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November 05, 2004 - Image 88

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2004-11-05

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A New Era

Shaarey Zedek builds on storied history and bold initiatives to reconnect with congregants.

how the synagogue is run, but I have no problem with
what he did, in a certain sense. It was a time of great
anxiety about our finances; rumors were flying about a
merger with Beth Ahm; and Rabbi [Leonardo] Bitran
was leaving. We needed debate to see how to get
through those challenges.
"We formed a strategic planning team coming out
of that election to create a vision and reprioritize the
synagogue ... Danny's challenge to the process reflected
the fact that members were very concerned about the
future of the synagogue and that change needed to
"Now the officers and board are more open about
the synagogue with the members," he said. "We didn't
use to talk about our pimples. I send a letter every cou-


Special to the Jewish News


n the eve of its first-ever fund-raising dinner,
143-year-old Congregation Shaarey Zedek, one
of the largest and best-known Conservative syn-
agogues in the nation, is marshaling its resources to pay
off its $3 million debt and begin a new era of financial
stability and congregational enthusiasm and harmony.
To help accomplish this, Shaarey Zedek is relying on
the popularity of one of its pioneer members, the aid of
several of its most stalwart and philanthropic congre-
gants and the hard work of its president, lay leadership
and a team of innovative young rabbis.
The theme of Shaarey Zedek's Wednesday, Nov. 10,
dinner might well be the theme of
the era it will usher in at the syna-
gogue: "Pride in the Past ...
Celebrating the Future." Honored
will be Mandell L. "Bill" Berman,
86, of Franklin — a man whose
"tireless commitment, leadership
and achievements on behalf of the
synagogue and numerous causes
have enriched the global Jewish
community" said Marcie and
Robert Orley of Franklin, the din-
ner committee co-chairs.
William Davidson of Bloomfield
Hills, a Shaarey Zedek past presi-
dent, is honorary chairman.
"This will be a great event in
the synagogue's history, and I'm
happy to lend my name to it,"
said Berman. "I view the Nov. 10
Robert, Marcie Orley
gathering as a way for members
— old and young -- to reconnect
ple of months about what's going well and what direc-
with the synagogue and plan for the future. I'm proud
tion we're going in and members have responded posi-
of the young leadership now at the synagogue."
Weisberg has made tighter budget man-
agement a priority. After the post-election
Coming To Grips
dust settled, he got to work with his board of
Steven Weisberg, 49, a bright, articulate and
trustees, whose average age has dropped
hard-working member of the multigenera-
from the 60s to the 40s. A nephew of syna-
tional Weisberg family at Shaarey Zedek,
gogue past president Harvey Weisberg, he is
became president in April 2003 during a
a CPA and vice president of Vlasic
contentious election when a candidate from
Investments in Bloomfield Hills. In the mid-
the floor ran against a first vice president.
one-year term as president, Weisberg
"It was the largest turnout ever at an annual meet-
with 1,900 member families, has
ing, and I lost," said challenger Dr. Dan Aronovitz, 42,
"turned the corner" and the Nov. 10 dinner is a "good
of Huntington Woods. "But I think I got my point
start to being on the right path" to harmony and fiscal
across. The synagogue was being run like an old boys'
club — mainly the past presidents — and there was
The leadership got 300 synagogue members to hold
absolutely no fiscal responsibility. When a cash crisis
strategic planning meetings — many with the assis-
arose, everyone looked to the 'Bill Davidsons' to bail us
tance of a professional facilitator — to obtain feedback
out, instead of reducing expenses and balancing the
and define a mission, vision and core values. Goals of
strategic plan are a vibrant and growing member-
Weisberg said, "That's an unfair representation of



11/ 5


ship, lifelong education, better spiritual direction, fis-
cally responsible business model, better facility manage-
ment and governance reform (more active clergy, com-
mittees and trustees).
Success has been seen in all areas, with financial sol-
vency (see accompanying story) and dynamic rabbinic
leadership as current standouts.
With Rabbi Irwin Groner, Shaarey Zedek's interna-
tionally known rabbi of 45 years, now in emeritus sta-
tus, the synagogue has grown to four rabbis, ranging in
age from the late 20s to the early 30s: Rabbis Joseph
Krakoff, Jonathan Berkun, Lauren Berkun and Eric
Yanoff. Another important team member is Ritual
Director Leonard Gutman, who one synagogue official
referred to as "our ace in the hole."
Rabbi Krakoff, who joined
Shaarey Zedek seven years
ago, says he's captain of the
clergy team, which is "mov-
ing Shaarey Zedek forward
and is committed to serving
the congregations" of both
the Southfield and West
Bloomfield locations.
"We've gone through some
stages in our history
recently," he said, "but we've
addressed and taken care of those old issues. This is a
time of new energy; a time of rebuilding, adding new
members and serving everyone's needs."

Embracing Innovation

Weisberg is upbeat about the synagogue's focus on
youth. He believes important longtime members will
come around when they experience what he calls state-
of-the-art, 21st-century programming and enthusiasm
on the part of the rabbinic team.
He cites recent examples: the highly successful
Simchat Torah block party in West Bloomfield, Friday
Night Fever services, an Extreme Sukkah Makeover,
the auctioning of a dinner at Rabbi Yanoff's home as a
silent auction prize and other innovative events.
Coordinating these activities is Tobye Bello, the syna-
gogue's new program director.
Shabbat services have been shortened somewhat in
response to member feedback. "We're tried to make the
services more relevant and engaging," Rabbi Jonathan
Berkun said.
Sermons even have become more innovative.
During his Kol Nidre night sermon, Rabbi Berkun
sang a few bars of a song. Rabbi Krakoff used a stop
sign for a prop in his Yom Kippur morning sermon.
Rabbis Krakoff and Berkun at recent Shabbats have
taken sides on facets of the weekly Torah portion and
debated the issues before the congregation, with atten-
dees joining in to ask questions.
"This is one way the rabbis work together as a team
and 'play' off of each other," Rabbi Krakoff said, "and

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