Irving Nitkin: Sustaining a Small Congregation at Har El

Posted by jyuhasz

Portrait of Irv Nitkin
Rights - JMABC
Nitkin, Irving
Vancouver, BC
Berger, Bea
Monday, November 17, 2008
Digital audio recording #: 20.08-28
               IN:          So as it turns out, I’m the president of Har El and have been for about six months. And it’s fun. The problems are quite different. It’s a small congregation.
               BB:         Is it a younger congregation?
               IN:          It’s a younger congregation. It’s a small congregation. Only about 270 families as opposed to well, when I was president, probably over 800 at Beth Israel.
BB:         Can they afford to sustain the synagogue?
IN:          It’s very, very difficult. That’s the big problem. You know, Har El really needs at least 100 more members. We could, with 100 more members, we could service those members with the same staff, that is to say the same expense, and still have that extra revenue of another 100 members. And that would put us at a much firmer financial footing. But, you know, it’s hard to do. It’s the North Shore and…
BB:         Well, the population is small to draw on.
IN:          Population is smaller although we feel, certainly from census figures that there are a lot more Jews on the North Shore than are immediately obvious and…
BB:         Do they wish to become involved though?
IN:          Ah, well, that’s the question, that’s the question. We have to find them and we have to not only find them but we have to figure out what is going to draw them in. It can’t be the traditional stuff that a synagogue always does, you know, the services, all of that stuff. That they can get anywhere, you know, they can come into town if they want that, they can go to Beth Israel, they can go to any other place, they can go to Chabad. But we have to figure out what is unique about the North Shore Jews that will draw them in as a kind of a community centre or a centre of the North Shore Jewish community that Har El could become.
BB:         That’s a whole different paradigm.
IN:          Yeah, it’s different. I mean, it’s still a synagogue and there’s a school of course. What draws a lot of people in is, of course, the school, the North Shore Hebrew School which for people with young children that’s why they join. They can get the kids an education. But we want to go beyond that. We want to see if in fact there are people in the West End, younger people in the West End, who, it’s not that far away, you know, crossing over the bridge. It’s not so terrible. You know, they’re probably about half way between Beth Israel and Har El anyways if you’re down in the West End. So…
BB:         How do you reach out? What are the strategies for reaching out?
IN:          Well, that’s what we’re trying to figure out, that’s what we’re trying to figure out. We have a strategic plan task force in place now at Har El. We’re trying to come up with strategies to reach out, first out of all, to find out what our present members want out of Har El; second, what potential, new member might want from Har El; third, how we can provide those particular services, and needs, and wants within the financial parameters that we are able to afford.

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