 tickets to non-members. Of those ten chose to be members,” Livingston said.

While Temple Shalom's congregation is small, it is currently able to afford to pay a Rabbi (Rabbi Karen Soria), but she is here only part-time. Len Udow, the paid part-time cantor and the Temple's lay leadership run Friday night services. They have Friday Night services and the occasional Saturday morning services. There is a Friday Night LIVe service with live on Friday, October 25th at 8:00 p.m.

Temple Shalom is also experiencing some financial and fundraising challenges. As Livingston says, “We have tried fundraising before, but we only have about 100 family units amongst us. We are not a wealthy congregation but have had the occasional big donor. Recently, we have had two members who made very generous donations. We took out a mortgage because we needed sufficient money to replace the roof and the HVAC system after just having paid off our first mortgage about two months prior. We will pay this one back in time, as well.”

“It would be nice to have a capital campaign and approach the larger Jewish community, but we don’t have someone to spearhead that campaign. But we are looking into this.”

One of the ways that Temple Shalom brings in some additional revenue is by renting the building out to various groups that hold classes/sessions in the building such as Weight Watchers, Health & Well-Being programs with the South End religious organizations, Yoga Shalom (yoga set to the Hebrew music of the morning prayers), art classes and Livingston also rents space for an art studio. Temple Shalom also rents space to the Support Staff union for a number of post-secondary institutions including University of Winnipeg, as well as, renting space to a meditation group who meet twice a week. Occasionally, the Stay Young group from the Rady Centre rents space and there are a few families who rent the social hall for large family dinners, particularly around the holidays. As well, as Livingston explained, although new Russian Israeli immigrants from Israel are not interested in synagogue, "The Russians do rent space and have different events at the Temple.”

[Editor's note: This is an interesting model and one wonders whether other synagogues may rent out their building on a more regular basis to ensure its use and to bring in extra income.]

Temple Shalom explored the idea of housing a day care with the Rady JCC. On this matter, Livingston said, “We have explored it with them, but our washrooms don't match their requirements and there is no exterior play space. We would love to have them, though.” 

Expanding on the make-up of the congregation, Livingston said, “Our congregation is made up of Jews by choice (converts), Jews by chance (Jewish born), non-Jewish people who are comfortable with the services at the Temple and people who have discovered that they have Jewish roots. Some of our music is in Hebrew, but our prayers are mainly in English, so our services are very accessible to everyone. We even have some Christians who come to our Torah Study group to study the original text.”

[Editor's note: Christians are not counted as members of Temple Shalom.]

With regard to long-term planning, Livingston said, “Our target areas are unaffiliated Jews and new immigrants (particularly from South America). In regard to new immigrants from South America, Livingston said "I know we have a couple of families from Argentina who are members, because they are very involved in the temple and there are at least two more families from there who attend regularly, but I don't think are members yet. There are also some who come for High Holidays." 

“Rabbi Karen Soria became our rabbi on a part time basis while living in Winnipeg, but had to leave due to her partner's posting to Ottawa. She continues to be our rabbi, flying into Winnipeg every three weeks to lead services, facilitate Torah study, meet with her Bar/Bat Mitzvah students, do conversion classes, etc.  Everything else she is able to do through email, telephone and Skype.”

“She became very connected to the congregation while here and to many Winnipeg organizations, in particular the Interfaith Council of Women. If Rabbi Soria had been able to stay in Winnipeg, I am sure that our numbers would be much larger. Obviously, having a resident Rabbi is a huge asset.”

“About two years ago, Etz Chayim held Saturday morning services at Temple Shalom once a month, to have a presence in the south end and see how it worked out. As a reform synagogue, we don’t normally have Saturday morning services, but this was nice because it gave us an option to attend, as well,” notes Livingston.

Temple Shalom has a Religious School (Sundays), Hebrew School (Wednesdays), Hebrew Reading Classes, Coffee Houses (Saturdays), Torah Study (Saturday) and Introduction to Judaism, as well as Potluck Dinners.

Livingston continued, “Winnipeg’s reform community is an anomaly. Everywhere else, Reform is the biggest congregation. But here, it is one of the smallest. I think it is because Shaarey Zedek was the break away from orthodoxy here and it was established in 1880. It is like many reform synagogues elsewhere.”

“The reform community began here partly with an influx of professors 55 years ago who had grown up in reform congregations and were looking to form their own congregation here. Temple Shalom just celebrated its 50th Anniversary.”

“Sherry Wolfe Elazar came looking for something she hadn’t found anywhere else. She came to a couple of our services and she was hooked. She and her husband have since done a lot of programs for us and have been very involved in the synagogue. Wolfe Elazar has said that ‘Temple Shalom is the best kept secret in Winnipeg’.”

“But we are not a secret. It just somehow doesn’t get out there that we are a viable Jewish place to worship. We are a small congregation, but that has its benefits. People who attend services get to know each other easily as we are a pretty friendly group. We are also a very musical congregation with wonderful voices on the bimah,” said Livingston.

Regarding the New Shul Joanne Seiff also said, "We just had a big Sukkot potluck gathering where we all ate in the sukkah, got a chance to use a lulav and etrog, and enjoy wonderful prairie landscapes at the home of a member who lives outside the city.  Approximately 30 people attended.”'

Seiff also noted that "People interested in joining the New Shul are often unaffiliated, younger, new to Judaism and Jewish immigrants, but there are also older members as well as a substantial contingent of Winnipeggers. The New Shul's informal brand of "DIY Judaism" has attracted a different Jewish population than some of the other congregations in town."  

[Editor's note: Based on the above interview, it does not seem to me that Temple Shalom has a strategic plan for the next 5-10 years in place as to how they will grow their membership in any significant way. Although Livingston spoke of "space sharing" with the New Shul, one wonders whether in fact these negotiations could amount to a merger at a later date.]

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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