Emeth campaign moves forward

Emeth campaign moves forward

Temple Emeth is almost halfway to its goal of being debt-free.

In August, the Reform synagogue in Teaneck began a capital campaign to reach $’.’ million in order to pay off its debts, including the shul’s mortgage, and finance improvements to the building. To date, the "Committing to the Future" campaign, part of Emeth’s 60th anniversary, has collected 85 gifts totaling $1,0’0,000.

Ted Greenwood and Micki Grunstein are two of the co-chairs of Temple Emeth’s "Committing to the Future" 60th anniversary $’.’ million capital campaign. When contributions reached $930,000 Feb. 16, the campaign committee set up a poster in the shul to track donations.

"The principal aim for the campaign is to pay off the mortgage on the building," said Marc Chelemer, one of four campaign co-chairs. "The secondary goal is to finish the upgrades that began about 10 years ago."

As of March 1, Emeth owed $1.1 million toward its mortgage. Once the mortgage is paid off, temple funds will be freed up for other programming, such as improving its youth activities, said Rabbi Steven Sirbu, who promotes the campaign from the bimah.

"So far it seems like we’re off to a great start," Sirbu said. "Experienced fund-raisers tell us the first million is much easier than the second million, so we know we have a significant amount of work ahead of us to reach our goal."

Before the campaign launched, temple leaders met with members to prioritize upgrades to the building. After the mortgage is paid off, the rest of the money raised would go to such improvements as adding a wheelchair ramp to the bimah, improving the lighting in the social hall, upgrading the sound systems in the sanctuary and social hall, and refurbishing the restrooms.

In addition to the $1.1 million mortgage, Emeth also owes $’00,000 that it had borrowed from its endowment fund, bringing the shul’s total debt to $1.3 million, Chelemer said. Repair work is also needed for water damage to the sanctuary’s ceiling, which carries an estimated cost of $’00,000. Estimates for all the repairs and upgrades, which Chelemer said were purposely on the high side, are between $400,000 and $500,000, but no work will be done until the mortgage is paid.

Board members and Sirbu have turned to the congregants in what Chelemer said have been "meaningful private discussions in their living rooms." Emeth draws members from 4’0 households in towns across Bergen County, including Hillsdale, Haworth, and Fair Lawn. More than half of its members live outside of Teaneck, according to Chelemer. "We have become more of a regional Reform congregation," he said.

Sirbu has noted the positive response from the congregants regarding the campaign and is optimistic for the second half. "The congregants are very pleased the leadership is taking proactive steps to improve the congregation," he said.

Upon reaching $930,000 last month, the campaign leaders set up a poster designed by Robert Eichinger of Quadrant Communications in New York to track contributions. Emeth also has retained the services of the consulting firm Mersky, Jaffe & Associates to plan the campaign strategy. The firm has advised the campaign committee on techniques for talking to congregants and securing large gifts, said Michael Jaffe, a partner in the firm who is based in the firm’s New York office.

"The campaign has been going very, very well," he said. "It has a very positive pace. The gifts have been secured as a result of personal face-to-face discussions, which is the best and most positive way of securing committed gifts."

At any one time, Mersky, Jaffe & Associates, which specializes in nonprofit groups, is working with five to 10 synagogues across the country on campaigns.

"I’m certainly pleased with the progress," Chelemer said. "There has been an unexpected generosity from synagogue members and sometimes from unlikely places."

Those unlikely places include former Emeth members who moved out of the area but still kept a connection to the shul. Donations have come from as far away as Utah, Chelemer said.

Emeth plans to finish collecting pledges within the year. The deadline for paying off its mortgage is June 30, ’01’, which also would be the deadline for collecting the pledged funds. "Money will be paid to the mortgage as it comes in," Chelemer said.

The shul’s last capital campaign took place 10 years ago to pay for the its expansion.

"What makes this capital campaign different is we’re not planning a major expansion to the building," Sirbu said. "We’re committing to the future of our congregation."

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