A New Temple Family

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Prior to Rabbi Helbraun’s arrival, the synagogue completed preparations for a gala tribute to Rabbi and Tamar Weissberg for their 41 years of service to the community. Their special evening was celebrated on June 11, 1995 in the ballroom of the Rosemont Convention Center. At the evening’s end, the Weissbergs took the podium to thank their beloved congregation for 41 years (and counting) of blessings, friendship, love, and most importantly, ceaseless service to God, Torah, and the state and people of Israel. With their benediction, a remarkable era in Beth-El history was drawing to a close.

Since that celebratory dinner in 1995, much has changed and much has stayed the same. Rabbi Helbraun forged ahead with a different style of rabbinic leadership, but with his own personal methods of patience, skill, and much respect for the traditions of the congregation. While he was clearly building a new rabbinical and congregational identity, Helbraun moved forward with great deference for those who came before him.

Perhaps Helbraun’s studies in political science helped prepare him for the challenges of redefining Beth-El. He worked with the temple’s leadership to develop plans for the business and administrative dimensions of the congregation, while continuing to enrich programming and build membership. Helbraun adopted a no-nonsense approach to temple life. He sought to “take what was good, and add to it,” creating a sense of continuity for older members of the congregation, while everyone still moved forward.

At the top of his agenda, Helbraun sought to integrate the many responsibilities of temple operations and administration into a single position. In 1996, Beth-El hired Vicky MacKay, its first executive director to fill this role. She remained with the congregation until June 2008. As Vicky joined the staff, Tamar Weissberg prepared to vacate her position as temple educator, after more than 14 years of service.

After a comprehensive search, Alissa Zuchman was hired as the new director of education. Alissa had studied biblical and rabbinic literature at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, political science at the University of Illinois, and educational psychology at the University of Chicago. She brought great enthusiasm and knowledge to her appointment in 1996, and remained with the congregation through the end of the 2010-11 school year.

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