This week Jack Feldman, executive director of Temple Sinai in Sandy Springs, will be installed as the new president of the National Association for Temple Administration. The group, which is having its annual meeting in Chicago Nov. 7-11, is part of the Union for Reform Judaism. It represents those temple staffers who have the responsibility of managing the nation’s 873 Reform congregations.
Feldman’s election caps an extraordinary period of growth for Temple Sinai. Earlier this year, it successfully completed a capital improvement program that raised $13.5 million. Not only did it help to double the temple’s endowment, but it allowed the preschool to expand its program to a full day.
The campaign, which was part of the temple’s 50th anniversary celebration, also financed an $8.5 million renovation of the temple building that Feldman supervised.
With his new responsibilities, Feldman joins Temple Sinai’s Senior Rabbi Ron Segal, who earlier this year became the president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which represents Reform clergy.
Next year, the director of the temple’s Center for Learning & Engagement, Marisa Kaiser, will become head of the Association of Reform Jewish Educators. It is unprecedented that all three of the top leaders of the Reform movement will be from the same temple.
We asked Feldman whether the members of Temple Sinai are comfortable having so many key staffers and clergy spending so much time on national issues.
Feldman: The synagogue is highly supportive of us involving ourselves in the national stage and taking on these leadership roles. The synagogue really has stood behind us. What you have to offer your colleagues nationally is also important to us as a local synagogue. I think it’s helped to make us one of the top three Reform synagogues in the country
AJT: How would you describe the state of health of the Reform movement from the standpoint of what you do, from the standpoint of financial management and administration?
Feldman: There’s a lot of synagogues that are struggling. Churches are struggling. People are less involved in their faith or they’re finding alternative ways to meet their spiritual needs. The synagogues that are adapting, that are being creative and innovating and are listening to what their members want and need are the ones that are successful. The synagogues that are stuck in the 1950s and 60s and are hoping that things will get better, I think are the ones that are struggling the most.
So for me, at least, it’s a fundamental question of, is the synagogue working reactively or proactively? Are they able to adapt? Are they creatively using the resources that they have? So it’s really about being nimble. A lot of what we talk about with other temple administrators is what’s changing in the world of synagogue life and synagogue management.
AJT: How is Temple Sinai adapting to the present-day expectations of its members?
Feldman: We are getting away from the time when whatever happened at the temple happened in the building. We call those new programs Sinai Circles. There are small groups of people with common interests who are elsewhere than in the building. It could be everything from wine tasting to theater, going kayaking or hiking. They do whatever they’re going to do monthly, every other month. But it connects them to other members of the temple in a way that we can’t do when they’re in the building. It makes an extraordinary difference.
It’s part of what our strategic plan told us 4 1/2 years ago, that we need to begin meeting our members where they are, as opposed to enforcing that rigid idea which is the only time you do Jewish is when you come into our building.
AJT: So how does this newly redesigned building fit into the new thinking about how the temple should function?
Feldman: We wanted the renovated temple to feel like your living room. We wanted you to feel like, come on into our space, into our home. Make yourself comfortable. We wanted it to be a place where people could connect with each other. That’s why all the various seating areas in different places are places for people to gather and connect and get to know each other.