Jewish organizations take stock and envision future at annual meetings

As the evening sun shone and a warm breeze riffled the white tent perched in the parking lot of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, the Baltimore Jewish Council’s June 20 annual meeting was about to start. Attendees nibbled on catered treats, chatting with friends, colleagues and a bevy of area politicos.

From left: Pearlstone incoming Board Chair Becky Brenner, Pearlstone outgoing Board Chair Emile Bendit and Pearlstone and Hazon CEO Jakir Manela attend Pearlstone’s annual meeting. (David Stuck)

It’s annual meeting season, the time when Jewish organizations across the region celebrate the past year’s accomplishments, honor changemakers and set next year’s initiatives and goals. While legally required for many nonprofits, annual meetings also offer the opportunity for creative connection with members and the community. Organization leaders said they need to find innovative ways of engaging the community at annual meetings that to some may seem, as one administrator put it, “a yawn.”

Combining issues of interest with annual meetings enhances communication with the community and its engagement with the organization, said Joel Frankel, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Howard County.

“To get that messaging out on a consistent basis, sometimes you do have to combine it with something else of interest to the community,” Frankel said. “It’s our responsibility to find innovative ways to let the community know what we’re doing. And sometimes that is a huge challenge. I imagine most nonprofits will say that’s one of the things they can improve on.”

This year, the federation combined the premiere of the Howard County Jewish history project exhibit, “Made From Scratch: Creating the Howard County Jewish Community,” with its June 16 annual meeting. Drawing more than 120 people, it was the “largest annual meeting in as long as anyone can remember,” Frankel said.

At Pearlstone, annual meetings are a chance to share accomplishments, and for the community to experience what Pearlstone is about, such as its farm-to-table kosher food and environmental sustainability efforts, said Emile Bendit, Pearlstone’s outgoing board chair. Pearlstone held its annual meeting on June 14.

“We keep people engaged by touring the facilities — new retreat rooms, bathhouse and bunkrooms, visiting the goats and chickens, and pedaling to make fresh strawberry drinks,” Bendit said. “And just to take a deep breath and chill.”