Thirty years ago, my wife’s aunt sent me an advertisement from the Baltimore Jewish Times for a job opening at B’nai Israel Congregation in Rockville. That congregation took a chance on hiring a young, 25-year-old synagogue administrator from Los Angeles, reuniting me with my childhood rabbi (Matthew Simon) and allowing me to experiment with “new” approaches to nonprofit management. With a group of talented lay leaders, dedicated staff and engaged members, we paid off debt, expanded programming and staff, emphasized education and community involvement and grew the membership. We installed some of the first personal computers introduced into synagogue administration, created an endowment fund, excelled in youth activities, developed young leadership and increased the social connections between our members and the congregation.
During those years, Washington Jewish Week became my guide, providing the local and national Jewish news and opinions that shaped my understanding of my adopted home and how my new congregation fit in the larger community.
Twenty-two years ago I moved “south” to Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C., a historic congregation with a glorious history, a central role in our nation’s capital, and an opportunity for an exciting future. As executive director of Adas Israel, I have had the opportunity to work with three extraordinary senior rabbis (Jeffrey Wohlberg, Gil Steinlauf, Stanley Rabinowitz, z”l), other clergy, members and staff to explore and expand the ways that a congregation can become central to the lives of its members and community.
We have provided caring assistance through our bereavement committee along with 50 other congregations; demonstrated about Darfur along with community organizations, engaging the community along with neighboring churches; and provided a lifeline to the formerly homeless along with local and federal agencies. Washington Jewish Week has encouraged, highlighted, and supported these important demonstrations of the important role of synagogues in the community.
Through the generosity and support of our members, an increase in the acquisition of grants, the creation of an endowment fund and the purging of debt, we have been able to virtually eliminate fundraising as it is known in many congregations, live within our means and provide traditional and experimental programming and services that are touching the lives of thousands of Jews — young and old, members and nonmembers — throughout Greater Washington, D.C., area. Throughout these 22 years, WJW has been the supportive vehicle to highlight and explore creative approaches to Jewish life in our community.
Throughout these past 30 years, I have continued to subscribe to both WJW and the Baltimore Jewish Times hoping to understand the differences and similarities between these two unique Jewish communities and borrowing the best practices and ideas for my congregations.
Someone once said that “all synagogues are alike in their uniqueness,” which can also be applied to Jewish communities. As I prepare for my new position in Baltimore, reuniting me with a rabbi who is a childhood friend (also a former Rabbi Simon congregant), I feel I have come full circle. With the Baltimore Jewish Times and Washington Jewish Week under the same ownership, I will be able to keep tabs on my “home” community and the activity in my new community. I look forward to watching how these two sister publications will compare and contrast the similarities and differences between their two communities, just as I will attempt to apply what I have gained from my Washington congregations to Baltimore.
Glenn S. Easton is the incoming executive director of Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Baltimore and past president of the North American Association of Synagogue Executives. Previously, Easton was executive director of Adas Israel Congregation in the District.