They aren’t using the “m” word, but leaders from Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills met with the leadership of Temple Beth Haverim on Feb. 10 to discuss plans to help shore up the Agoura Hills Conservative synagogue, which has been struggling financially in recent years and filed for bankruptcy protection in 2008. Aliyah has no plans to provide Beth Haverim with funds, and there is no discussion of a merger per se. Instead, Beth Haverim would become a satellite campus of Aliyah and would share staff, including a rabbi, based on a plan under discussion, Sophia Fisher reports in The Acorn.
An Agoura Hills site would be a coup for Temple Aliyah, which has a West Valley- and Conejo-based membership of more than 900 families on a modest campus on Valley Circle Boulevard. Beth Haverim, a congregation started in 1984 by families who left Aliyah, currently has 275 families, down from 370 last year. The Ladyface Court location could help provide Aliyah with the space it desperately needs without the cost and inconvenience of razing its West Valley structure.
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 [Beth Haverim Rabbi Gershon] 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, [Temple Aliyah Executive Director David] Brook said.
Beth Haverim members would also have access to services and programs at Aliyah, [Temple Aliyah’s Rabbi Stewart] 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 [Beth Haverim President Dave] 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.”