4/5 December 2020, 18/19 Kislev 5781


Hello everyone,

We had a bit of a mishap this month and ‘Word from the Chair’ was accidentally omitted from Shofar, so Rebecca suggested I take this weekly e-mail spot instead.  In a further departure from the usual weekly e-mail fare, in place of more general reflections I’m going to seize this opportunity to talk to you about what council actually does and in particular about what we’ve been up to in our first two meetings of the year.  I hope that by keeping you informed about these practicalities we can be accessible, transparent and accountable as a council.

We have a minhag of starting each council meeting by going around the room talking about a highlight of the month for each of us at FPS. Last month Rafael Qassim’s Bar Mitzvah unsurprisingly loomed large as did our Shabbat b’Yachad Remembrance service. I’d had a literal highpoint: the opportunity to go up onto the synagogue roof with a roofer – not something that I’d ever anticipated would be part of my experience as chair.I really enjoyed seeing our building and our relationship to neighbouring buildings from that very different perspective!

In October we received a report from Beit Tefilah – the committee responsible for the liturgical side and the ‘rites and practices’ of synagogue life – on the question of our physical return to the building for services.  We came to a decision about how to move forward, to be reversed almost immediately by new national restrictions.  We were very happy to have enabled members to come to worship in the building for one Shabbat.  This brief experiment was extremely useful in testing out our procedures, and ensuring we are able to meet again safely.  We also fed back to Beit Tefilah about how we thought the High Holy Days Services had gone – brilliantly, was the consensus!

We have reviewed the plans we made last year – inevitably, Coronavirus has had a major impact in every area of our work which meant some things hadn’t happened at all and others had taken surprising new turns – and discussed possible areas of focus for the year ahead.  For example: Outreach and care: How do we keep in touch with our members, support those who are vulnerable and in need, and make it easy for people to ask for, get or provide help?  Membership and community development: Is our membership changing and if so how?  Who is joining as new members?  How do people hear about us, become members and then become more involved and take on leadership roles? How do we plan effectively for membership growth?  Technology: All of our events are likely to be either exclusively online or to combine online and in person attendance for the foreseeable future.  How do we make hybrid events successful for members both at home and in the building?  How do we continue to engage members online?  How is our use of technology likely to develop and expand?  What equipment, capabilities and resources do we need?  What new opportunities are there for outreach, communication and raising our profile for example through social media, vlogs and podcasts?  What will it cost and how will we pay for it?  Building and Grounds:  How can we take responsibility more effectively for managing our building and grounds?  How do we keep on top of routine maintenance?  What about health and safety, fire procedures etc? We don’t at present have a care-taker.  Can we manage this with the staff and volunteers we have or do we need additional staffing capacity?

We’ve been reviewing our safeguarding policy.  Now two years old, it is already significantly out of date.  The need to move much of our provision online has also raised many new considerations.   It’s at times like this that it’s really useful to have a Head Teacher and other experienced teachers on council!

We’ve been discussing next year’s budget.  A budget is a values document: what you spend your money on reflects the choices you have made about what matters most.  When we first created the post that Zoe now holds, council agreed that part of the cost would be paid out of capital as an investment in the future of the community.  Two years ago we decided that this could not be sustained and that we needed to be able to pay for that post and still balance our budget.  We managed that last year, but it’s going to be much more difficult to break even next year.  Our income has taken a hit because we’ve lost some of our lettings income. The cost-savings we made this year during lockdown when we were unable to be in the building can’t be sustained now that Southover – our main tenant and a major income source – is back in the building and when we ourselves return.  We may need to draw on capital to invest in some necessary maintenance work.  Our largest source of income is membership subscriptions and our largest expenditure is on staff, so although there is no necessary direct relationship between the percentage increases in subscriptions and salaries, there is a balancing act.  We are thinking about how to maximise our income through managing our reserves, fund-raising and in due course from rental income for external users of the building.  It falls to our superb treasurer to finalise a budget that reflects what were essentially moral as well as economic arguments in council to be approved at our next meeting.

I hope that gives you a flavour of what we’ve been up to.  If you would be interested in helping with any of these areas please do let us know.  And do let us know what you think we should be working on and thinking about as priorities to ensure that FPS continues to flourish as a community.  We are of necessity a relatively small group, so we need to hear your views and experiences to best represent the community as a whole.

Tamara Joseph