The following are some of the most common questions we hear from potential and new TBI members. If you would like to ask (or suggest) a question for this list, please email it to the office. Please mention the online FAQs in your email.
What is Reconstructionism?
Reconstructionist Judaism is a progressive, contemporary approach to Jewish life which integrates a deep respect for traditional Judaism with the insights and ideas of contemporary social, intellectual and spiritual life.
For Reconstructionists, Judaism is more than Jewish religion; Judaism is the entire cultural legacy of the Jewish people. Religion is central; Jewish spiritual insights and religious teachings give meaning and purpose to our lives. Yet our creativity as expressed through art, music and drama, languages and literature, and our relationship with the land of Israel itself are also integral parts of Jewish culture. Each of these aspects provides a gateway into the Jewish experience that can enrich and inspire us.
More about Reconstructionism at:
or pick up a JRF brochure at our office
What's our relationship with the Reconstructionist movement, in terms of our obligations to them and services available from them?
A Reconstructionist Federation member community makes a commitment to the following:
- Democratic, participatory decision making
- Support for the existence of the state of Israel
- Ongoing Jewish education according to, but not limited by, the JRF Education Guidelines
- Freedom of Rabbinic Expression
- Agreement with the policies of JRF and the values of Reconstructionist Judaism
In joining the Jewish Reconstructionist Movement, a community agrees to follow the procedures of JRF, to support and participate in the activities of the Reconstructionist movement, including, but not limited to, the Annual Appeals and biennial conventions.
Each community is responsible for paying dues to the Federation at a rate of $80 per household, with up to 15% of membership at half-dues in order to accommodate for member households in financial hardship. Other arrangements are negotiated directly with JRF Outreach Director and committee. Dues do not cover the full cost of training rabbis, producing prayer books and publications, rabbinic placement, consultation fees, education curricula, etc., yet these and all JRF services are a benefit of membership and our understanding of shared commitment to sustaining and growing contemporary Jewish life as part of the Jewish people’s present and future.
The Reconstructionist movement offers us, in return, prayerbooks and other printed resources that reflect our values. They have led workshops for us on improving leadership skills and doing our fundraising according to our values and goals. Once a year they sponsor a movement-wide meeting; in 2005, that meeting was in Portland, and our rabbis and members participated in a variety of ways. They offer a summer camp, well-trained and inspiring rabbis, and ongoing resources for Leadership and Governance, Money and Congregational Life, Inreach, Outreach, Membership and Programming, and Jewish Values-based decision making in Congregational Life.
How will my non-Jewish family members be included in lifecycle events?
Since 1968, the Reconstructionist movement has recognized the Jewishness of a child born to a non-Jewish mother and Jewish father. Our communities are dedicated to creating an environment in which all family members feel welcome. Acknowledging the current reality that an increasingly large number of families are intermarried, TBI seeks to involve all family members in significant lifecycle events. Our aim is to bring the richness of Jewish civilization into the public and private lives of our communities, to learn from the experiences non-Jewish partners bring, and not necessarily to formally convert the non-Jewish family member.
If you have an upcoming lifecycle event, we encourage you to call the office and make an appointment to discuss with the rabbi any questions you may have.
How much Hebrew do I have to know to take part in the services?
Our intention is for everyone to be able to engage with our services. While it’s impossible to create a service that is completely translatable in “real time” for everyone at every stage of Hebrew skill, our services tend to offer a wide range of points of connection. Our prayerbook includes transliteration for most prayers, and people are always welcome to read the English interpretive readings surrounding the prayers, or to explore other parts of the prayer book during services. In addition, repeated attendance leads most people to a place where they can participate in the prayers and songs even if they have little or no Hebrew.
The rabbi often sprinkles introductions, kavanot (intentions), or comments throughout the service in a way that educates and enhances, without stunting the flow of the service. Feedback is especially invited, and people with little or no Hebrew, as well as non-Jewish “fellow travelers” in our community, should never feel embarrassed to speak with the rabbi after services to offer feedback or ask for assistance connecting to the service. Our intention is to invite everyone who wishes to, to celebrate the Divine Mystery and the blessings of community with us!
TBI’s Kitchen and Food
How does the kitchen work?
TBI’s kitchen serves many needs–preparing Friday evening oneg treats, storing food for hungry local families, making snacks for the preschool children, Jewish cooking classes, and catering for large events, to name a few. Because there is a range of food and kashrut practices among our members, we ask the congregation and staff to follow some simple rules:
- TBI has a dairy kitchen. No meat, shellfish or non-kosher fish is allowed in the TBI kitchen. This includes products with meat-based shortening, such as lard, and soups with meat-based broths, like chicken soup. Kosher fish (tuna, salmon, etc.) is allowed. If you’re not sure whether a food is ok for the kitchen, please call or email the TBI Office and ask.
- Please do not leave leftovers from an oneg or another event in the fridge, unless you have delegated someone to take them out again later and serve them at a particular event within a day or two.
- Please clean up after yourself.
- Please respect the signs for separate hand-washing and dish-washing sinks.
- Please bring only vegetarian foods with a long shelf life for the food pantry; canned fish (tuna, salmon) is allowed.
- There are extra rules during Passover – please ask a staff member to explain the restrictions or to help you.
School and Children
Are my young children welcome at services? What behavior standards are there for children in the sanctuary?
Yes! Children of all ages are welcome – and welcomed – at services. We do ask that you consider the needs of your children; not every five-year-old can last through a full service without falling asleep or needing to run around. Please be reassured that no one will think less of you or your child for leaving early, getting up to exercise those little legs (or lungs), or doing anything else you need to do. On some wonderful occasions, we have had small children dancing happily to the singing, telling themselves stories about the service, and moving from lap to lap across a row of members.
We have special Tot Shabbat and Baby Shabbat services once a month, during the regular Shabbat morning service time. These includes songs, stories, and interactive activities and is a good fit for kids birth through five.
We expect children to behave like children, not like little adults. However, that also means that parents need to maintain the boundaries of the sanctuary’s sacredness, since their children may not make that distinction. Please help your child understand that the Ark is a sacred, special place and not a toy; that people at services may sometimes want quiet (although not all the time), and that the books and objects in the synagogue should be handled carefully. Feel free to talk with the rabbi or another member if you have questions about helping your child with appropriate behavior.
What are the teachers in the Talmud Torah (Religious School) like? What are their credentials? Do they have an annual review, like public school teachers?
Our teachers are part-time, and they teach at Talmud Torah primarily because of their strong commitment to Jewish learning and nurturing healthy Jewish identity in kids. They come from a diversity of backgrounds and experiences, from folks who have lived in Israel for many years, to enthusiastic college students, to professional educators. We encourage community members to take a role in our school and consider being a part-time teacher with us.
Teachers receive training and get feedback throughout the year. Concerns, compliments, or questions can be shared with Gretchen Lieberman, the religious school director, Karrie Walters Warren, chair of the Talmud Torah Advisory Committee, and/or Rabbi Ruhi.
What can I do to improve my child's experience in the Talmud Torah?
Your children look to you as models of behavior. One of the easiest ways to improve your child’s experience of the school is simply to be involved, and take an interest in it. We are always looking for parents who want to participate in their child’s Jewish education. Ask them about their lessons, practice speaking Hebrew with them (if you don’t know any, you can “model” being a good student by asking them to teach you some words), and pay attention to their feelings about the school. All of these things show your children that Judaism isn’t something that stops once they become bar or bat mitzvah, but will be a part of their lives as they grow. Perhaps more importantly, be involved in the other facets of TBI life. Whether it’s coming to services or programs or sharing a meal with fellow congregants, kids whose families participate outside of Talmud Torah classes feel more connected to the community and generally have a more positive perspective on their religious school experience.
Our Talmud Torah program offers a great deal of choice and flexibility for busy families. Giving the students a say in what they are learning (see more about our JEWL classes here) helps empower students and makes them more excited about Jewish learning.
What resources/events are there for seniors?
TBI hosts a number of events especially for seniors within the community. We host brunches several times each year. We also encourage seniors to volunteer for a variety of events and tasks, according to their abilities, in order to stay engaged. One of Shirley’s priorites is to maintain contact with our seniors to make sure their needs are being met and to try to get them assistance they may need. There are also a number of social services available to Jewish seniors regardless of affiliation. Jewish Family Services as well as the Jewish Federation of Lane County have detailed brochures describing their mission and services, available in the office.
Are there people who help elderly members get to services and events?
If you need a ride to a service or senior event, call Shirley in the TBI office, 541.485.7218. Please be sure to give us enough notice, since last minute rides can be hard to organize.
Social and Community Life
Are there other members like me, and how do I find them?
Yes! TBI has a broad membership, which ranges from single mothers and fathers raising children, to 20-something outdoorsy hikers, to grandparents starting life over in a new place. Chances are, if you joined TBI, so did several other people with similar interests, life experiences, and values.
There are many ways to make connections with similar members. The simplest (although not always easiest) is to start talking to people when you come to TBI. Most members are excited to find a new member still exploring what the community has to offer. If you come to the events that interest you, it’s likely that you already have a lot in common with the other members who turn up.
Another path is to talk to someone on a committee or chavurah (small, informal, social learning groups of Temple members with similar interests) that deals with things that interest you about what events they have planned where you might meet other people.
If you have a particular group, or type of person or event you’d like to see happen, call us! Tell anyone in the office and we’ll do our best to help you connect. That’s what we’re here for!
I have an idea for an event – who do I talk with to make it happen?
The first step is to call the office or talk to someone on a related committee. For example, if you had an idea for cleaning up a section of road with other TBI members as a bit of tzedakah, you could call someone on the K’vod Ha-Teva (Honoring Nature) committee. If you’re not sure where your event fits in, call the office and ask them who can help you. You may find that someone else has been talking about just the same thing for a while, and you can organize it together.
What is expected of me, as a member? Are there obligations besides making a financial contribution?
Most of our programs and activities, as well as our leadership, are lay-led and dependent on the time and energy of our members. We look to all of our members to help support the community — and to help fulfill our values as a democratic and participatory community — by giving your time and energy to some volunteer area or endeavor that is of interest to you. There is a lot to do here. Please say “yes” when asked to lend your knowledge, experience, or expertise to a committee or a specific project or activity. Better yet, please look for an area that you find interesting and fulfilling, and for a need that appeals to you and suits your interests, skills, and abilities. Then tell an officer, trustee, committee member or chair, or staff person that you want to work on that project, activity, or program, or be on that committee.
Also, we ask our members to help us be a community and to be there for each other when one of us needs a community. That means: going to a shiva minyan, even if you didn’t know the deceased or the family well; cooking a meal for a family in need, or for a potluck meeting or program, or bringing food for an Oneg Shabbat; opening your home for a suitable community activity or for “home hospitality” so out-of-town visitors and attendees at regional events we host can stay with us in our community, rather than in a hotel.
And we ask our members always to tell us how we can be better and do more to fulfill our goals as a center for Jewish life. If you have a good idea or want to see a program or activity we don’t currently have, run your idea by the staff or appropriate committee. We encourage you to take the initiative to create something you want with other like-minded members. As a participatory and democratic community, some of our best programs and activities have come about that way.
Where does my financial contribution go?
In short, contributions go into the General Fund and pay for operational expenses of the synagogue. This includes salary and other expenses of the rabbi, teachers, and other paid staff; security measures; maintenance of the grounds and buildings; supplies, postage, utilities, computers and computer systems; and the expenses of various regular and recurring programs (including the expenses associated with fundraising). Contributions are used — and needed — to support the entire community, not just specified programs or activities.
Contributions do not support charitable giving programs, such as the Tzedakah v’Chesed Committee’s financial activities, or spending from the Rabbi’s discretionary funds, or other expenses covered by existing special funds. Those rely on special donations specified exclusively for those activities.
Financial contributions do not provide 100% of what is needed for our operational expenses.
To a limited extent, some operational expenses can be covered from time to time by special funds — money donated specifically for a particular purpose, such as educational enrichment at the Talmud Torah, community education, a specific capital improvement project, etc. The balance of income needed for operating expenses comes from donations and other fundraising activities — of which the annual auction is a major and essential part. Together, these income components need to provide enough income to pay for all of the programs, activities, and staff support that the members say they want.
We currently rely too much on fundraising — a relatively unstable source of income — and do not receive a sufficient percentage of relatively stable income from contributions. One of the challenges the Board — and TBI’s membership — currently faces, if we are to maintain current programs and services, is to ensure a higher level of stable income.
Who do I talk with if I have a problem that requires pastoral services?
The rabbis are responsible for pastoral services. Please call the office to make an appointment. The office staff can also direct you to other resources you might need, if your family is going through a hard time for any reason.
What services are available to me, as a member?
As a member of Temple Beth Israel, you can enroll your children in the Talmud Torah, have a vote in the election of Board officers and other congregational decisions, contribute to community-wide discussions about synagogue issues, and make use of all the services offered by our committees and rabbi, including pastoral care and lifecycle events. Many of our pastoral and end-of-life services are also provided to non-members, since it is our responsibility to care for the entire Jewish community; however, the maintenance of the building, staff, security, and programs that benefit everyone are expensive, and membership gives you a way to support this communal responsibility. As a member, you can also participate in community events and decision-making as a volunteer, including participation on a committee or the Board.
Who do I call if I, or a family member, am in the hospital?
Please call the office as soon as possible and let us know. The Bikur Cholim Committee has undertaken the mitzvah of visiting and comforting the sick. The office will make sure that the committee is informed so that you and your family can get the help you need while recuperating. The Bikur Cholim Committee says:
The Rabbis teach us that visiting a sick person removes 1/60th of his or her illness. One is obligated to visit family, friends and non-Jews whether they are in the hospital or at home. The goal of the Bikur Cholim Committee is to extend our care and concern when anyone in our community is ill.
Organization and Governance
How is TBI run?
This a big question! Here is a very cursory overview:
Lay leadership is composed of the Officers, the Board of Trustees — which are elected positions — and its various standing and ad hoc committees. All of these positions are filled by volunteers. The Board is largely a legislative body with overall responsibility to manage the finances and set policy for TBI, including strategic planning and visioning for the community. The Bylaws also vest certain decisions in the Board, including the power to contractually obligate TBI (as in hiring staff). The Officers comprise an Executive Committee that exercises executive responsibilities, including personnel and staff oversight and the carrying out of Board policy through liaison relationships between officers and committees. (More information on this can be found below, in question about the relationship between the Board and Committees.)
The Executive Director and the Rabbis are ex officio (by virtue of their positions) members of both the Board and the Executive Committee. The Board and Executive Committee meet monthly and meetings are open (unless a privileged or confidential matter, such as a personnel matter, is being discussed and the meeting has gone into “executive session”).
There also is a paid staff to perform the day-to-day operational and management functions and to provide clerical and administrative support to the Board and various committees on an as-needed basis. Staff managers and the rabbis have designated liaisons with synagogue officers to facilitate communication with the lay leadership and to ensure that operations and management are consistent with Board policies and the community’s goals and vision. The rabbis also have liaison committees, consisting of volunteer members, to help with communication and working through issues that arise from time to time. (More details about staff responsibilities can be found in the following question.)
At the present time, there are three management-level paid staff positions at TBI who are responsible for supervising other paid staff and for operations in their respective areas: Executive Director, Talmud Torah Director, and Preschool Director. These three meet regularly to communicate and coordinate their respective responsibilities and to identify any issues or concerns that need Board or Executive Committee attention.
Committees do most of the work and decision-making in specific program and activity areas and consist of member volunteers, headed by a chair appointed by the President. A list of committees appears in the Directory and on the website — and standing committees are specified in the Bylaws, although the list there is a little out of date and may need revision in the near future — and a review of that list illustrates the broad scope of activities covered by committees. Subject to Board policies and the overall mission of the TBI community, committees are given wide latitude to carry out their individual missions, programs, or purposes.
Members retain the ultimate authority for TBI. They vote for their Board representatives and officers annually. They also must approve certain decisions specified in the Bylaws, such as any real property transaction, the annual budget, and rabbinic contracts. The congregation has two regular, standing meetings each year — in May and November — to consider these and other issues that require its vote. In addition, special meetings may occur throughout the year to discuss and get community input on specific issues or questions. And, of course, without membership participation in committees, there would be no programs or activities at TBI.
What are the TBI staff members responsible for?
Our staff does a lot of the not-so-fun stuff that is necessary to run such a large building and our programs. Most of them are also members of TBI, and it’s important to remember not to approach them about work-related issues during services or on Shabbat – they need their Shabbos rest, too!
Some of what they do:
- Our Bookkeeper (Jacque Albert) compiles the financial statements, pays our bills and payroll, and tracks dues.
- Our Front Office/Volunteer Coordinator (Shirley Shiffman) handles the front desk and phones Wednesday and Thursday mornings, coordinates volunteers for numerous projects, and works on special projects, especially senior events.
- Our Talmud Torah Administrator/Rabbi Ruhi Sophia’s Executive Assistant (Rachel Burstein) manages her appointments and operates many of the Talmud Torah operations.
- Our Programs and Communications Manager (Jody Kirtner) produces the newsletter, weekly e-news, and the annual membership directory. She also maintains the website. She engages with potential and new members and assists in developing programs and events.
- Our Caretaker (Wade Black) looks after the building and facilities.
- Our Executive Director (Nina Korican) is responsible for managing the financial and administrative functions of TBI, and manages and oversees the use of the facilities. She coordinates scheduling of events, ensures smooth implementation of big projects like the auction, coordinates mailings, answers dozens of member and potential-member questions every day, and handles the minor and major issues that arise in the course of a typical day at TBI.
- Our Rabbi Educator (Rabbi Solomon) oversees curriculum, and works with parents to help children have a great religious school experience, along with Rabbi Ruhi.
- Our Preschool Director (Debby Laimon) runs TBI’s fabulous preschool program.
Some of what they don’t do, in their role as staff:
- Pastoral counseling
- Make decisions about dues
- Mediate conflict between members
- Make policy decisions about ritual issues
Since TBI is a Reconstructionist synagogue, we have a democratic decision-making structure in place for most major decisions. The TBI staff can help direct you to community members who have taken responsibility for overseeing issues like finances, ritual and practice, and education, but they are not responsible for “fixing” these elements of community life.
What is the relationship of Committees to the Board?
The committees, in effect, exercise delegated power and responsibility from the Board to plan, carry-out, and oversee programs and activities at TBI in virtually every area. (The Bylaws list the standing committees, and a description of their individual missions and responsibilities, but the committees are organic and constantly evolving.) Subject to existing policies and the overall mission, goals, and objectives of the Board and the community (reviewed annually at the Board’s retreat), committees are allowed and encouraged to decide for themselves how best to carry out their specific missions and responsibilities. Of course, if those programs or activities involve spending that is a part of TBI’s annual budget, then the Board also has final say over that spending as part of its responsibility to create and recommend a budget to the membership.
The committees may, and are encouraged to, recommend policies and policy changes to the Board in their respective areas of expertise when needed. In addition, when questions or proposals come to the Board from staff, members, or even one of the Trustees, it usually is referred first to an appropriate committee for discussion and recommendation, in recognition that the committees have the experience and expertise and are where the real work gets done.
How do the Board and committees maintain accountability/transparency to the congregation?
Board and Executive Committee meetings are open, and the Board meetings include a designated “open forum” period each month for members who want to raise questions or issues with the Board. The minutes of Board and Executive Committee meetings are on the website and are kept in the synagogue office, available to any member to read. Also in the synagogue office are the monthly financial statements and the books and records of the synagogue. To review these records, simply call the office and set up a time to come in. The monthly newsletter also contains a summary of the last Board meeting, including any actions taken or issues discussed, and the monthly President’s column (sometimes written by one of the VP’s) addresses broader current issues and values. Committees are encouraged to create minutes of their meetings, and these also are kept in the office and are available for inspection, though, in truth, not all committees do so yet.
When there are topics of particular interest or need, we try to ensure that the president or rabbi writes an article for the newsletter and the weekly e-news. The rabbi is encouraged to incorporate topics and issues of current interest to the members in her pulpit address. And, whenever desirable, feasible, and practical, we also try to meet with the members, or affected segments of the membership, to communicate or solicit input about a major decision or issue. The president provides a state of the congregation address at one of the annual congregational meetings.
How does our structure reflect Reconstructionist values?
TBI is a democratic and egalitarian community — both strong Reconstructionist values. Like many Reconstructionist synagogues — though, admittedly, not all — the organization is based on representative, not direct, democracy, but the fulfillment of the democratic value is less in the actual structure than in how we approach and use it. As we grow, we are trying to be increasingly aware and intentional about the need to involve members at appropriate places in decision-making processes and, indeed, in visioning and planning for the community’s future.
TBI also is Reconstructionist in the high degree of membership participation in all aspects of community life. We are particularly proud of our many members who can conduct services, read Torah, deliver a meaningful d’rash or divrei Torah (sermon), teach topics of community interest, and write or deliver an intelligent and thought-provoking address on current topics and issues. And, of course, we depend on member participation on committees and program groups for all of our activities and programs, regularly occurring and special. The interests and energy of individual members coming together to work toward specific goals or objectives is what makes it happen. Recognizing, however, that we can always do better in this area — and that our “structure” for encouraging and sustaining membership participation is a holdover from smaller days — we are trying to create a new, more deliberate and intentional structure for membership participation that will even better fulfill this Reconstructionist value.
TBI is committed to equal opportunity and participation, to nondiscrimination, and to honoring diversity within the community. Again, this is less a matter of structure — other than a lack of any discriminatory structure or institution — than of attitude and practices.
However, the lay leadership can point to a history of supporting efforts that promote these values, such as the Farm Workers walk for justice and opposition to the Oregon ballot measure that banned gay marriage.
TBI’s mission statement reflects the Reconstructionist goal of embracing traditional Jewish practices and values in contemporary context — reconstructing them, in the idiom of the Reconstructionists — to reflect the evolving civilization that is Judaism. The rabbis help in this effort with their periodic messages, and our Community Education program is a tool for realizing this value.
Finally, our mission statement also embraces the Reconstructionist value of community, including the vision of communities within communities, and living simultaneously in different communities/”civilizations.”
We are also becoming more systematic and intentional about public relations and communications with the larger community. We have representation on various organizations, such as the Jewish Community Relations Committee, the Jewish Public Affairs Forum, and Lane Interfaith Alliance that provides communications and liaison opportunities with the larger Jewish and non-Jewish communities. We also have members who serve on the Boards of — other non-TBI Jewish organizations, such as the Jewish Federation of Lane County and Oregon Hillel. Regionally, we interact actively with the other three Northwest JRF congregations.
Who do I talk to if I have a concern about something at TBI?
We encourage members to get to know their officers and Trustees and to speak with them about questions and concerns. However, staff persons, the rabbi, and teachers, or committee members and chairs, also ensure that concerns and questions get to the right person(s) for a timely and appropriate response. We also encourage our committee and Board members to wear their nametags at TBI functions, so members can put a face to their names. Members should feel free to speak with whomever they know and are comfortable with in lay leadership or staff positions. The important thing is to talk and not sit on concerns until they fester. Feedback from the membership is crucial to keeping our decisions on track. If you have a concern, we also encourage you to suggest some possible solutions for the problem; this helps everyone to focus on the end result and on the shared values which can help us address your concerns.