Last spring, our Executive Director, Iris Henley, made the decision to retire. At the end of July, she and Biff repaired to their beach house for some well-deserved R&R. When she returned, we began conversations about honoring her for her many years of service. With characteristic modesty she declined any public ceremony. Instead, with her consent, I offer these words of tribute, however inadequate they may be.
Iris actually served twice as our Executive Director. Almost fifteen years ago, we came to understand the need for an administrator. We were fortunate enough to find two friends who had formed a consulting service for congregations like ours. Iris was one of those two partners, and we were the beneficiaries of her efforts. That experience led us to invest in the position as a fixture of our staff Though it was not the position for her at the time, she and Biff were attracted to the community and settled here. They maintained a residence even when Iris left for full-time positions at synagogues in the Northeast. She re-turned to the job after our renovation.
Few people remember Agudas Achim as a mom-and-pop operation, and not too many more remember us as rabbi, educator and office staff, with volunteers and part-timers filling in the rest. But with the expansion of our building came expanded needs, and the keen eye and steady hand of a dedicated staff member was necessary to take us through that transition. That was Iris. During her tenure, our full-time staff expanded and changed, our membership grew, our finances became much more complex, and our new building required new attention. Our processes for conducting the day-to-day affairs of the shul needed rethinking and application. his did that job. The ambitions of the congregation also diversified. Educational and social programs, a comprehensive worship schedule, life cycle support and more were added to our repertoire. They needed to be budgeted, funded, scheduled, staffed and maintained. Iris enabled it all. And we had to keep in mind the bigger picture. She did.
There were two aspects of Iris's tenure that most people never saw. The first was her absolute investment in community. Community is a value for the Henleys to begin with, but the Agudas Achim community became the central animating feature of Iris's professional life. She embraced Synagogue 2000 and attended myriad professional development conferences and courses, earning degrees and certifications that benefited not only her, but also all of us.
The second was education. It was Iris who suggested that the staff study together, and Iris who framed each meeting with words of Torah. She was–and is–present at most every adult learning opportunity, and attended an annual week of learning at the Jewish Theological Seminary with the kind of relish I have for Rabbi Camp.
Each person brings his or her own qualities to any task. We have always been blessed with the best efforts of the people on our staff, and our staff has tried to make each other's tasks easier. We enjoyed extraordinary years under Iris Henley's executive direction, and those years remain extraordinary in retrospect. We will be reminded of Iris's accomplishments not just when we see her trademark long hair, but every time this community takes a step upward, supported by the solid foundation built by her efforts. Thanks. Iris.