Rabbi Daniel Weiner has had a rare opportunity this past year — a chance to spend a long time getting to know his new congregation before becoming the senior rabbi at Temple De Hirsch Sinai on July 1.
“It takes a good year or two to see things with depth and breadth,” to get to know the vision and the character of a congregation, Weiner said after his first few weeks at his new job in Seattle. He acknowledged, however, that he walked onto the bimah with the advantage of a year of flying back and forth to Seattle to meet with Temple De Hirsch Sinai leadership for discussions about their plans for the future of the Pacific Northwest’s oldest and largest congregation.
Weiner served as both assistant and associate rabbi at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, a community of 2,000 families, from 1991 to 1996, and had been the rabbi of Temple Ohev Shalom in Harrisburg, Penn., since then. He grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, where his father, Rabbi Martin S. Weiner, also leads a Reform congregation, and was thrilled to see his dream of moving back to the West Coast fulfilled.
If Temple Ohev Shalom sounds familiar, that may be because the synagogue experienced a devastating fire in the middle of the night last Yom Kippur. Rabbi Weiner had a once-in-a-lifetime experience as a rabbi: He ran into the sanctuary in the middle of the fire with a firefighter escort to rescue the Torah from the flames.
West Coast Reform Jews may also know Rabbi Weiner from his years at Camp Swig in California. Temple promotional materials call him one of the leading young rabbis in the Reform movement. Weiner graduated from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati in 1991, in the midst of the Reform movement’s transition toward 21th century Judaism.
He and his wife, Cindy, are living in Bellevue with their daughter, Julia, who will be a first-grade student at the Jewish Day School this fall, and their 5-month-old son, Benjamin. Cindy is a Jewish educator and Rabbi Weiner says she may teach at the temple’s Jennifer Rosen Meade Preschool in a few years.
Weiner says temple leadership made his mission quite clear: “To create a congregation that is meaningful and significant … for 21st-century Jews. They really have a vision for a renaissance to revitalize the congregation.”
He is excited about the opportunity to help Temple De Hirsch Sinai grow and respond to changes in the Jewish community. “God willing, in partnership with the leadership of the congregation, we’re going to do some pretty wonderful things here,” Weiner says.
The new temple rabbi has already started to make changes in services, but he promises to try to offer a service for every Reform Jew at TDHS. The congregation’s two synagogues — a new one in Bellevue and a landmark building at the edge of Capitol Hill and the Central District in Seattle — will offer a total of four Shabbat services each week. A variety of styles from classical Reform to more participatory services to “generation ‘y’ experiential” will be part of the temple experience. The temple also has a new assistant rabbi, Philip Rice, who will be leading services, and a third rabbi, Shifra Weiss Penzias, will be doing some part-time work for the congregation and leading some services.
Weiner says one thing the congregation’s more than 1,200 families agree about is the desire to find community. He hopes to cultivate the idea that TDHS is “a family of families.”
“My passion is for people. My style as a rabbi is to be really hands-on … I hope to build the congregation, not just size- wise but in terms of the quality of the community,” he says.
The congregation has also instituted a new volunteer dues program for new members. During their first year of membership, families and individuals will be invited to “pay whatever you want.” After they get to know the community, temple leadership will ask them to join the regular dues structure, which also leaves room for people who cannot afford to pay full dues to pay what they can. “We don’t want money to be a defining characteristic for the congregation,” Weiner says.
Weiner also sees opportunities for change and growth in the temple religious school and adult education program. He recognizes a thirst for adult learning in the community. “We’re hoping to create the kind of program that will attract people in the wider community,” he says.
Other changes: new carpeting in the senior rabbi’s office, and Rabbi Weiner wears a kipah and tallit for Shabbat services, unlike Rabbi Emeritus Earl Starr.
Weiner also plays guitar — from Jewish music to folk, blues and classic rock — is a big film buff and once worked as a standup comedian.
The Samis Foundation has announced its grant awards for the fiscal year 2002 (July 1, 2001–June 30, 2002), totaling over $4.2 million, as compared to a grant total of $3.5 million in fiscal 2001.
Samis awards grants to Jewish organizations in Washington state and charitable organizations that benefit the State of Israel. Slightly more than 90 percent of the grants are made to organizations operating in Washington State.
One of the main concentrations of Samis’ philanthropy is enhancing Jewish day school education for children in grades K–12. Eighty percent of Samis’ annual philanthropy supports “quality, affordable day school education” in greater Seattle’s five Jewish day schools — Northwest Yeshiva High School, Seattle Hebrew Academy, Metropolitan Day School of Seattle, Seattle Jewish Community School and the Menachem Mendel Seattle Cheder — currently educating more than 750 children.
The day school grants fall into the following categories:
Tuition Reduction. Fiscal 2002 marks the sixth year of a special project with the Northwest Yeshiva High School, whereby Samis’ support enables the NYHS to charge a significantly reduced tuition. Since the program’s inception in fall 1996, enrollment at NYHS has more than doubled, from 67 students to an anticipated 130 or more students this coming September.
Tuition Assistance. In partnership with Seattle Hebrew Academy, the Jewish Day School of Metropolitan Seattle (Bellevue), the Menachem Mendel Seattle Cheder and the Seattle Jewish Community School, Samis has launched a new tuition assistance program, impacting school year 2001–2002 students and their families. The program employs a professional, confidential, dignified, quality process of determining what a family can afford to pay, similar to programs run by other top private schools and universities.
Each school maintains a Tuition Assessment Committee, which is trained in this methodology and which works with an expert in school finances to determine a fair, affordable level of family contribution. Unique to this process is a sensitivity to the “Jewish cost of living,” taking into account synagogue dues, participation in Jewish camps and trips to Israel. Samis makes up most of the difference between what families can afford to pay and what schools charge in tuition and fees.
Samis leadership notes that Tuition Reduction and Tuition Assistance grants benefit mostly the parents and are of more limited value to the schools, except in that they relieve the schools of scholarship costs and most special tuition plans.
Staff Benefits. Samis provides funds to assist each school in offering medical and dental benefits to its staff. Fiscal 2002 will be the second year of Samis supporting staff benefits. In addition to providing dedicated school professionals with essential medical insurance coverage, day schools need to provide these benefits to compete with public and other private schools for the increasingly shrinking pool of quality teachers.
Financial stability. Samis provides grants for fund-raising professionals in four of the five Seattle-area Jewish day schools. These are three-year challenge grants, with each school having to raise increasing dollars each year, to eventually sustain these positions once the three-year grant term expires. In addition, Samis provides other matching incentive grants to help schools leverage other fund-raising campaigns and supports.
Quality Programs. Supports include curriculum development, workshops for teachers and administration, special education professionals and programming, board strategic planning consultations and counseling services.
In addition to grants to day schools, Samis supports overnight Jewish camping efforts for Washington state Jewish children, offering a total of $55,000 in grants to the following camps:
• Camp Solomon Schechter (Washington State’s largest and only full-summer overnight camp and the only camp that operates on its own site)
• Camp Kesher (family camp sponsored by four Seattle-area Reform congregations)
• Camp B’nai Torah (new camp run by Temple B’nai Torah of Bellevue)
• Camp Lech L’cha (new 3-week travel camp for middle-school-age children)
• Sephardic Adventure Camp (10-day camp, the oldest Jewish camp in the Northwest, run jointly by Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation and Congregation Ezra Bessaroth) and
• Camp Young Judaea, which rents space from Camp Solomon Schechter for the concluding weeks of the summer.
Samis has granted over $100,000 to Camp Solomon Schechter over the last two years to support capital-related projects. This capital support was designed to help the camp expand its facility. Over the last three to four years, Schechter has been forced to turn away children due to space limitations.
Samis is also granting $10,000 for camp scholarships administered by the Jewish Education Council of Seattle and $5,000 as a matching grant with two other funders to support a pilot program, also run by the JEC, to retain quality camp counselors.
Samis is granting $40,000 in need-based scholarships for area students to participate in meaningful educational trips to Israel. The Jewish Education Council will administer this scholarship program.
Samis accepts grant applications from organizations offering quality K–12 Jewish educational programming in the areas of day schools, overnight camps, and Israel experiences, limited to Washington state. These limitations of age (K–12), geography (Washington state) and modes of Jewish education (day school, camping, Israel experiences) follow the policies adopted by the Samis Foundation Board of Directors appointed by Sam Israel.
Samis’ grant philanthropy in the state of Israel is concentrated in the areas of immigrant absorption, wildlife preservation, archaeology, widows and orphans, and university scholarships for poor, gifted students. These areas of interest stem from Sam Israel’s personal philanthropy and conform to specific directions written by Sam when he established the foundation before his death in 1994.
Of special note among Samis grants to organizations in Israel:
Wildlife Preservation. Beginning in fiscal 2002, Samis will grant $250,000 per year over the next four years to support the building of the Sam Israel Multimedia Auditorium, a key component of the new International Center for the Study of Bird Migration at Latrun. The auditorium is part of a multi-unit, large-scale project to include a research center, field school and interactive museum. Partners in this project include Israel ministries of both Education and Tourism, Lockheed-Grumman, EMC2 , Armored Forces Memorial at Latrun, Society for Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), Tel Aviv University and others.
Widows and Orphans. Samis will provide $65,000 in fiscal 2002, as part of a multi-year capital grant, to assist in building a battered-woman’s shelter for the Maslan Women’s Support Center for the Negev. Maslan’s current facility is located in a converted home, inadequate for meeting the needs of the mostly young women and their children fleeing from abusive and oftentimes dangerous relationships. The Beer Sheva facility is the only one of its kind in the south of Israel, serving an area from Ashkelon to Eilat. Partners in this project include the Sacta-Rashi Foundation of France.
Archaeology. The Foundation will grant $70,000 in fiscal 2002 to the the Israel Exploration Society, as part of its continuing effort to assist Professor Ehud Netzer in publishing significant archaeological discoveries from both Herodium and Jericho. Digs under the direction of Professor Netzer uncovered major palaces from the Maccabian (Hasmonean) and Herodian periods in these two locales.
The project will eventually lead to the publishing of all six scholarly volumes, thoroughly cataloging the results of Netzer’s discoveries and his interpretations of their significance. To date, two of the six volumes have been published, as well as a third, popularized version. Professor Netzer, who lectured this past April at the University of Washington, is one of the world’s preeminent archaeologists, gaining recognition initially for assisting Professor Yigal Yadin in unearthing and reconstructing most of the buildings on Masada.
Immigrant Absorption. To assist Ethiopian immigrants in adjusting to life in Israel, Samis will provide three special program grants in the $5,000–$10,000 range to the following organizations: the Jerusalem College of Technology, Matan Women’s Institute for Torah Studies and the College of Judea and Shomron. Samis is also providing a pilot grant to the American Joint Distribution Committee to assist Russian immigrants from the Caucasus Mountain region. This neglected immigrant population has had, in many respects, greater difficulty in resettlement than the more publicized Ethiopian immigrants.