2010-02-18 / Community

Aliyah, Haverim deal discussed

By Sophia Fischer sfischer@theacorn.com

A neighbor synagogue has given new hope to Temple Beth Haverim, a conservative Jewish synagogue in Agoura Hills that faces financial collapse.

Leaders of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills have offered to help Beth Haverim in its quest to stay in operation.

Beth Haverim Rabbi Gershon Weissman, President Dave Scherr and other synagogue members met on Feb. 10 with Aliyah Rabbi Stuart Vogel and Executive Director David Brook to discuss ways the Woodland Hills temple might help its Agoura counterpart. Also representing Aliyah were President Bob Epstein and the immediate past president, Doug Wolfe.

Talks between officials from both synagogues began about six weeks ago.

“We had an honest, open discussion about our finances, our situation, the difficulties and how some of these things could be helped along the way,” Scherr said.

Beth Haverim has been grappling with finances for several years. Unexpected construction costs incurred when the temple moved from an office park to its new Ladyface Court site in 2003. Declining membership and a drop in property values contributed to the temple’s budget problems.

Beth Haverim filed for bankruptcy in July 2008. Emergency appeals for donations were made to congregants and to the community.

The property remains for sale, but an arrangement with the site’s bond holders allows Beth Haverim to stay in its location through the end of June. If a buyer is found, the temple will have a chance to match the offer and purchase the site back from the bond holders.

Aliyah, a nearly 50-year-old institution with a membership of 950 families, is willing to offer professional leadership, but no financial resources to Beth Haverim’s congregation of 275 families, Vogel said.

“I wish we could come in and say your troubles are over, we won the lotto and we are sharing it with you,” Vogel said. “You are remarkable people and deserve to have your vibrant community.”

Aliyah’s support would come through a management association, not a merger, Vogel said.

The concept under discussion designates Beth Haverim as a satellite campus for Aliyah. To help Beth Haverim cut costs, Aliyah professionals would oversee Hebrew school, preschool, programming and spiritual services. Beth Haverim’s preschool director, Donna Becker, has already announced she will leave in June for a job with another school. Lev Metz, Haverim’s education director hired last year, is moving to Israel. A new rabbi would share responsibilities with Weissman.

Assistant directors under Aliyah control would be hired to assist with the Haverim preschool, religious school and youth program. Aliyah’s part-time program director would receive increased work hours in order to oversee programming, including adult education, at Beth Haverim.

The staff changes would allow Haverim to save $300,000 annually, which could be put toward its mortgage payments, Brook said.

Beth Haverim members would also have access to services and programs at Aliyah, Vogel said. Aliyah would benefit by having a second campus closer to its Conejo Valley members.

“Given budget constraints, this is the model we feel we can offer,” Vogel said. “If we can rebuild and revitalize, the ultimate goal is fulltime for all professionals.”

Vogel and Scherr acknowledged the difficulties that lie ahead.

“We don’t have as models anything out in the Jewish world for this,” Vogel said. “We only know what hasn’t worked.”

“One of the things we in the region have long tried to encourage synagogues to do is to create alliances, because as the economy suffers resources diminish,” said Joel Baker, executive director of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Pacific Southwest Region. said. “This is the only way we can retain services.”

Beth Haverim congregants are to be commended for “holding on and believing in their community,” Baker said.

“If they can rework the financial situation I would give this a tremendous chance of succeeding,” Baker said. “The Aliyah people are skilled professionals and could inject real good leadership development and programming.”

Although other options were mentioned, including abandoning the Ladyface Court site and moving to a smaller, less expensive space, the Beth Haverim congregation agreed to pursue Aliyah’s offer, which several congregants described as “a gift.”

Scherr said he had looked at other locations.

“With an alternative site, we would have a small sanctuary, a small Hebrew school and a much smaller congregation at that point,” Sherr said.

The boards of both synagogues must approve any plan, and Beth Haverim’s financiers must give their blessing. Beth Haverim officials are contacting bond holders to discuss their options.

“Many things could happen between now and the next couple of months that could derail us,” Vogel told the Beth Haverim members.

“We want to be able to help you. Our hearts are in it.”

Return to top