Archive for the ‘Synagogues’ Category

 

Our Storytelling Shouldn’t End When the Seder Ends

Posted on: April 21st, 2017 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Introduction

Rabbi-Hayim-Herring-and-Rabbi-Jason-Miller

Rabbi Jason Miller is flanked by Rabbi Hayim Herring and Lynn Schusterman at a STAR Foundation PEER program alumni reception in Phoenix.

Rabbi Jason Miller, my close colleague and friend, is also my social media strategist. Social media, digital content and community were a few topics that my co-author, Terri Elton and I wrote about in our recent book, Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People and Purpose so I was interested in his perspective. When we first started working together about 7 years ago, his title was “website designer.” In the interview that follows, you’ll learn more about the need to think far beyond websites and social media. I wanted to hear from him about the best ways for congregations and nonprofit organizations to pull together the various tools that exist (e-mail marketing, social media, gamification, internet advertising, blogging, etc.) to deepen and expand their impact.

 

Hayim Herring: Clearly, you’ve developed years of experience in website design and a deep understanding of social media. How do people consume information today differently than even five years ago?

Jason Miller: Most content that I consume is on a digital screen, but, a confession – I still enjoy reading the newspaper each morning because I am a tactile learner. Similarly, many people still use (and enjoy) traditional media, like hardcover books, magazines and newspapers for a variety of reasons. I’ve been building websites since 1995 and have been involved in social media marketing on a professional level since 2009. I’ve watched as both the web and social networks have moved from curiosity to commonplace. We don’t even think twice about seeing a toddler launching apps on an iPad or a senior citizen casually using FaceTime to video chat with her grandson a few time zones away. Increasingly, people are consuming content through the Internet on a much larger scale than only a few years ago.

(more…)

Pew-ish and Religiously Jewish

Posted on: December 5th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

Pew’s Portrait of American Jews and Ritual: A Troubling Landscape

 

One of Dr. Arnie Eisen’s first big ideas as Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary was “The Mitzvah Initiative.” The most recent Statement of Principles of the Reform Movement encourages individuals to reexamine the role of mitzvah (“sacred obligations”). And, who knows how much Chabad has invested over the decades trying to persuade people to add just “one more mitzvah” to their lives. But the vast majority of American Jews have rejected some core mitzvot/rituals that have defined the Jewish people throughout the ages (like keeping kosher, praying regularly in synagogue and observing a day of Shabbat—to name a few).

 

The most recent Pew Report reaffirms this reality (see especially chapters 3 and 4 of the report). This isn’t new, but it is a persistent puzzle despite the efforts of every religious stream, and especially the monumental efforts of Chabad. And here’s why we should be concerned about the lack of a wider adoption of consistent ritual practice and what the absence of it might mean for the long-term future of American Jewry.

 

Pew-Study-Hayim-Herring

According to the Pew study, when asked whether being Jewish is mainly a matter of religion, ancestry or culture, six-in-ten cite either ancestry or culture (or a combination of the two).

 

But first, a couple of pre-emptive clarifications. This post is not about whether someone who performs mitzvot is a “better Jew” than someone who doesn’t. That’s a pointless and insulting debate because we’ve all met ritually observant scoundrels and ethical people who don’t care much for core Jewish rituals.

 

Second—this post is not another call to “adopt a mitzvah” or make “halakha” (Jewish law) relevant. Rather, it’s a challenge that I’m putting forth to those who value ritual to speak more broadly and openly about the nexus between personal ritual practice and ethical behavior, and to help others hear the music underneath the ritual that moves us to do more and be more than we think we’re capable of.

 

As noted in the Pew Report, the majority of American Jews hold that belief in God, being ethical and moral people and working for social justice are essential attributes of being Jewish—something rightfully to feel quite proud about! So why be concerned about the lack of a greater widespread adoption of a rich, ritual life? Because without it, we risk losing the very values that make us proud of who we are.

 

So here’s how I understand ritual….Ritual is an imperfect, evolving yet organized system that helps me develop into a more decent human being. With ongoing practice, ritual reminds me to become a more empathetic, thoughtful and generous human being. If I value social justice in my heart, then my ritual reflex must be to pay employees a decent wage and give them a day of rest. If I know that I should be grateful for the many blessings in my life that I didn’t work for, then prayer, with its many expressions of gratitude, helps me remember to express appreciation to others. Ideally, ritual transforms what are often ephemeral moral feelings into immediate ethical actions.

 

And ritual has other relevance today. We live in a hyper-changing present, saturated with expanding choices that clamor for immediate attention. Personally, Jewish ritual has increasingly felt like the rest notes in a score of music that help me pause, and then regain perspective on which relationships and activities are ultimately important and which only feel so at the moment. And when I’m a part of a community that practices some of the same rituals that I do, I gain the strength that I need to keep practicing, which isn’t always easy.

 

And that’s what leads me to my concern—for how long will Jews continue to be passionate about social justice, morality and ethics without the reinforcement of ritual? For how long can a set of today’s values be transmitted to future generations without the language of ritual? So far, so good—many American Jews are living exemplary moral lives without the fuel that ritual can provide. But let’s affirm what we know from experience: today’s “givens” can become tomorrow’s “goners” and we know that just because something is, it’s no guarantee that it always will be.

 

So a call to action to professional and volunteer religious leaders of all stripes: let’s make a stronger case by living example about how ritual and values are inextricably linked. Let’s make the values that underlie our personal religious practice explicit, not in order to guilt or coerce others to behave a certain way, but to stimulate conversation and inspire change. Why? Because we have no examples of sustainable secular or cultural Jewish communities. (Historians, please correct me if I am wrong. But, before you point to yesterday’s Bund or even better, today’s secular Zionism, take a look at how a reclamation project of religious texts, tunes and traditions is occurring among “secular” Israelis today.) And a call to funders: even if you personally don’t like the ritual side of Judaism, understand that it has contributed to your values and priorities, that it has a role to play in perpetuating them and that initiatives that foster practice and appreciation of ritual are worthy of your support.

 

 

New Findings About Pew Study

Posted on: November 19th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Simplification, Complification or Obfuscation

 
 

As an experiment, this morning I searched the terms, “Pew Jewish demographic study 2013 failure” and “Pew Jewish demographic study 2013 success” on a variety of online sites. Numbers in red reflect a larger number of results.

 

Hayim Hayim on Pew Study

What are my conclusions from this matrix?

 

 

So I’m taking my time digesting the implications of the findings from the Pew Report, A Portrait of Jewish Americans. We’re going to feel the impact of this report for a long time. While the some of the findings are unambiguous and elicit a strong emotional reaction, those reactions don’t always make for thoughtful policy debates and decisions.

 

Another reason for a little more time—sometimes, demographics and trends are destiny, and other times we can’t extrapolate the future from the present. A well-known example: if Jews in the year 1900 in America or Europe had been surveyed by a highly-respected research organization about the likelihood of creating an independent Jewish state, how many would have responded that there was a high likelihood anytime soon? Yet, here’s what Theodor Herzl wrote in his diary after the first Zionist Congress in 1897: “If I had to sum up the Basel Congress in one word—which I shall not do openly—it would be this: At Basel I founded the Jewish state. If I were to say this today, I would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years, perhaps, and certainly in 50, everyone will see it.”

 

Survey findings in the Jewish community are notorious for generating anxiety without clear direction (more about that in a later post….). Careful sociologists, historians and demographers are incredibly valuable in providing us with information about the present and they can extrapolate possibilities about the future. We need to pay attention to them—in many cases, if we had, we might not be dealing with some tough issues in the Jewish community today. Yet, sometimes against the logic of the data, we have to strive mightily to create the future that we want because that’s what leaders do. So unlike what happened for a variety of reasons with the 1990 NJPS and the problematic NJPS 2000-2001, a little more time for analysis, interpretation and action will serve us better as a Jewish community.

 
 

Collaborate, Communicate, Connect

Posted on: November 7th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

New, Free, Hands-on Workbook for Synagogues

 

I’ve generally heard agreement among synagogue and federation leaders that congregational collaboration is a valuable endeavor. Collaboration can lead to elimination of redundant services, cost savings, better programs, etc. So, who would argue against it? If you’ve actually planned, implemented and helped sustain collaborative synagogue efforts, you know how beneficial they are—and also how much effort you have to invest and maintain in them order to make them work!

 

synergy - UJA Federation - Hayim HerringThat’s why I’m happy to introduce you to another resource that provides you with concrete, practical tools to support your efforts around collaboration, and strategies to increase communications, connections and meaning in your congregation. This free, download is titled, Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today: A Guide for Study and Action, and it’s a seven step implementation guide to some of the key ideas in my book, Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today. Creating Vibrant Centers of Jewish Life. In addition to collaboration, you’ll find six additional units, on topics ranging from becoming an entrepreneurial congregation to preparing for the future by better anticipating trends that may have an impact on your congregation.

 

(more…)

Beware as The Spin Begins: Early Headlines on the Pew American Jewish Population Study

Posted on: October 2nd, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

 

On Monday, the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University released a report entitled American Jewish Population Estimates 2012 and yesterday, the Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project released a report entitled A Portrait of Jewish Americans. The last national study of American Jews was released in 2001 by the UJC (United Jewish Communities), now the JFNA (Jewish Federations of North America), and had some significant methodological flaws. The Jewish establishment has been relying on partially unreliable data collected in 2000 for planning purposes, so rightfully these studies will garner significant media attention. In this post, I’ve culled headlines from as of 7pm Central Time yesterday from a variety of publications and organizations in the United States and Israel. My headline to the headlines: Beware as the Spin Begins!

 

American Jewish Press

JTA: Pew Survey of US Jews: Soaring Intermarriage, Assimilation Rates

Jewish Daily Forward: Jews Bound by Shared Beliefs Even as Markers of Faith Fade, Pew Study Shows

New York Jewish Week: Fast-Growing “Nones” Seen Reshaping Jewish Community

Los Angeles Jewish Journal: Pew Releases Landmark Survey on U.S. Jewry

New Jersey Jewish News: Surveys: More Jews, But Fewer Connections

 

American General Press

Wall Street Journal: Increasing Number of U.S. Jews Are Not Religious

New York Times: Poll Shows Major Shift in Identity of U.S. Jews

Huffington Post: What Defines an American Jew? Study Reveals Divides on Identity, Religion and Views on Israel

Associated Press: For Many American Jews, Religion Separate From Belief in God, Pew Survey Finds

 

Religion News Service

Being Jewish Means Being Funny, and That’s No Joke

Who’s a Jew? Few American Jews Say it’s A Matter of Belief

 

Israeli Press

Haaretz: Top 10 Takeaways From Pew Survey on U.S. Jews

eJewishphilanthropy: Pew Survey Examines Changing American Jewish Identity

Ynet News: U.S. Jews Losing Their Religion, Survey Finds

Jerusalem Post: Survey: 1 in 5 Jews Say They Have No Religion, Orthodox Share Grows

Times of Israel: Pew Survey: 6.8 Million US Jews, But Majority Intermarry

 

(Oh…and no coverage on the Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Reform national congregational and rabbinical websites, and websites of Chabad and the Jewish Federations of North America. Pretty hard to understand why they weren’t ready with press releases and interviews, as they all knew about the impending release of the Pew study.)

 

It’s more than just “interesting” to read the initial responses (or note the lack thereof) to these studies, and track how the headlines evolve as leaders of all stripes digest the data. For data are merely points of information. What make them significant is how different individuals and organizations use them to tell a compelling story about the Jewish past, present and future, with the hope of swaying Jewish influentials to support their competing narratives with resources.

 

That’s why it’s important to read the original studies first without the spin, reach some of your own preliminary conclusions and then listen to what other people are saying. There are significant decisions riding on the stories that leaders craft from the data, and we need to hold them and ourselves accountable for accuracy in distinguishing between fact, opinion and prognostication. As you do so, please let me know what issues you think are the most essential over the next decade for leaders to be focusing on- which are the most amenable to influence, which should we invest in moderately and which we need to abandon. I’ll be weighing in as well after I do my “homework.” Thanks and I hope to hear from you!

 

Got Shabbat? Share Your Story!

Posted on: June 5th, 2013 by Hayim Herring 2 Comments

 

Got Shabbat? Share Your Story!

 

I’ve always felt that Shabbat enabled me to take a vacation every week without ever having to pack. True, I have to make the bed and there’s no room service (but thanks to my wife, the food is superior to anything that I can find elsewhere!). But on Shabbat, I have a chance to mentally decompress from work, socially reconnect with friends and spiritually recharge through study and prayer.

 

Over the years, the most challenging part of Shabbat for me has been finding a consistently meaningful prayer community. Part of the reason has to do with my own relationship to prayer, while part of it has to do with the reality that services often don’t catalyze that feeling of transcendence that I seek. And I know that I’m not alone in having this reaction.

 

But the good news is that things have changed and are continuing to evolve! The variety of spiritually rich Shabbat communities in reinvented established synagogues, start up minyanim and newly formed congregations have blossomed. New kinds of liturgy, fresh music, meditation, soulful chanting and greater participation are helping to reawaken Shabbat services in some locations.

 

I’m writing an article for Contact Magazine about the creative landscape of Shabbat celebration. So please let me know how Shabbat is celebrated in your congregation or minyan, or other community that you’ve been to and enjoyed. What contemporary approaches does your community bring to this age-old experience? How much instrumentation is in your services? Is there anything new that you’re doing liturgically? And what is it that you would like to experience on Shabbat that is currently missing?

 

Please share your experiences and forward this link to one other person, requesting that he or she responds. You have a chance to share, learn and maybe make a difference for your Shabbat. In addition to responses posted on my blog, I’ll let you know when my article appears. Thanks for your insights!

 

 

 

 

Do Synagogue Movements (Except for Chabad) Know What They Really Sell?

Posted on: April 24th, 2013 by Hayim Herring 18 Comments

 
 

My friend and colleague, Dr. Jim Schreier, sent me a link to an article called, “The Only Thing Apple Really Sells,” that inspired the content of this post. The gist of the article is that Apple does not sell hardware, software or cloud-based solutions. Rather, Apple sells an ecosystem. Their products and services are, “one-way tickets to platform archipelagos, to fiercely guarded fiefdoms where everything works in harmony within walls that are high and strong. And the longer you’re inside, the harder it is to leave.” The author of the article goes on to say, “That’s (an ecosystem) the endgame. An ecosystem so interconnected, entwined so tightly, that you can’t leave even if you wanted to. It’s not hardware, or software. It’s a family of products, apps, services, and accessories with the gravitational pull of a black hole. And Apple, today, simply does it better than anybody else.”

 

Do denominational synagogue lay and professional leaders understand that they are really selling a Jewish ecosystem? Or, do they fall into the understandable default position of selling “membership” (a product). (more…)

Relaunching Confidently Together Into the Future

Posted on: April 10th, 2013 by Hayim Herring 2 Comments

I recently made a presentation to a group of synagogue leaders in St. Paul. A very bright volunteer who was familiar with Synaplex , an initiative that I developed, asked me, “Why are your ideas about the Jewish community different since you last presented to our congregation?” My ineloquent answer: “Umm…things have changed since we last worked together.” Not exactly a satisfying answer, but that was the best I could do given the time constraints.

 

Later that evening, I asked myself, “Okay, many things changed. But what are some of the most significant changes that have occurred within the past five years or so?” Not coincidentally, this was a question that I had been thinking about for sometime. I have been very concerned about how organizations are either in paralysis, denial or a state of confusion as they struggle to conduct business in post-economic bust that is stubbornly persistent. I’ve seen some organizations:

(more…)

Incomprehensible: My Reaction to Cyd Weissman’s Blog Post

Posted on: March 11th, 2013 by Hayim Herring

 

I read a blog post by a friend and very talented colleague of mine, Cyd Weissman, titled, “Surprisingly East to Quit My Synagogue” with disbelief. Perhaps I could have understood the response of her clergy if it was 2000 and not 2013. But while I try to be respectful of my fellow klei kodesh (clergy), their response to Cyd’s request is incomprehensible to me. And I say this as a former congregational rabbi who, already in the mid-1980s, was working in congregation that already had multiple happenings on Shabbat morning.

 

I’m only going to list three reasons why I find their response so baffling: (more…)

Paradigm Shift For Jewish Involvement

Posted on: September 9th, 2012 by Hayim Herring

 

In the old days, that is, until about a decade ago, when people wanted to do contribute good to society they looked for a non-profit organization whose work appealed to them. They volunteered for a project or committee, and veteran volunteers mentored them about how the work was done. If they were passably good at their volunteer service, they would move up the ranks, possibly even becoming president. They might repeat this pattern over the course of a lifetime, serve several organizations and, in turn, “teach the ropes” to new volunteers.

 

In this model of involvement, there was a right way and a wrong way to get things done and one year’s program often served as the next year’s template. This pattern of involvement created predictability for organizations but, over time, unresponsiveness in addressing new community problems. (more…)