Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Role Models

A favorite exercise I use when facilitating Board workshops asks participants to rank five responsibilities of temple board members:
1. Policy development
2. Financial management
3. Resource development
4. Personnel management
5. Serving as a role model
Typically I frame this exercise with one group evaluating how the priorities play out in their congregation (the real world) while the other group discusses how it ought to be. We then analyze the differences between the two rankings and how to get from the real world to the ideal.

The concept of serving as a role model frequently takes board members by surprise, but as they think about it, they tend to recognize that it belongs high on the list. They see as role model responsibilities attending services, supporting congregational events, and providing financial support.

Side note: I remember a temple board meeting where a committee brought in a proposed statement of expectations of temple board members being considered for re-election, one of which was Attend services regularly. The rabbi objected strenuously to this, on the grounds that too many board members were attending regularly, every Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. At his behest, this was changed to Attend services frequently. Unfortunately, there was no effort to quantify frequently, nor any discussion of how this would be monitored and enforced.

In the media reports on the recent Biennial of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, there was some discussion of a proposal that synagogue leaders should be shomer shabbat (Sabbath observant) and should maintain Kosher homes. That this should be discussed suggests that it isn't currently happening, confirming my definition of Conservative Judaism as the movement where the rabbi is expected to be kosher and shomer shabbat.

I am a firm believer that a temple board member needs to be a role model, and I see role modeling as extending beyond the three examples given above (attend services, support events, provide financial support). Living ethically as well as Jewishly also belongs on the list. Recognizing that kol yisrael arevim zeh lazeh -- all Israel are responsible for one another -- belongs on the list, extended to a responsibility for all humankind.

As Reform Jews, we have the autonomy to be selective in our individual choices of observance, but the responsibility to recognize that our synagogues have to maintain a standard that may be more stringent than we apply in our personal lives. Boards, and nominating committees, need to be sensitive to the idea that institutions are perceived through the behaviour of their leadership. Each leader needs to be sensitive to the idea that people both within and outside the congregation are watching what the leadership stands for.