Archive for the ‘Assessment: Learning Leads to Excellence’ Category

 

Mission, Marketing and Media—Inseparable, Invaluable (Part 3)

Posted on: February 10th, 2014 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

Welcome to the third in a series of guest bloggers from my friends and colleagues — all experts in their respective fields. As I wrote last week, these three words — mission, marketing and media — can begin to sound like empty buzzwords unless they are clearly defined and then made actionable for congregations. The content of what they mean is easy. The key is in understanding the context. Rounding out the series, I’m delighted that my friend and colleague Rabbi Jason Miller, President of Access Computer Technology and all-around rabbinic entrepreneur, is this week’s guest blogger. He provides real-world examples of what happens when the bricks and mortar of a congregation meet the bytes and clicks of the digital age, and why social media channels for engaging people are not optional, but integral to congregational work.

 

“The Social Networking Synagogue of the 21st Century”
Rabbi Jason Miller – Access Computer Technology

 

Rabbi Jason Miller of Detroit, MichiganAsk a typical Jewish man or woman if they belong to a synagogue and you’re likely to hear, “Yes, but we only attend on the High Holidays.” Nothing new there. We all know the twice-a-year Jews who only show up in the pews on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, just as we all know Christians who only appear in church on Christmas and Easter. However, something has changed as of late.

 

That same individual who once described their synagogue attendance in such sporadic terms might now explain that she is an active member of the congregation. Has she all of a sudden begun attending the bricks and mortar synagogue building any more than she did in the past? No. So what has changed that her answer is so vastly different? She now finds herself engaging with her congregational community in Cyberspace. She is a fan of the congregation’s Facebook page and while she was able to ignore those monthly event flyers that arrived in her mailbox on various colors of copy paper, she now sees each program the congregation offers in her Facebook feed (which she spends an hour a day on average reading!). As she’s following the lives of her friends and family, she’s also tracking the weekly happenings at the synagogue. She can see which friends are attending classes, she is learning from the rabbi who posts some thoughts on the weekly Torah portion, and she closely scrutinizes the photos that were uploaded from the last Sisterhood function (which she didn’t attend in real time, but she now feels as if she was there).

 

That same individual who felt so out of touch with his congregation because he only engaged the services of the rabbi a few times in the month leading up to his daughter’s bat mitzvah is now subscribed to the congregation’s weekly Constant Contact newsletter. He knows which congregants passed away, whose children became engaged, and who just became grandparents for the first time. He can now keep up with what his children are learning in the religious school because he follows the education director’s tweets during the school hours (wow, he thinks, this is way more interesting than my Hebrew School experience!). He learned from uploaded photos on Instagram that there is a monthly study session just for men at the local pub led by the rabbi and he already added the next month’s session to his calendar.

 

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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.

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.

 

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The Bookends of the Collaboration Continuum: Independence and Integration

Posted on: July 26th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

Cross-posted to eJewishPhilanthropy

 

by Rabbi Hayim Herring and Debra Brosan

 

Synagogues and Jewish organizations always have choices about their destiny – to be proactive or reactive, to be strategic or let environmental factors take over. This applies equally to the collaboration continuum, the range of options that congregations have to remain vibrant by creating partners with other synagogues or organizations, or even ultimately merging or being absorbed into another congregation.

 

In our last post, we identified some emotional factors that inhibit collaborations that seem logical but never materialize. In this post, we want to define more specifically the options that congregations have along this continuum, so that leaders can recognize that they have options for remaining vital and impactful.

 

First, a synagogue must explore its risk level associated with independence and integration, the collaboration continuum’s bookends. Most collaborations fall within an organization’s administrative, operational and programmatic function, as well as the possibility of sharing space.

 

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The Collaboration Continuum: Re-Igniting the Conversation for Congregations

Posted on: July 3rd, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

Cross-posted to eJewish Philanthropy

by Debra Brosan and Rabbi Hayim Herring

 

Recently, we conducted thirteen informal phone interviews with federation directors, rabbis and lay leaders from around the country to learn first hand about the landscape of synagogue collaborations and potential mergers.

 

We spoke with leaders primarily along the East Coast and in the Midwest. Some had experienced population decline by snowbirds who had permanently moved to warmer parts of the country or had lost a significant percentage of the Jewish population because of the economic recession. We also spoke with a few other community leaders in areas that we suspected were potentially ripe for collaboration because it’s just good business to partner, collaborate and consolidate.

 

We weren’t interested in conducting a rigorous scientific study, but simply wanted to gain an impressionistic view of the level of discussion and activity around collaboration. We had read several recent stories in the Jewish press about creative congregational collaborations and were also aware of consolidations happening in the broader nonprofit community. Collaboration is one of our deep interests, and we have helped shepherd a number of congregations, Jewish organizations and nonprofit organizations through fruitful partnerships. We know that there is ample room for more collaboration, but we wanted to conduct some due diligence before drawing conclusions.

 

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A Leadership Challenge: Locating the “You Inside of You”

Posted on: June 14th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

 

I recently heard an advertisement for a genetic testing company that promises to reveal “the you inside of you.” This company implies that by gaining knowledge of your genetic composition, you can enhance your life. I’m all for couples considering having children, and individuals with a history of inherited diseases that can be mitigated or cured, to undergo genetic screening.  While the value of this kind of genetic knowledge is morally dubious, at best, I was taken by the phrase, “the you inside of you.”

Parrot Looking at Reflection of Eagle in Mirror

 

The bottom line: no matter how good genotyping becomes, you will not find “the you inside of you.”  As genotyping improves, you will learn more about the genes inside of you, but they should not be mistaken for “the you inside of you.” The “you inside of you” is the person who you would like to become. You achieve that state when you align your deepest core self with the work that you’re doing and the quality of the relationships you have.

 

As counterintuitive as it sounds, it can be quite a challenge to align our values, passions and most fundamental purpose for being with how we live our lives.  But that’s what authentic leaders do-they find practices and people to help hold themselves accountable.

 

For many of us, things tend to slow down in the summertime. I know that I’ll be spending time contemplating this question. And I invite you to reflect on who the real you inside of you is as well.

 

 

How to Minimize the Risk of Network Unweaving

Posted on: May 6th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 
 

In continuing to think about conversations related to “network weaving” in organizations, I remembered Homer’s epic classic, The Odyssey. The heroine of the poem is Penelope, who has been separated from her husband, Odysseus for twenty years while he was away at war. Pursued by suitors, Penelope promises to remarry once she completes weaving a burial shroud for Odysseus’s elderly father. She weaves the shroud during the day, but as a stall tactic, every night for three years she undoes a part of her work until her deception is discovered. She’s a weaver by day and an un-weaver by night.

 

“Network weaving” is a term in vogue in Jewish organizations that refers to increasing the quantity and deepening the quality of social relationships. The emergence of this term reflects a paradigm inversion. Don’t expect community to grow top-down from activities, but out of organically fostered social ties. (You can learn more about network weaving by searching eJewishphilanthropy’s website.) But these efforts are likely to be threatened by two significant roadblocks: governance and mission. Why?

 

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Valuing Evaluation: How Shared Rabbi-Board Reviews Foster Effective Congregations

Posted on: July 5th, 2012 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Valuing Evaluation: How Shared Rabbi-Board Reviews Foster Effective Congregations

Photo from: Horia Varlan, on Flickr

I’m continuing to think about the nature of performance reviews as I did in my last post and will hopefully begin conducting some research about it several months from now. A number of you have already reached out to me with suggestions and stories-thank you! Here are some additional thoughts and if you have some feedback, please let me know. Also, while these posts have been about rabbis and boards, many of the ideas apply to educators, cantors, program directors-basically, everyone who is a paid “professional.”

Congregations are in the throes of disruptive change. Especially during such fundamental upheavals, lay and professional leaders express anxiety about the meaning and future of their congregations. This anxiety is neither inherently destructive nor instructive. It all depends upon how congregational leaders respond to it.

As a generalized pervasive state, anxiety erodes morale, breeds defensiveness and often leads to damaging clergy evaluations. In an atmosphere of negative anxiety, lay leaders can use a performance evaluation as a blunt object to punish clergy for their perceived inability to meet goals that are implicit, unrealistic or unshared. A process where the rabbi alone is reviewed, and not the board, is already fundamentally flawed, as it communicates that the board is not responsible for the success of the congregation.

Conversely, anxiety can stimulate a collaborative effort of clergy and lay leaders to open a real conversation about the essence of what it means to be a congregation. The strong undertow of congregational activity can sometimes pull congregations away from their fundamental work. Healthy performance reviews enable congregations to correct their course. They become a regularly calendared time when congregational leaders and staff collaboratively assess their mission and vision, and accordingly realign goals, activities and governance. Equally important, evaluations are the time to ask if the congregations stated values are alive at all levels in the congregation. Do interpersonal relationships and interactions feel coldly corporate or genuinely caring?

These authentic conversations are challenging—but, can be incredibly enriching. They are not only about “accountability,” but about gaining insight, learning and applying that knowledge going forward. They generate the powerful energy that rabbis and volunteers experience when they know that they are doing holy work. In this scenario, the review process becomes a time for celebration of past achievement and inspiration for future accomplishments.

It’s summertime-and hopefully you have a little more downtime. If you’re a rabbi or volunteer leader, and you don’t like the way evaluations are handled or if you don’t have an evaluation process now is the time to start making changes. See what resources your denominational movement has available. Talk to your peers in other congregations about ideas. But most of all make sure that you ask questions that matter. If the questions leave you feeling like you’re at your annual physical examination, then don’t matter for the review process and you can ask them at another time. But if they relate to your essential purpose and generate energy, they probably matter!

Fresh Views on Evaluating Rabbinic and Congregational Performance

Posted on: June 13th, 2012 by Hayim Herring No Comments
Fresh Views on Evaluating Rabbinic and Congregational Performance

Photo: vancajay, on stock.xchng

I’m currently reading a book entitled, When Better Isn’t Enough. Evaluation Tools for the 21st-Century Church. The author is Jill M. Hudson and the publisher is The Alban Institute. The title is a bit of a misnomer and could more accurately be, Performance Evaluation for the 21st-Century Church. New Criteria for Ministers and Church Leaders. But with a title like that, why would ministers be interested in reading the book? After all, as all members of the clergy know from often-poor experience, performance evaluation, review, or whatever you wish to call it falls under the rubric of, “Never put off today what you can put off forever.”

Hudson lays out 12 criteria for evaluation. They are, the ability to:

Look at these questions! They reflect a vision of ideal attributes of a 21st-Century church. Hudson’s insight is that most evaluations are still rooted in the needs of a 20th century church and her book is about guiding lay leaders and clergy to work collaboratively on assessing their joint performance based on new criteria that better reflect the work of today’s church.

Hudson’s insight is true for the Jewish community as well. From what I’ve seen and heard, most synagogue evaluations are also stuck in a bygone era. Over the next year, my hope is to conduct some research on how congregations evaluate rabbis. I can use your help as I begin to explore this topic and would love you to respond to the questions in my Evaluating Rabbinic and Congregational Performance Survey.

Take the survey >>.

Thanks for your thoughts,

Rabbi Hayim Herring