Planned Giving Committee Testimonials

Interview: Kirsten and Steve Polsky

(September 2012)

By Susan Moldaw

When I asked Steve and Kirsten Polsky what they were most proud of, they both chimed in: “Being parents.” Family is at the heart of this couple’s life together, and Temple Emanu-El is the place where their family finds a home.

One of their daughters was running around the Temple courtyard with her class the Sunday morning I met with them. They were beaming at her, like the proud parents they are. We want our kids to have “an attachment to synagogue,” they said.  And it isn’t just about religion. The Polskys see Temple Emanu-El as an integral part of the San Francisco community. Through Temple membership, they stay connected to their religion and the community, building connections for their kids.

Steve grew up in Philadelphia, where he attended a Conservative synagogue. He serves on Temple Emanu-eE’s Finance Committee, and is Treasurer of the Temple board. Steve believes this is a pivotal time in the Temple’s history, and he’s enjoying helping the Synagogue move through the changes.

Kirsten calls herself a “chronic volunteer,” and, Steve adds, she’s a “good organizer.” Kirsten was part of the first Temple Caring Community. She participated in welcoming babies to the community, assembling and delivering baskets to new parents that included a prayer, a tiny T-shirt, and challah. Now, Kirsten is involved with her children’s schools, and the Edgewood Auxiliary.

Steve is an entrepreneur, and his fourth start-up is Flixter Entertainment, one of the largest social media movie sites, where he’s President and COO. Some of his earlier ventures were in education and telecommunications. This Sunday morning Steve found time to attend the Temple’s Passover preparation class. He also bakes. He finds it relaxing if he’s not pressed for time. Steve’s specialties are hamantaschen, Passover desserts, and all kinds of pies.

Kirsten grew up in San Francisco, and the family now lives in Marin, near Kirsten’s extended family. She converted to Judaism when she became engaged to Steve. What she loves about the Jewish religion is the questioning, talking, and learning. She appreciates how Temple Emanu-El facilitates the process. Kirsten and Steve joined a Havurah early in their marriage, and loved watching the families they met grow up together.

This couple teaches their children that: “when you have enough, it’s important to give back.” They encourage new Temple members to get involved and feel connected to the community. There are so many avenues to make yourself part of Temple life, they say, when you “put yourself in, there are so many rewards.”

One of the gifts for Temple Emanu-El is having families like the Polskys.

Why I have included the Temple in my estate plan

(September 2012)

When my husband and I joined Congregation Emanu-El in the early 1950s, our two daughters were babies and we wanted them to have a connection to the Jewish community as they grew older. As the years went by and we became more involved with the synagogue, – religious school for the girls, the Men’s Club and the Religious School Committee for my husband, the Adult Education Committee for me – I became more aware of the history and tradition that makes Congregation Emanu-El so special. The Torah in the main sanctuary built exactly as described in the Five Books of Moses, a gift from a family who were members at the time, the wonderful stained windows honoring the elements, another gift from members.

Now it is my turn, to leave a gift to the synagogue in gratitude for all that my family and I have received. It won’t be enough to stand out like Torah scrolls or stained glass windows, but that’s not the point. The point is that my gift – along with many others, I hope – will ensure that future generations will benefit from Congregation Emanu-El and all it offers to the San Francisco Jewish community.

Rita R. Semel

Why I have included the Temple in my will

(October 2012)

Because I’ve been involved with Congregation Emanu-El for many years, it’s appropriate that I include the synagogue as one of the beneficiaries in my will. My connection to Emanu-El began a number of years ago, when I attended High Holiday Services as a guest of James Schwabacher, Jr. I knew Jimmy through the San Francisco Opera, where I produced the company’s radio broadcasts. The broadcasts were aired Friday nights, so in many ways, opera was my religion at that time. Later, when I became a Docent and learned that the Opera House was designed by the same architect responsible for Emanu-El, I realized why I’d felt so “at home” in this extraordinary house of worship. It’s also no wonder that our classically-trained cantor is one of the main reasons I’m committed to Emanu-El!  When I learned that Rabbis Helen Cohn and Alice Goldfinger were leading an all-women’s trip to Israel and Jordan a friend encouraged me to go; we arrived two days after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.  It was the beginning of an extraordinary journey, and the beginning of my connection to Emanu-El. Over the years, my ties to the Temple have become stronger and deeper, and because it now occupies a very special place in my heart and I wish to acknowledge Emanu-El by including it in my estate plan.

Marilyn Mercur

Why I have included the Temple in my estate plan.

( February 2014 )

(Al Zemsky joined Emanu-El 11 years ago.  He is a member of Kol Emanu-El, our volunteer adult choir, the Individuals Havurah, an active participate in the Men’s Group and has served on Temple’s Environment and Social Justice Committees.)

I suspect if you ask five random members of our congregation why they chose to join Temple Emanu-El, you would be treated to five disparate responses.  The motivation to become part of a synagogue community is often based on a very specific, immediate need, which, over time, somehow evolves into a consequential understanding of what it means to be part of a vibrant religious, intellectual, cultural and social neighborhood.  Over the years, I’ve been amazed by the depth and variety of interactive programing offered here, and have enjoyed the opportunity to participate in a wide range of educational, social-action, musical and otherwise enriching experiences with many new, and not-so-new, friends.

I’m optimistic that this historic institution will continue to thrive in the years ahead, and to assure this I’m pleased to be part of the Legacy Circle estate planning program.  By making a bequest gift, my contribution has no impact on current personal finances, but can have a substantial affect as part of my estate distribution.  I hope others will consider the value of this type of contribution, and help sustain our treasured Jewish community.

Al Zemsky

Why I have included the Temple in my Estate Plan

(March 2014)

(David Goldman has been a Temple member since 2000 and in 2014 was chosen to be the synagogue’s Executive Director.  As a volunteer leader, David was a very active congregant, with roles including Young Adult Committee leader, Chair of the Social Justice Committee, Co-Chair of the Rabbinic Search Committee, Temple Secretary and Vice-President of the Board of Directors).

I believe that supporting Congregation Emanu-El’s mission to create a personally fulfilling, socially responsible, inclusive form of Judaism is the most important charitable contribution that I can make.  When I moved to San Francisco in the late ‘90s, I was a “30 something” who was exploring not only my Jewish identity but also my identity as an independent adult in a new city.  From the moment I saw the Congregation’s advertisement in the Guardian for a different type of service, I was hooked. The Congregation provided the moral framework and structure that re-engaged me in social justice, which quite frankly, I had fallen away from since my early 20’s. The Congregation had the intellectual depth to push me to expand my understanding of literature, art, history, science, and philosophy. By providing a Jewish practice that stimulated both the mind and the heart, Emanu-El helped me grow as a person in ways that I would not have done left to my own.  My wife is not Jewish, but she knows a good part of what she likes about me is because of my Jewish practice. And a big part of my Jewish practice comes from Emanu-El.  No other Congregation in the Bay Area (and few in the country) could have met these needs for me and I image for so many others.  And because of Emanu-El’s stature, its success is vital to creating a successful reform movement nationwide.

Emanu-El has given me so much that I’m not sure I could every repay the Congregation. Yet, my decision to include the Congregation in my estate is less about giving back then giving forward to an institution that plays a vital role in building a more just, more open, and more engaged society in the Bay Area and beyond.  It’s the least I can do. – David Goldman

Appeared in April 2014 Chronicle

Yvonne Levy is a 50-year member of Emanu-El, and a retiree of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, where she held the position of Senior Economist. This is her Legacy Circle Story.

Temple Emanu-El is my soulful, sacred, and supportive house of God.

Soulful: When I worship in the glory of the Main Sanctuary, or the intimate Chapel, I feel an intense connection with God and renewal of the inner spirit. I am inspired when learning the history and teachings of the Jewish people. Warm memories of my departed loved ones fill my soul.

Sacred: The beautiful ritual, impactful readings from the holy Torah, and poignant liturgical music often move me to tears. The Yizkor services, infused with sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows, touch me deeply.

Supportive: Spiritual enrichment gained at the Temple helped me overcome the challenges and pressures I faced in my demanding career. Extensive pastoral counseling and acts of comfort helped me cope with the heavy responsibilities I carried in caring for dear family members and mourning the passing of my beloved husband and sister.

My husband Fred and I were members of Emanu-El throughout our 45 years of marriage, although we lived on the Peninsula and sometimes attended local synagogues. We knew, as early as 1998 when we established our Trust, that we wanted the Temple to receive a substantial portion of our hard-earned estate.

Why, you may ask? The Temple had it all: magnificent architectural beauty; wonderfully rich programming and spirituality; inspirational, vibrant, values-based teaching; and compassionate pastoral support.

Although we had no children, we felt compelled to help ensure that Emanu-El would remain a sacred space where such qualities could pass from generation to generation – within the Temple, and spreading throughout the broader community.

Over the last several years, the exceptional bereavement support I received from Rabbi Pearce, Cantor Barak, the Caring Committee, and the Chaplain only strengthened my conviction that we had done the right thing with our legacy gift.

I learned the principal of tzedakah at an early age, stressing it as President of B’nai B’rith Girls (Berkeley Chapter), and keeping it as a lifelong commitment. The Temple’s Legacy Circle extends the hand of tzedakah to its most important mission – building a Jewish future that’s stronger than ever. It is tremendously worthy of your support.

Why We Have Included Congregation Emanu-El in our Estate Planning

Joan and Donald Green
(May-June 2014)

The Greens have a long history with Judaism in the United State and with this Congregation. Don’s great grandfather Gershon Solomons joined the Emanu-El Board in the 1800‘s; Gershon’s grandfather, Gershon Mendes Seixas was a leader of Shearith Israel of New York in 1789 as one of several clergy who were part of  George Washington’s inauguration. Don attended Sunday School, had his bar mitzvah and was confirmed all at  Congregation Emanu-El.

Judaism has been part of our married lives forever. It began together at Har Sinai, in Trenton, NJ ,where we were married. It carried over to our first years in Bolivia where we had our first son’s Brit at home with Jewish friends. It continued in Bethesda MD, where we were part of a Jewish group holding services in our homes, before joining Washington Hebrew Congregation.

When we returned to San Francisco from Washington, DC in 1970, we became active in Emanu-El, including our two sons’ bar mitzvahs. In 1975 we moved to Menlo Park, occasionally attended Temple Beth Am but kept our ties to Emanu-El. We returned to San Francisco in 1996. At 66, Joan joined the Congregation’s Anshei Mitzvah class, an opportunity not available when she grew up. Later she was part of the Emanu-El delegation to Synagogue 2000. We participated in the new Emanu-El Jewish Knowledge College in order to expand our understanding of Jewish history and writings. We both had major roles in 2000 in creating Emanu-El’s 150th celebration musical review “Emanu-El for All Seasons”.

When we considered our will, we thought of the Jewish organizations that we value in our community, – the Jewish Coalition for Literacy where Joan has worked for several years and our synagogue.  Congregation Emanu-El is included as an integral part of our lives . Our legacy to the Congregation is a reflection of what it has meant to us and what we hope it will be for future generations. – Joan and Donald Green.