Updated March 15, 2018
The Boards of Directors of Congregation Solel and Lakeside Congregation, in separate meetings (held on January 21 and 22, respectively), approved a resolution recommending that the membership of each congregation consider a proposal to combine the congregations. Each congregation plans to hold a special meeting on Sunday, April 29, 2018, to vote on the proposal. We know you will have many questions and have tried in the Q&A that follows to identify what some of those questions might be and provide responses.
Your input in the process is vital. We invite and encourage you to email any questions to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, to attend one or more of the congregational meetings (detailed below) that will be held to discuss the proposal, and to let us know if you would like to join one of the many joint working groups that would be formed (discussed below). We will also be providing periodic updates as the process evolves.
The FAQs below are organized in the following order under the following subheadings: Big Picture, The Building, Worship, School, Finances, Governance and Administration, Next Steps and Member Involvement.
1. Why should Solel and Lakeside combine?
- We are fortunate to have two vital, highly compatible, like-minded congregations led by Rabbis who have a strong personal as well as professional relationship. The joining of the two congregations is an opportunity to combine the best of each to create a dynamic and enduring Reform synagogue that will serve its current members and generations to come.
- Both congregations would benefit from the opportunities created by a more robust community, served by two rabbis, a cantor, and two educators. The combined congregation, approximately 650 households (about 385 from Solel and 265 from Lakeside), would still be small enough for congregants to know each other, the clergy, and the staff. And the combined congregation would have the scale to offer more worship, learning, social justice, and community programming to better serve the varied interests and needs of our diverse community.
- Our congregations are uniquely compatible, sharing core values and similar cultures. We have a history of successful collaborations around music, worship, social action, adult enrichment, youth groups, and more. In addition, we share geographic proximity and many of our congregants already know each other.
2. Why is now the right time for the congregations to combine?
- Successful congregations need long-term vision to identify and address future challenges and maximize opportunities.
- While neither congregation has an immediate need to combine, there is a clear advantage to staying ahead of national trends that put pressure on houses of worship.
- The best time to take on a momentous transition like this is when it is done voluntarily and from a position of strength.
3. How will the decision be made about whether to combine?
- The decision will be made by the memberships of Solel and Lakeside (as determined by the bylaws and governing policies of each). Each congregation will hold a special meeting on April 29, 2018, to vote on a resolution to combine the congregations that would become effective on early summer 2019.
- Prior to the special congregational meetings on April 29, there will be several meetings where congregants will have opportunities to learn more and ask questions about the proposal and the anticipated process for integrating the two congregations if they decide to combine. A schedule of meetings is included below.
4. Who would serve as clergy for the new congregation?
- The new congregation would have two full-time rabbis, Rabbi Evan Moffic and Rabbi Isaac Serotta, and a full-time cantor, Cantor Jay O’Brien. The new congregation would continue to abide by the content and intent of each of the clergy’s contracts.
- Both Rabbi Moffic and Rabbi Serotta will serve as co-senior rabbis with equal rabbinic status.
5. Who would lead the educational program?
- The congregation would be blessed with the combined strengths, experience and unique talents of Ashley Plotnick, current Director of Congregational Learning at Solel, and Vanessa Ehrlich, current Director of Lifelong Learning at Lakeside. Ashley’s primary responsibilities would be to run the religious school for pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade students and to supervise the madrichim and youth group programs. Vanessa’s primary responsibilities would be to facilitate adult learning programs and community-wide celebrations.
- Their tenure and compensation will be determined by the terms of their respective contracts.
- Both congregations prioritize education and provide strong programs for young students and adult learners alike. Ashley and Vanessa would collaborate with the goal of enhancing learning opportunities for the entire congregation.
6. What would be the name of a new congregation?
- Should the congregations decide to combine, a working group would be formed to recommend a name.
- The working group would consult with the rabbis and make recommendations to the Steering Committee, which will make a final recommendation for approval to both the Solel Board and the Lakeside Board.
7. How did the discussions between the congregations come about?
- Recognizing the numerous ways our congregations have been collaborating over the past few years, our rabbis began discussing the potential for more significant collaboration and encouraged their then-congregational presidents to explore what the possibilities might look like.
- The presidents each appointed a delegation of two past presidents to meet together to learn more about each congregation and consider ways we might deepen our partnership. As those conversations evolved and various types of collaborations were considered, it began to appear that combining the congregations should be explored.
- In order to determine whether combining the congregations would be a viable and desirable outcome to present to our respective congregations for consideration, it became necessary to determine whether there would be any issues that would prevent a proposal from being considered. This required a deeper exploration, involving a small number of additional congregational leaders, into key facets of synagogue activity and operations – worship, education, finances, and facilities.
- During this “due diligence” process, we discovered a great deal of commonality in our philosophy, our values and our practices. While we also uncovered some potential sticking points, our delegations found they were able to work through the issues identified and create a framework for combining the congregations that would preserve that which is most important to each.
- There would, of course, be many open issues to be determined should the congregations decide to combine. These would be worked out by joint working groups that would be formed following such a decision. See Next Steps and Member Involvement, below.
- The proposal that is now being presented to each congregation establishes a basic framework for joining the congregations together to create a new congregation, a process for congregational consideration, and a roadmap for integrating the two congregations if the congregations decide to combine.
8. What will happen if the congregations decide not to combine?
- Each congregation would continue to operate separately and to cooperate and collaborate as opportunities arise.
- Not combining would result in a lost opportunity, as the unique alignment of advantages that currently exists could likely diminish.
1. Where would the new congregation be located?
- The congregation would be located at the current Congregation Solel facility located at 1301 Clavey Road in Highland Park, IL.
2. How was the location determined?
- The current Solel building would be best able to meet the essential needs of a new congregation. It offers larger and more flexible worship space, larger and more accommodating office space, and a sufficient number of classrooms to meet the needs of an expanded religious school.
- Solel’s facility is the only location that has the design and space requirements to preserve the sacred and cherished objects of both congregations.
- The facility has excellent parking with overflow, when needed, in neighboring Larry Fink Park.
- The immediate capital improvements that would be necessary to combine the congregations into one facility would not require a large expenditure.
- While capital improvements would be necessary over time to best meet the needs of a combined entity, the immediate changes that would be needed at Solel’s facility are not as extensive or expensive as would be required in the Lakeside facility.
- Confidential consultation with real estate professionals indicated that the Lakeside property would be the easier of the two to sell and more likely to attract a higher value.
3. What immediate capital improvements would have to be made to the Solel building to accommodate the combined congregation and how would they be funded?
- We would need to modify the administrative office and clergy suite to build-out Rabbi Serotta’s study and accommodate a larger office staff.
- The Rabbi and other employees moving to the Solel facility will have office space approximately equivalent to their counterparts in like positions. A building committee working group will make recommendations to the Steering Committee, which will make final decisions.
- We would also need to modify the bimah in the sanctuary to accommodate Lakeside’s ark and ner tamid.
- Funding for these improvements would come from proceeds from the sale of the Lakeside facility and/or member gifts.
- The Steering Committee would make recommendations for transitional funding sources if needed to bridge the timing between the improvements and the sale of the Lakeside building.
4. What non-immediate improvements of the Solel building should be made, and how would the building accommodate cherished objects from Lakeside, including existing plaques and other recognition elements?
- Following the vote to combine, a joint working group would be formed to consider and develop a plan for other improvements that should be made to the Solel facility, as well as how to incorporate cherished items from Lakeside.
- As part of its task, the working group would take an inventory of the plaques and recognition elements in both congregations and consider how best to blend them together, including the possibility of updating and replacing them with a new unified “system” that would preserve the respective histories of each congregation while moving forward as one.
1. Would there be changes in Shabbat worship?
- Having worked together on many occasions, and using the same prayer books for services, our clergy team believes that our services would continue to preserve the traditions that mean a lot to our community. They would work together and with lay leadership to create meaningful and uplifting worship experiences.
- Additional exciting opportunities may come from being able to free up a member of the clergy team to try something different. A few examples of what would be possible include a pop-up Shabbat dinner in the city for grown children of members, a Shabbat retreat, a meditative service at an alternative time, a Shabbat celebration at a member’s home, a Shabbat at an assisted living center, and more.
- Both congregations have traditionally incorporated a variety of music, styles, and themes into Shabbat worship in order to create a meaningful worship experience for all congregants. This would continue.
2. Would there be any changes in how we observe b’nei mitzvah and how will b’nei mitzvah be handled for families who have confirmed dates?
- Should the congregations decide to combine, a new congregation would not come into being until 2019-2020. Thus, there would be NO CHANGES for b’nei mitzvah in 2018-19. Those services would be conducted in our respective sanctuaries and officiated by our respective rabbis.
- Dates that have been confirmed with deposits received for 2019-2020 would be honored, and services would be officiated by Rabbi Serotta or Rabbi Moffic as originally planned. The location for those events originally scheduled for Lakeside would be finalized depending on the status of the Lakeside building.
- The next round of dates would, of course, be created together.
- Moving forward, we anticipate that families would have their choice of officiating clergy, and clergy are committed to the idea of individual services for every child.
- We would maintain a relationship with Lakeside’s song leader Todd Kessler.
3. Would there be any changes in how we observe the High Holy Days?
- Our clergy expect to preserve the substance and feel of High Holy Day worship for all of our congregants. Both congregations use the same prayer book for services.
- We would continue to offer a traditional service with choir. In addition, we would expect to offer additional service options to accommodate the diverse needs of a combined congregation. Solel’s expandable sanctuary would allow a cohesive sense of community worship.
- Our clergy are excited to share the responsibilities for leading services, and you will certainly hear the voice of both our rabbis in offering sermons. There are also new opportunities that partnership opens that are exciting for our clergy team and our congregation.
- Joint Ritual and Music working groups would be established to provide recommendations that will take into account respective institutional traditions as well as creative forward-thinking opportunities that will inform our format for both High Holy Day and other worship services. These groups will consult the Rabbis and Cantor and make their recommendations to the Steering Committee.
1. How would a fusion affect religious school?
- We would expect a combined religious school to serve about 280 students initially. About a quarter of the households in each congregation have children enrolled in the religious school program.
- Our philosophies of education are similar, and separately our congregations have been learning about “human centered design,” to create educational programs that fit the needs of our students and their families.
- We anticipate that our shared values and goals – creating a love of Judaism, motivating strong Jewish life choices, instilling Jewish values, and encouraging commitments to Tikkun Olam, building Jewish community, and lifelong learning – would continue to drive our religious school.
- We would continue to strive for curriculum based on the principles that learning must have depth, relevancy, and authenticity, and must help students feel engaged, connected, and joyful.
- The Hebrew curriculum would continue to be t’filah (prayer-based) and would help students prepare for their b’nei mitzvah.
- Religious School would continue on Sunday mornings with Hebrew School on Tuesday afternoons beginning in third grade.*
- The importance of confirmation is highly valued by both congregations. Our clergy are united in their commitment to offering a program that would continue to reflect this priority.
- Our school would always be looking forward, always a work in progress, looking for new ways to assist our families in a rapidly changing world.
- We also anticipate incorporating Lakeside’s Children’s Center (a pre-school program offered to the community), subject to our ability to comply with Department of Children and Family Services requirements.
- *It is noted that some classes may be scheduled to meet at times other than Sunday mornings.
2. Would there be changes in the school faculty?
- The Religious School’s staffing needs would be determined, as they are now, based on registration numbers for each school year. Faculty would be hired and retained based on a comprehensive evaluation of the teacher’s qualifications, flexibility to implement new curricular initiatives, and ability to create meaningful, engaging experiences in the classroom.
1. How would combining the congregations affect membership dues and religious school fees?
- While there are differences between the two congregations in the dues structure and religious school fees, the amounts paid in both congregations are similar.
- A joint working team would be established to work out the differences and create a unified dues and fee structure that would even out the variations in each congregation’s approach.
- As the combined community would continue to offer the best of both congregations, combining the congregations would not be expected to result in a cost reduction.
- Both congregations benefit from generous congregants who pay above the stated dues, and both share a deep-seated philosophy of compassionate accommodation to individuals and families who are unable to afford the stated dues.
2. How would combining the congregations affect the endowment funds of each congregation?
- Both congregations have healthy endowment funds. These would be merged into a single endowment for the new congregation.*
- The congregations currently have different rules and policies governing their endowment funds. A joint working group would be convened to recommend rules and policies for the new endowment fund.
- Some of the proceeds from the sale of the Lakeside building would be used to help prepare the Solel building for the combined congregation, with the excess added to the combined endowment fund.*
- *More recent thinking allows for the possibility of separately named endowed funds within a single managed structure for the benefit of the new congregation. A working group will make recommendations about how to structure the endowment and how to allocate the proceeds from the sale of the Lakeside facility.
3. Would a fusion require a special assessment?
- No. With the strength of each congregation, the proceeds of the Lakeside real estate sale, and the continued generosity of congregants who support their synagogue beyond dues payments, we expect that the future congregation will operate within its means, just as Lakeside and Solel have for a combined 120 years.
GOVERNANCE AND ADMINISTRATION
1. How would the Board of Directors and officers for a new congregation be selected?
- Should the congregations decide to combine, a joint working group would be appointed to draft bylaws for the new congregation for ultimate approval by the membership. Our expectation is that the bylaws would provide, among other things, for an Initial Board of Directors that would include continuity and equal representation from both congregations.
- The proposed bylaws will be approved by both the Lakeside Board and the Solel Board.
- Between the vote of the members approving the union and the union, neither Congregation will implement material changes of a financial or operational nature without the approval of the Steering Committee.
- It is understood that for its first year of operation the officers of the newly formed synagogue will include two co-presidents, with one being a former Solel member and one being a former Lakeside member. It is further understood that the two immediately succeeding presidents (after the co-presidency) shall include one from each of the former synagogues.
2. How would combining the congregations affect office and maintenance staff?
- A joint working group would be appointed after the vote to combine to assess the staffing needs of the new congregation and make appropriate recommendations based on needs and best practices.
NEXT STEPS AND MEMBER INVOLVEMENT
1. When would a union of the congregations take effect?
- If the congregations decide to combine, it is anticipated that a new congregation would be launched as of early summer 2019. The two congregations would become one, fully functional and operating in a single facility.
- Until the effective date, each congregation will continue to operate as a separate congregation, with the possibility of additional joint programming.
- During the approximately12 months following the vote on combining the congregations, various joint working groups (see below) would be established to work out the many details necessary to integrate the communal, programing, financial, governmental and operational facets of active congregational life.
2. What are the next steps in the process?
➢The joint Exploratory Committee that helped to develop the proposal for combining the congregations will facilitate the process. The Committee includes the presidents of each congregation, Holly Krakow (Solel) and Rob Lindner (Lakeside), and:
- From Solel: Past Presidents Betsy Lassar, Josh Lowitz, and Larry Mason
- From Lakeside: Past Presidents Jack Kaplan, David Macknin, and Rick Schuster
➢ February and March 2018: Congregational meetings
- Townhall meetings – 2 at Solel and 2 at Lakeside – have been scheduled for Solel and Lakeside members to meet to discuss the proposal to combine with their respective clergy and lay leaders. The Solel townhalls will be on Sunday, February 4, at 10:00 a.m. and Sunday, February 18, at 4:00 p.m.
- Three tours of the Solel facility have been scheduled to enable members of both congregations to envision how the facility could accommodate a combined congregation: Sunday, February 11, at 12:30 p.m., Sunday March 4, at 3:00 p.m., and Sunday, March 11, at 12:30 p.m.
- A joint townhall meeting will be held at Solel on Sunday, March 4 at 3:30 p.m. for members of both congregations to meet with the clergy and leaders of both congregations.
➢ Sunday, April 29, 2018: Membership meetings would be held at each congregation where members will vote in accordance with their respective bylaws and governing policies on a resolution to combine the congregations to create a new congregation.
➢ May 2018: A joint Steering Committee accountable to the Boards of Directors of each congregation would be appointed to manage the integration process. The Steering Committee would replace the Exploratory Committee and include five representatives from each congregation (members of the Exploratory Committee and an additional representative to be appointed by their respective president) and clergy (ex officio).
➢ May 2018 – early summer 2019: The congregations would continue to exist and operate as distinct congregations until the union becomes effective. Joint working groups would be appointed by the Presidents of each congregation to hammer out the details of integrating the two congregations. Possible working groups include:
- Religious school and youth engagement
- Facilities (capital improvements, handling of combined physical assets, security, etc.)
- Program working groups (social justice, adult education, music, membership, Rosh Chodesh/sisterhood, etc.)
- Governance (governance during transitional period, bylaws)
- Finance (dues and fee structure, budgeting, endowment)
- Real estate issues
- Administration (e.g., combining of financial records, selection of new record keeping procedures; IT needs and capabilities; staffing)
- Communications (joined communication vehicles & processes)
➢ Early summer 2019: Union is complete. A dynamic new congregation with wonderful traditions and history is reborn.
3. How can YOU be involved in the process?
➢ ATTEND one or more of the town hall meetings and tours.
➢ ATTEND services, classes or other programs at Solel/Lakeside.
➢ VOLUNTEER to join one of the working groups. If you are interested, email us at email@example.com or call the office.
➢ CONTACT us with your questions or ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note: The information presented in the FAQ above was developed by a joint Exploratory Committee to convey preliminary basic understandings reached in good faith by that group and is not intended to create a legally binding document.