Celebrating Our New Board & Award Winners

by John Lewsen, May 31, 2022

“Since the start of the pandemic, time has expanded, contracted, been suspended, and blurred – often in dizzying succession.”

-“Quiet as it’s Kept” David Breslin and Adrienne Edwards, Curators, Whitney Biennial 2022

Last ere of Shabbat, on May 26, we were able to gather in the sanctuary for the first time in three years for our annual Board Installation and Awards Night. It was a joyous celebration, and I would like to share the message I gave to the congregation and introduce our new board. However, before doing so, I want to convey best wishes to Sonja Botnick and Lara Beauvais, two members at large who are leaving the Board as they take on new career commitments. I would like to express my personal gratitude to eight Soleniks whom we also honoured last Friday:

Roselyn (Roz) Allen, our now immediate President, who led us through one of the most challenging presidencies in my time in Solel. It’s not only what Roz did, but how she did it – always with such grace, sensitivity, and genuine warmth. I am delighted that Roz has agreed to fill the role of acting, First Vice President for this year.

The three previous past Presidents that Roz recognized in her speech: Ted Greenberg “our past, past, past President” and most recent past Treasurer among many other roles is stepping down from the board. Robbin Botnick now our previous past President and recent co-chair with me of the Renovation Committee is also taking a well-deserved break from the board; and the indefatigable Joel Brown, who among many achievements made it possible for Solel to continue functioning via the online world through the pandemic and is now also taking on the role of Treasurer.

Our special award winners: Miranda Weinman and Sonja Botnick –as well as Talia Botnick, who was not able to attend. We are very fortunate to have these and other young adults who so willingly taught our students.

Our honourable mensch of the year: Kim Mayne who has embraced Solel’s philosophy that “we teach our own” ever since she joined Solel in 1984. Kim has served and led our education committee and is also a past board member, and as Robbin Botnick said in her presentation to Kim, “Kim always has a smile on her face”. On a personal note, I don’t remember ever being at Bet Sefer Solel on a Sunday without seeing Kim and her welcoming smile. This award is so well deserved.

And now here is the transcript of my message to the Congregation:

As you can imagine, it’s a somewhat daunting honour to be here tonight stepping into the role of Solel’s President after all that Ted, Joel, Robbin and Roz have accomplished.

I want to take a few minutes to talk about some of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. If we think about the last 26 months “Since the start of the pandemic, time has expanded, contracted, been suspended, and blurred – often in dizzying succession “These are not my words. I am quoting the two lead curators of the recently opened biennale at the Whitney Art Museum in New York City, and I quoted them because I feel these sentiments describe so well the shared experience, emotions and fog that so many of us have felt as we tried planning anything that would have been so normal prior to March of 2020.

You will remember that the shutdown happened so quickly that we barely had time to plan for the next week. I clearly recollect leaving my office on Friday, March 13, 2020, feeling certain that I would be in for at least part of the next week, and that all of us would be together again within a few weeks. My reality was very different. I returned to my office 20 months later and then spent two days alone in an empty downtown office tower as I cleared my desk before stepping down from an almost 40-year career with one employer. My retirement farewell was an incredibly warm, memorable, and well-attended virtual event, but I did so miss the opportunity of schmoozing with colleagues and friends in a comfortable large downtown Toronto venue. Without going on, the loss of so many wonderful spontaneous interactions have been a tough time for each one of us. I know that so many of our Solel members and their families have missed key family and life cycle and irreplaceable opportunities — and we still can’t quite visualize what the future will feel like.

I want to talk to you tonight briefly about what we have achieved, what lies ahead – or perhaps what I think lies ahead -, and how you as Soleniniks can help us move forward to ensure we stay relevant as a reform Jewish congregation and caring community West of Toronto.

First, let’s remember how quickly and well Solel adapted and moved forward. Without missing a beat, we transitioned from in-person to online-only services and classes. We struck a Return committee to help us navigate what we could safely do, or not, do based on ever-evolving regulations and developments. We switched overnight from in-person to live stream services. We figured out how to celebrate bnei mitzvot and other simchas with the support of online technology, and we celebrated beautiful Shabbat and holiday services. Our teachers kept the school going, and we started and completed a major renovation of our washrooms and entrance during a shutdown; you only need to read the Shammas to see how much Solel still does and how much is going on.

Our small team of employees worked tirelessly to be there for us and keep things going with new book club opportunities, movie nights lunchtime get-togethers and much more that I won’t list off now. Thank you, Rabbi Pollack, Arliene Botnick, Carol Van Thyn and Nillon Ross.

Going forward we continue to face many challenges. Many organizations have found that planning and visioning reopening into a hybrid world has been even more challenging than adapting to the 2020 shutdowns. Add to these changing demographics and changing perceptions of the relevance of membership and belonging.

We have no idea what the next two years will look like. A year ago, our incoming and outgoing board planned a strategy which we bucketed under seven categories.

  1. Return Committee
  2. Solel at 50 and Torah Projects
  3. Financial Health
  4. Membership Expansion and engagement
  5. 5chool
  6. Prayer, rituals and holidays
  7. Building and property improvement

We have moved the needle forward on each, but there is still much to do. Our combined boards will be meeting again on Monday to review progress and fine-tune our priorities – and I will be talking more about these I my monthly blog reports.

And that takes me to my last point: our continuing need for volunteers. We have many wonderful long-term volunteers, a very hard-working volunteer board and hard-working paid staff, but still need more help.

The real strength of Solel comes from our volunteers, and this has been the case going back to our founders who were planning Solel half a century ago. Volunteering for Solel should always be rewarding. As a community, we get the benefit of your diverse expertise and commitment; you get the opportunity to share this expertise while learning new skills in a safe, supportive, and caring community. And best of all, most of our Solel friendships and feeling of belonging have grown out of these volunteer experiences. Each of our strategic priorities and activities needs people who can help us move forward. So please reach out to me any or any board member if there is something you would like to help us with us either on an ongoing basis or with a one-off project or event.

Thank you all for joining us tonight in person and on the livestream to welcome and celebrate a new board and announce our special award winners and honourable mensch of the year. Unfortunately, two of our incoming members are not able to be here tonight: Emma Weizenbluth has a conflicting celebration and sends apologies.
And one of newer members, Dennis Norton is staying home in an abundance of caution after possibly being exposed to COVID but is with us online. Dennis is relatively new to Solel has already taken a lead role in co-chairing our Solel at 50 fundraising initiative.

It is now my honour to call out the names as I invite our other returning and new incoming board members to join me on the Bimah for the induction ceremony that Rabbi Pollack will lead:

  1. Roz Allen
  2. Joel Brown
  3. Rita Halporn
  4. Dave Gordon
  5. Mike Van Thyn
  6. Andrea Galambos And our two other new members:
  7. Amy Greene has been on the board previously and recently helped set up our very successful outdoor Chanukah celebration, and
  8. Faith Ellen is another returning volunteer – whom I first met when we each taught each other’s children at Bet Sefer Solel.

Filed under: President's Message

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