Archive for the ‘Successful Synagogues: Real World Stories’ Category


Mission, Marketing and Media—Inseparable, Invaluable

Posted on: January 26th, 2014 by Hayim Herring



Like many of you, I work with some really smart people, who love what they do, strive to learn from others and passionately share their knowledge in return. The next three posts will be from experts who exemplify these qualities, and I’ve invited them to write about the integral relationship between mission, marketing and media. Our first guest is Daniel Chiat, of Measuring Success, whose organization has rich, unique data on why mission matters. Hope you enjoy these posts!

Rabbi Hayim Herring


Got Mission? It Matters—and Here Are the Data To Prove It!

ChiatDaniel Chiat, Measuring Success


What characteristics of synagogue life predispose members to feel satisfied and to feel that they have personally grown as a Jew? There are certainly many worthy answers, but the two most important aspects both come down to vision.


We’re not guessing at this conclusion; it’s grounded in the analysis of thousands of synagogue members across North America. Over the last five years, we’ve assisted nearly 40 synagogues in using data to create strategic plans and build relationships. We’ve asked over 15,000 congregants to answer questions about their priorities and satisfaction levels. The results indicate that the top drivers of synagogue satisfaction and personal growth are high scores on the following two questions:



Hayim Herring Blog

We know that high scores on these vision questions are the best predictors of satisfaction and personal growth regardless of a synagogue’s location, membership size, or denomination. This is because our database includes synagogues from across the spectrum and everything in between. The data suggests that synagogue leaders should invest energy on vision and values in order to have significant impact on outcomes like member satisfaction, retention, and personal growth.



Some Things are Meant to Be—and Maybe Now is Your Time….

Posted on: January 22nd, 2014 by Hayim Herring


Last April, I read an Alban weekly newsletter about a collection of essays on Protestant seminary education, called Keeping the Faith in Seminary Education. This volume was edited Ellie Roscher, a Protestant, female millennial with personal seminary experience. Having worked for many years on rabbinical and continuing Rabbinical education, I was naturally intrigued by the topic. And I also know that Protestants and Jews have some of the same struggles in creating vibrant religious communities, so a collaboration on this kind of project would likely generate some new ideas. I didn’t know Ellie, but thought that there was no downside to tracking her down and learning more about her project. Yes – I admit that I was already thinking then about perhaps editing a book with her on rabbinical education.

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Coincidentally or providentially, it turned out that she was moving back to her hometown in Minneapolis. Shortly after she arrived, we met in person. I can’t say that I expected that she would agree at our very first meeting to be involved in co-editing and writing a part of a book. But I guess that some things are meant to be, and not only Ellie, but her publisher, Andrew Barron of Avenida Books, also quickly came on board.


So here is your chance: especially in light of the Pew Study, if you are a rabbinical student, rabbi, or educator of rabbinical students or rabbis, we want to hear your unmediated voice on the nature of rabbinical education. Please click here to find out how you can potentially contribute an essay to a volume that needs to be written—I hope that I’ll catch you at one of those moments of interest, just like Ellie’s volume found me. And if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me directly.


Thank you, Rabbi Hayim Herring


P.S.-for Ellie’s version of the story on our collaboration, visit her blog. And—first we wrote our own recollections of our meeting and only then did we read one another’s posts. Uncanny how similar and still distinctive they are!



Collaborate, Communicate, Connect

Posted on: November 7th, 2013 by Hayim Herring


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.



Resetting the Rabbinate

Posted on: May 20th, 2013 by Hayim Herring



In the past few months, I’ve read at least six articles or blogs about rabbis and the contemporary rabbinate. (Just search sites like eJewishPhilanthropy, The Jewish Week, the JTA and the Jewish Daily Forward for a sampling of results.) Any rabbi will tell you that there’s structural change occurring and the media now seems to have picked up this story. Some of the stories suggest new roles that rabbis are fulfilling, others are about gender and the rabbinate, or prognostications about the future of the rabbinate and the rabbinical seminaries’ challenge in keeping up with what they perceive as new skills that rabbis require.


(Disclaimer: I’ve written about the rabbinate over the years as well in publications like Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today. Creating Vibrant Centers of Jewish Life and “The Rabbi as Moreh Derekh Chayim: Reconceptualizing Today’s Rabbinate”. But why so many articles in such a short time?


Rabbis are experiencing significant role ambiguity and the 20th Century paradigm of what defines a rabbi is clearly inadequate for this century. A few examples will suffice:

Rabbis used to have primary or heavy involvement in the examples above but now, much less so.


And it isn’t just that functions are changing. Relationships are changing as well. In speaking with colleagues, they sense that they are increasingly being treated more as employees and less as individuals with a sacred profession. As one colleague wryly commented, he felt that “evaluations” had become “devaluations.”


This lack of role clarity is a symptom of a paradigm change. As renowned futurist, Joel Barker, says: “When a paradigm shifts, everyone goes back to zero. Your past success guarantees nothing in your future.” And all of these conversations about rabbis’ roles certainly have the feel of “going back to zero,” that is, accepting that the assumptions that undergird last centuries’ rabbinate will not support today’s rabbinate.


I believe that rabbis have significant roles to play. Some will be the same as the last generation of rabbis, and others haven’t even yet been imagined. But I’d like to hear your thoughts about the unique roles that rabbis can play. By unique, I mean what is it by virtue of their training that they alone can do, or that they can do with greater ability than others with Judaic knowledge and experience? All are invited to respectfully weigh in and thanks!



Your Opportunity to Make Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today a Reality

Posted on: January 21st, 2013 by Hayim Herring
Tomorrow Synagogue Today

Tomorrow Synagogue Today


With the support of The Alban Institute and UJA-Federation of New York, I am writing a resource guide for my most recent publication, Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today. Creating Vibrant Centers of Jewish Life. I wrote this book as a thought piece, but the statement of the classical Rabbis, “The purpose of learning is action”(Avot 1:17), motivates my writing. If you’ve found the book worthwhile, you’ll have the opportunity to apply some concrete tools and resources to its ideas with this resource guide. Several people have written to me privately about how they’ve use the book. For example, I’ve heard that a number of people are either discussing it at staff meetings or congregational board meetings.

In an effort to make this resource guide focused on real world application, I’d appreciate your answering the following questions:

  1. If you’ve used the book in a group setting, how have you done so?
  2. What are the kinds of practical resources that would help you bring some of these ideas into practice?


Even if you haven’t read the book, or have not used it for study, think back to other books on congregational life that you’ve used and respond to these questions.


Thank you for your help,


Rabbi Hayim Herring

Message to Synagogues: Don’t Forget the “Social” in “Social Media”

Posted on: July 26th, 2012 by Hayim Herring

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing my friend and colleague, Lisa Colton, Founder and President of Darim Online. Lisa was far ahead of the curve in recognizing the value of technology for synagogue and continues to be one of a handful of thought leaders in this area. I asked Lisa about the evolving role of social media in synagogues and the challenges that social media tools present to synagogues.

Click below to hear the conversation. Also, you can watch a webinar that I recently gave on my book, Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today, sponsored by Darim at We discussed the notion of synagogues as “platforms,” and implications for synagogue leaders in making this shift.

Neusner’s Flawed Premise on Increasing Synagogue Involvement

Posted on: July 18th, 2012 by Hayim Herring

Neusner’s Flawed Premise on Increasing Synagogue Involvement

Photo from: Luthien, on stock.xchng

A few days ago, Noam Neusner wrote an article about synagogue membership in The Forward. Any article that stimulates good thinking about this serious issue is welcome, so first thanks to Neusner for starting the conversation. But, Neusner’s main premise is fundamentally flawed. There is nothing that stops synagogues from adopting an entrepreneurial culture now! Many existing programs, services and activities that synagogues offer could be made more relevant, spiritual and inspirational without spending one “zuz” more. Fresh ideas and an open culture don’t cost money. As some congregations are learning, they just require courage and risk.

Want to make your congregation feel warm and welcoming? What about doing feature videos on the wonderful acts of volunteer service that members do within and outside of the congregation? Want to increase the number of learning experiences available for adults? Invite members who majored in Jewish studies while in college to delve into an area of interest and then give them a few pointers on how to teach adults. Want to create an ongoing, unbeatable multi-generational experience? Find someone who knows how to lead a band and create a congregational band that plays Jewish music. These are just a few easy examples of how you can use existing resources to align activities with things that matter to congregants and deepen personal relationships. And they don’t cost a “zuz” more!

Rabbi Hayim Herring

Interview with Rabbi Marcie Zimmerman

Posted on: May 23rd, 2012 by Hayim Herring

In writing my book, Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today. Creating Vibrant Centers of Jewish Life, I interviewed a number of rabbinic colleagues. They possess a lot of wisdom and writing my book was one way to bring that to a broader audience. If I had greater resources, I would’ve interviewed more. Fortunately, through my blog, I’m able to continue the process of learning and sharing. And in that spirit, I’m trying something new.

Going forward on a regular basis, I’ll be interviewing thought leaders about the state of the synagogue and the American Jewish community in general. Some of these leaders appear in my book, while others are new. My hope is to generate a deep conversation in which we can enrich our work with new approaches and ideas by learning from one another, and I invite you to be part of it.

This week, you’ll be watching an interview of Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman, Senior Rabbi of Temple Israel in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As we are local colleagues, I’ve had the pleasure of working with her for many years and she is a visionary leader-a phrase that I use carefully. I asked Rabbi Zimmerman how it is that her congregation, which is a well established, urban congregation is growing larger and younger.  Those are certainly not the trends of many congregations. You can hear what she has to say and read more about the subject in Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today.

Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today: My New Book is Now Available

Posted on: February 8th, 2012 by Hayim Herring
Order your copy of Tomorrow's Synagogue Today on Amazon

Eternal light designers/artists: Michael Berkowicz and Bonnie Srolovitz-Berkowicz; Cover photo: Marcie Ward (Synagogue: Temple Israel, Orlando, FL)

In the not too distant past-as recently as a decade or so ago-when people wanted to do good, they volunteered for a non-profit that reflected and practiced their values. The hierarchy would acculturate them into the “right way” of doing the work. If they were reasonably competent, they would be promoted up the ranks and often contributed a lifetime of volunteer service.

But that era is over. Today, with the Internet and social media, anyone can become educated about an issue, select a cause, inexpensively raise funds, market and mobilize large numbers of people around it. Individuals can contribute a large amount of good to the world without the help of non-profit organizations and can cultivate a global, loyal base of followers, at least for a limited amount of time. In that case, what is the purpose of a non-profit organization today? How do volunteers and professionals, who understand that non-profits both serve and transcend particular causes, lead in this environment?

As I know the Jewish community well-and the synagogue best-these are the kinds of topics that I explore in Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today: Creating Vibrant Centers of Jewish Life, published by the Alban Institute. They touch upon the very purpose, structure, theology and leadership of synagogues and other Jewish organizations. Are these core issues of synagogue life, as they are expressed today, adequate for a new century?

Many other institutions that were essential last century have experienced turbulence and realize that their continued relevance and existence in our global, mobile, connected environment cannot be taken for granted. Synagogues are no different. I hope that Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today: Creating Vibrant Centers of Jewish Life will stimulate a fresh, hopeful and helpful conversation about synagogues and the transition that they must make to ensure their continued impact on Jewish life.

To pre-order your copy of Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today, please visit the Alban Institute’s website (Alban members receive a 20% discount!) or Amazon.

Thank you and B’shalom,

Rabbi Hayim Herring