Thursday, November 29, 2007

Pirkei Hinneni

Halachot for Ritual Committees

As prepared for the URJ Biennial, Houston, 2005

1. The Ritual Committee (sometimes called the Worship Committee) has two main jobs:
• Interpret the congregation to the clergy
• Interpret the clergy to the congregation
2. Where should the boundaries of authority be drawn?
• What happens on the bima stays on the bima (liturgy, sermon topics, criteria for bima honors, etc are clergy domain)
• What happens in the sanctuary stays in the sanctuary (service times, ushering, dress codes, etc. are weighted to committee expertise)
• Partnership, compromise and consensus avert the severe decree (keep it about vision, not about turf, and you won’t have to worry about the issues that fall between the cracks)
3. Why the clergy need a Ritual Committee
• As a sounding board to test ideas
• Make sure the vision is a shared vision
• Provide cover
• Provide feedback
• Advocacy to the board and congregation
4. Why the congregation needs a Ritual Committee
• Provide ideas
• Filter clergy ideas
• Report on response to innovation
• Shlichim (messengers) to the clergy
5. Pirkei Hinneni
• Committees come and go; clergy is forever
• The rabbi may not always be right, but s/he’s always the rabbi
• If the senior rabbi doesn’t staff the ritual committee, its work will be in vain
• Smart rabbis listen. But they don’t always say Yes.
• Never vote; forge consensus
• Conflicts arise in congregations over 2 issues: balancing the budget and instituting change. Clergy may be involved in the former but are central to the latter
• When two people always agree, one is superfluous.
• Clergy and ritual committee must work as partners, not as adversaries
• The “turf” of the Ritual Committee often overlaps with that of other committees: Life Cycle, Religious School, etc. Work with them for a broader consensus.
• The role of the committee is NOT to be the referee between the rabbi and cantor
• Vox populi vox dei –the voice of the people is the voice of God. Clergy must be sensitive to where the congregation is willing to be taken.
• The most important question: Is it Jewish? The clergy are most likely to know the answer

Mikol melamdei hiskalti. I have learned from all I have studied with. My thanks to Rabbis Peter Knobel, Steven Stark Lowenstein, and Aaron M. Petuchowski for their assistance. My ideas have been especially forged through the lasting influence of Ben Grossman z”l (Drexel Home); David Weinstein z”l (Spertus College), Arnold Glass, Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, Rabbi Donald B. Rossoff and most notably Rabbi Frederick C. Schwartz, Temple Sholom

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Minyan without a Binyan

This morning's New York Times carries an excellent article on the trend for young Jews (20-somethings and 30-somethings) to gather for Shabbat worship in non-synagogue settings.

The article suggests that the phenomenon constitutes some kind of threat to established congregations. Whether or not that's actually the case, congregations need to know what's going on here, and why, and what it means for them today, and what it may mean for them tomorrow.

I happen not to think that these minyanim represent a threat. They do represent something of a failure, but at the same time, they signify that the generation that has been lost to the synagogue has not been lost to Judaism. These are the people who will join (or organize) full-fledged congregations when their life circumstances change and they need more from their Jeiwsh connection than a place to worship.

So what are these kids finding, and what are they avoiding? The Times points out that these Shabbat services are lay-led, and wherever they may be held, they're not in synagogue buildings. The Times does not tell us what siddurim are being used (or even if a "published" siddur is being used), but does tell us that the traditional liturgy (by traditional, neither I nor they mean Orthodox) is being used, and that it is mostly sung. The Times also does not tell us how these worship-gatherings are being financed, but it's almost certainly not through "dues," and it also appears that the only significant expense is likely to be rent -- no salaries, which represent two-thirds of the budget in the conventional synagogue.

So -- these daveners are finding community, autonomy, spirituality, a fusion of variety and continuity. They're avoiding rabbis, boards, sermons, responsive readings, dues and pledges, and long-term institutional commitments. Their arguments are probably more about style than about content -- they do care which Ma Tovu they sing, but not whether Rachel comes before or after Leah. By the nature of what they are doing, they don't have to worry about formal affiliation with a movement, much less which one. (That's likely to be the big argument when they move to a new suburb, and start worrying about religious school for the kids -- which will eventually grow from a school into the full-fledged congregation they are now trying to avoid.)

Various commentators on the "lost generation" have suggested that the aversion to "organized religion" and avoidance of the synagogue relates to bad childhood experiences at Sunday school or Hebrew school. I think it has more to do with the dynamic of growing up -- breaking away from the parental mold, finding one's one identity, and eventually maturing into a realization that the parental mold contributed some good things to that identity.

This does not mean that the institutional synagogue should be let off the hook. We are almost all guilty of trying to be all things to all people, whether because eyn breira, there is no choice when we're the only game in town, or because we're under-resourced for implementing a synaplex model, or because we're ultimately religious-school centered and don't market effectively to our other niches.

For those without Hebrew, binyan as used in the heading for this post means a building. What the minyanim described in the Times lack is the Edifice complex, and that lack relates to the Oedipus complex and the push to "kill" our fathers. Fortunately, that push is balanced by loving our mothers, which eventually brings us back to what our fathers built.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Care and Feeding of Volunteers

Chicago URJ had a really good program last night on the subject of recruiting and retaining volunteers (with a clear recognition that a retained volunteer is a retained member too). Key takeaways included the reminder that you can't say thank you too often, that people want to help but typically don't want to serve on committees, that you have to be sensitive to mismatches between the volunteer and the assignment, and that you can't allow anybody to "own" a job.

That reminded me of a situation in a congregation I knew intimately, where the same guy served as treasurer for twenty years; and when he was finally asked to step aside, took so much umbrage that he left the congregation. (Side note: During the period between the time he left and the time he joined another congregation, he suggested to the URJ regional director that the Union should take the lead in creating a congregation for the unaffiliated!)

Although the excellent presenters all made clear that volunteers need to feel needed (as well as appreciated and thanked), and need to be slotted in their individual comfort zones, I didn't feel they gave enough attention to the various types of needs folks bring to their volunteer work. Let's look at some scenarios:

1. The networker gets involved to make business contacts. (For some reason, getting involved to make social contacts is kosher, to make business contacts is traif.) For some networkers, if they don't connect with potential clients quick enough, they'll drop away. For many, however, the talmudic maxim comes to pass: Im lo lishma, ba lishma. (Even if not begun for a holy purpose, the holiness emerges.) Or, as my rebbe used to phrase it, Never scorn the inferior motivation; always remember that Judaism is concerned not with what we think but with what we do.

2. The do-gooder gets involved to do good. The danger is that the good may be a diversion from the main purpose of the synagogue into a project that duplicates what other types of organizations can do, and are doing, better. Beware the boy scout who helps the little old lady cross the street when she didn't want to cross the street. One congregation I know was bull-dozed into "signing" its services for the hearing-impaired, even though there was another congregation a few miles away with special outreach to that community. Two months of well-publicized signing resulted in only one person being served: the young woman who was paid to do the signing. Even had she been signing as a volunteer, it was not a productive use of her skills, nor in the absence of a served community, was it effective in creating awareness in the congregation of a special need. We live in a world of infinite needs and limited resources; and we shouldn't let a volunteer's passion distract us from the congregation's mission.

3. The professional who wants to serve the community may or may not want to serve it professionally. If a CPA wants to serve on the finance committee, kol hakavod, honor him for contributing in his area of expertise. But what if he gets enough numbers gratification as work, and comes to the temple to talk Torah? I make my living doing PR, and when I take on a volunteer role, I want it to be something different from what I do all day. Part of this is that the laborer is worthy of his hire -- and this is what I get paid for; and the corollary is that my volunteer work is my recreation (such recreation!) and I need havdalah, separation, along with the chance to stretch and do something new. Make sure you're giving your volunteers what they want rather than trying to fit them into what you need.

4. The task-oriented doesn't want to serve on the board, doesn't want to be on a committee, doesn't want to make an open-ended commitment. When you try to recruit Mrs. Hard-to-get, you have to tell her why she and only she is the ideal person for this job, what will be expected from her, what kind of help from others she can expect, and when she will be done. Sometimes it is incumbent on you to complete the task, but when you have, you are free to desist from continued bondage.

Bottom line: Different strokes for different folks. Vive la difference, and don't forget the strokes.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Whys and Wise of Workshops

Although the impetus for holding a board workshop varies from congregation to congregation, the issues that boards or their leadership want to discuss tend to be the same -- membership recruitment and involvement; leadership responsibilities and leadership burn-out; teamwork, or building esprit de corps (essentially different names for the same malaise). Often, I find, the president is the instigator, with a desire to motivate or energize the board, frequently in preparation for a major fundraising effort.

As a facilitator, I consider it my responsibility to address the concerns expressed by my planning resources (typically the president, the leadership development chair, the rabbi, and the executive director, and if I have been called in by the URJ, the regional director), augmented by the inputs gleaned from the board questionnaires that are supplied by the Union for Reform Judaism when the workshop is organized with the support of its Department of Synagogue Management.

Having said that, I have my own agenda: reminding the board members that their purpose as a group is to do sacred work, and that the work must be based on Jewish values, as derived from Jewish texts. That is the dimension that the skilled corporate facilitator cannot supply. (The other limitation of the corporate facilitator is the frequent failure to recognize that the dynamic of the voluntary board is different from that of the corporate team, and that the hierarchy may have influence but no power or control over board colleagues.)

Again, regardless why the board or its leadership convened the workshop, certain outcomes tend to be constant:
1. Board members get to know one another better
2. Gnawing problems are surfaced, and even if not resolved, are placed in healthier perspective
3. Areas of consensus are developed, so the board can move forward as a cohesive body, even if disagreements and tensions remain unresolved
4. Board members get a better sense of their own roles and potential roles -- when the why was I chosen question is answered (typically indirectly), the individual is better equipped to take control of his or her own effectiveness

The well-conducted workshop ends with some consensus of next steps to move in the direction agreed to through the discussion. The external facilitator typically does not know whether the seeds that have been planted will take root or bear fruit or whether any of the three measures of success have been achieved: the instant gratification when participants feel the day was well spent, the insight and motivation that individual participants will have gained, and the distant gratification if and when the institutional goals set forth have been accomplished.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Strategic Planning Workshop Facilitation

Corporate America delights in facilitated strategic planning sessions, and I've sat through dozens of them. I suspect that it's alumni of those sessions who go to their next temple board meeting and say, We ought to have a workshop. And they're right, they should. On another day, we can discuss why; for today, let's focus on how.

1. Make sure you have a clear objective in mind -- that's what we'll discuss next time.

2. Plan it far enough in advance that Board members' calendars are still clear for the scheduled time -- and sell the program hard, so you have substantial if not total audience.

3. Choose your facilitator with care, someone who knows the synagogue world. If your congregation is part of URJ, the Dept. of Synagogue Management will provide a trained member either of its staff or of its cadre of well-qualified volunteers. This URJ service is offered at no charge -- you're not even responsible for your facilitator's travel expenses. Using URJ gives you assurance that your session will be led by soneone who fulfills these basic criteria -- the facilitator needs to be someone who is intimately familiar with the environment and has no direct stake in the outcome.

When I say, knows the synagogue world, I do not mean "is a member of a synagogue." To give just one example, I attended one Friday-to-Sunday workshop for synagogue leaders where the (corporate)facilitator, recognizing that the group was behind on her planned schedule, suggested that we catch up by skipping Shabbat services. In addition to not getting her way, she lost credibility with the group and thus limited her own effectiveness.

4. Remember the Torah as well as the kemach. (Pirkei Avot -- if there is no nourishment (kemach, lit. grain or meal), there can be no Torah; if there is no Torah, there can be no nourishment.) Your synagogue workshop, whatever its material objective, has to have as a not terribly hidden objective, enriching the participants Jewishly.

5. Provide a comfortable venue, reasonably safe from interruptions If you're going to be in the synagogue, choose a time when no one else will be. Include food! Use mealtime so participants can informally chew over the discussion that has preceded.

6. Start close to on time. Ending early is OK, but ending after the scheduled adjournment time is a no-no. A typical Sunday workshop that starts at 9 AM must end by 3 PM. And let people leave with a sense of resolution.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Why a blog on temple boards?

As my maiden voyage into the blogosphere, was based on my experience as a paid marketing consultant working with voluntary boards, mainly in trade milieus, and as a volunteer director and officer of voluntary boards, many in the synagogue milieu. Although it contains some good stuff, in rereading my posts there, I recognized that it was largely a way for me to vent about whatever was bugging me about the behavior or misbehavior of a given board. This blog will hopefully focus more on what's bugging others -- questions folks are asking at meetings, on list-servs, or wherever else I encounter them.

Although many issues overlap, some are more or less unique to synagogues, or take a special spin in that environment. And I've spent a huge chunk of my life working in synagogues -- 30 years or so on the board and in the presidency of a large urban Reform temple, 15 years on the road facilitating leadership development and strategic planning workshops for congregations from coast to coast, and several hours a month sharing my insights on synagogue issues with the subscribers to a variety of list-servs operated by the Union for Reform Judaism, where I post as

List-servs create an interesting dynamic, with some overtones of community for those who post, and presumably delivering some sort of satisfaction to those who only lurk. But what I write on temple-chat or iWorship is ephemeral, and restricted in its audience to subscribers. I'll guesstimate that at least 20,000 people, maybe more, serve on the boards of Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist synagogues -- I have virtually no insight into the governance of Orthodox congregations -- as compared to 1000 on my two major list-servs. Lots of people that I don't know know me, and when I meet them at conventions or meetings recognize the name Larry Kaufman.

So this medium creates the possibility (I won't hazard any guesses on the probability) of helping the leadership in two thousand synagogues of the liberal Jewish denominations in North America, and perhaps elsewhere in the world as well. And, as Jewish congregational leaders, perhaps they'll make a connection with the translation of my nom de list-serv, Hinneni, which means Here I am.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Who am I to call myself a temple board authority?

I'm Larry Kaufman, and my primary avocation throughout my adult life has been serving on committees and boards of organizations in the Jewish community. When I was in my twenties, I served as president of the Young People's Division of the Chicago Jewish Federation, and as the decades went on, so did I, to the board presidency of Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital, and to various positions at Spertus College of Judaica and the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce, to name a few. But nothing involved me as completely and thoroughly as my activity at Temple Sholom, at the time Chicago's largest Jewish congregation (1700 member units), where over a period of some twenty years I chaired the Adult Education, Worship, Activities, Nominating, and Executive Committees, and served as president of the congregation and of its cemetery association.

As a believer that past presidents should be seen and not heard, I withdrew after my presidency from any governance role in the congregation, and busied myself elsewhere, becoming active regionally and nationally in the Union for Reform Judaism and internationally in the World Union for Progressive Judaism, visiting WUPJ congregations in England, Germany, Austria, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Hong Kong, and Israel. Along the way, the Union trained me to facilitate strategic planning and leadership development workshops for synagogue boards, which has taken me into congregations from coast to coast. Also along the way, I became a member of the Synagogue-Federation Relations Commission in Chicago, thus becoming exposed to the other denominations, and also undertaking a project here and there for Conservative and Reconstructionist congregations.

So I've been around, and when I speak about synagogues and synagogue boards, I know whereof I speak. And using this blog, speak I shall!