Posts Tagged ‘economy’

 

A Passion to Serve

Posted on: June 25th, 2010 by Hayim Herring No Comments

This post is personal because it concerns my family – not my genetic family, but my spiritual family.  I’m referring to congregational rabbis (although I also feel that anyone who serves the Jewish community in a professional capacity is a part of my family). While some colleagues remain secure in their jobs, many are feeling anxiety about their future. They watch others who have had their positions eliminated or reduced.  And a good number of rabbis, from what I’m hearing, are unsure about what to do to create a more secure congregation, or to prepare for a future in which there might not be one available for them. People who study for congregational life feel called by God. If they can’t serve a congregation, how can they fulfill a calling which possesses them?

I empathize with my colleagues because I have been through a number of professional transitions. In some of them I have felt a greater sense of calling, in others less so. I understand the feeling and perception that only a congregational setting allows for that kind of ongoing intensity of Divine purpose. In addition, schools and other Jewish institutions where rabbis have traditionally found employment are experiencing similar downsizing, leaving congregational rabbis with even fewer options.

I’ll be participating soon in a program where this issue will be explored. Clearly, congregations are not going to disappear. But the congregational rabbinate is experiencing the same kind of structural change that most industries and professions are feeling. So I am turning to you for ideas about how rabbinic colleagues can prepare for a future which may hold part-time congregational work, rabbinic work outside of the congregation, or a job in the for-profit or general non-profit sector.

Rabbinical training is a precious experience, taking between five and six years. While rabbis don’t seek congregations for financial reasons, they still have financial obligations which they must meet: repayment of academic loans, the cost of day schools and Jewish camps, giving tzedakah… and the list goes on. Rabbinical education is a tremendous resource for the Jewish community as no other kind of education offers similar depth and breath. In this time of tectonic shifts in the Jewish world, we have to make sure we have enough rabbis to provide guidance and leadership based on the legacy of our tradition, but they also have to know that they have a reasonable chance to find employment.

So what advice can you offer rabbis who dreamed of serving in the congregational world for their entire lives, but now find themselves in a profession which is undergoing a profound transition?  Do you have personal experience to share?  This is definitely a question that requires our collective wisdom!

Thank you for your help.

Rabbi Hayim Herring

image: flickr.com articulatematter

Collaboration: Myths and Realities

Posted on: March 31st, 2010 by Hayim Herring No Comments
In a recent article in Commentary Magazine, Dr. Jack Wertheimer noted, “Five years ago, during the economic boom, I conducted a series of interviews with some 40 knowledgeable observers of Jewish communal life. The more astute argued that it was only a matter of time before much of the Jewish organizational infrastructure collapsed under its own weight.”
Economics is finally driving a consolidation of organizations and services that was overdue. Now, funders and planners often gravitate toward two words in these times, collaboration and merger. Both have to happen, but when does collaboration make sense?
In this post, I want to define the term “collaboration” and explain when it is and is not a useful strategy. Collaboration is a mutually beneficial and well-defined relationship entered into by two or more organizations to achieve common goals. For example, a synagogue and a Jewish Community Center might collaborate in offering adult Jewish learning or teen educational programs. The purpose of collaboration is to improve the quality, frequency or accessibility of these programs–to provide a better experience for the constituent in some way.
Collaborations can do so because they increase available resources. That happens when the stakeholders in the collaboration have a commitment to mutually beneficial relationships and clearly-defined goals and a jointly-developed structure with shared responsibility, authority and accountability for successful outcomes. Collaborations are limited in scope, dealing with defined populations or issues. Regardless of how clearly-defined they are, if participating stakeholders do not develop trust, they are likely not to work well or last long.
I’ve learned that donors and staff often understood understand collaboration differently from one another. A donor may really be thinking “merger” when he or she uses the word collaboration, and a staff person may believe that one stakeholder is more “equal” than another in a collaboration. Also, donors may think that collaborations offer greater efficiencies and cost-savings, but that is not usually so, at least at the beginning. As any staff person with experience in collaboration can attest, they often take more time and don’t yield significant cost savings initially, or at all.
Collaborations can be beneficial when thinking about how existing and potential constituents can enjoy greater variety, convenience, accessibility and quality. They can also help strengthen community bonds by enabling friendships among individuals who normally don’t have a chance to meet one another. And, they can spur creativity by bringing together stakeholders with complementary experiences. When these opportunities for collaboration exist, then you know that you have fertile territory to pursue them.
I’ll look at some other organizational strategies for these new economic times. In the meantime, what has your experience been with collaborations? What benefits have you experienced and what challenges have you faced?
Thanks,
Rabbi Hayim Herring

In a recent article in Commentary Magazine, Dr. Jack Wertheimer noted, “Five years ago, during the economic boom, I conducted a series of interviews with some 40 knowledgeable observers of Jewish communal life. The more astute argued that it was only a matter of time before much of the Jewish organizational infrastructure collapsed under its own weight.”

Economics is finally driving a consolidation of organizations and services that was overdue. Now, funders and planners often gravitate toward two words in these times, collaboration and merger. Both have to happen, but when does collaboration make sense?

In this post, I want to define the term “collaboration” and explain when it is and is not a useful strategy. Collaboration is a mutually beneficial and well-defined relationship entered into by two or more organizations to achieve common goals. For example, a synagogue and a Jewish Community Center might collaborate in offering adult Jewish learning or teen educational programs. The purpose of collaboration is to improve the quality, frequency or accessibility of these programs–to provide a better experience for the constituent in some way.

Collaborations can do so because they increase available resources. That happens when the stakeholders in the collaboration have a commitment to mutually beneficial relationships and clearly-defined goals and a jointly-developed structure with shared responsibility, authority and accountability for successful outcomes. Collaborations are limited in scope, dealing with defined populations or issues. Regardless of how clearly-defined they are, if participating stakeholders do not develop trust, they are likely not to work well or last long.

I’ve learned that donors and staff often understand collaboration differently from one another. A donor may really be thinking “merger” when he or she uses the word collaboration, and a staff person may believe that one stakeholder is more “equal” than another in a collaboration. Also, donors may think that collaborations offer greater efficiencies and cost-savings, but that is not usually so, at least at the beginning. As any staff person with experience in collaboration can attest, they often take more time and don’t yield significant cost savings initially, or at all.

Collaborations can be beneficial when thinking about how existing and potential constituents can enjoy greater variety, convenience, accessibility and quality. They can also help strengthen community bonds by enabling friendships among individuals who normally don’t have a chance to meet one another. And, they can spur creativity by bringing together stakeholders with complementary experiences. When these opportunities for collaboration exist, then you know that you have fertile territory to pursue them.

I’ll look at some other organizational strategies for these new economic times. In the meantime, what has your experience been with collaborations? What benefits have you experienced and what challenges have you faced?

Thanks,

Rabbi Hayim Herring

Wanted: More Spiritual Dreamers!

Posted on: March 23rd, 2009 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Before the current economic crash, we were in the middle of a tremendous generational transfer of wealth. The majority of that wealth circumvented the synagogue community. Why was that the case? One of the reasons was that major funders considered synagogues to be too parochial and uninspiring for their tastes.

Imagine the challenges which synagogues now face. Synagogue list serves have been abuzz with stories about staff cuts, salary freezes, and impending synagogue closings. Rabbis are really going to have to work harder to articulate inspirational dreams even to maintain the support of their current community, let alone funders with greater financial means, who could offer budget relief.

I have no hard data on this, but it often feels that rabbis don’t dream expansively enough. Perhaps our training doesn’t sufficiently encourage us to create compelling narratives about Jewish life, or maybe it’s that synagogues tend to be risk adverse and push back against big dreams, or maybe it’s just the times in which we live — but where are the spiritual visionaries of today who will cultivate the most noble aspirations that we have as a people?

Let me cite a couple of examples of what I mean by big dreams:

The synagogue will become a microcosm of a just and perfected world. All people who walk through its door, regardless of status and ability, will be treated with the dignity to which they’re entitled because they’re created in the image of God. All synagogue staff members will respect one another and the members of the community they serve. Instead of looking for people’s flaws, members of this community seek to shine the light on the unique contributions that each individual has the potential to offer.

Another example:

The synagogue will become a model of a diverse, multi-generational community. While few places in society today enable individuals from different generations to meaningfully and regularly interact, all aspects of synagogue life will truly embody the phrase, “from one generation to another,” l’dor va-dor. By doing so, the community will be an evolving repository of Jewish wisdom and help all people enrich the passages of life.

Clearly, each congregation must envision its ideal picture of its community’s future. A significant part of the rabbi’s work is to lay out the possibilities of a big dream and then empower the congregation and staff to work together on achieving it. While I’m fully supportive of getting every member of the congregation to light Shabbat candles and study Torah daily, those are not big dreams—they are discrete Jewish practices that don’t point to larger meaning and purpose in life.

As a people, we have a history of knowing how to dream with great imagination. Reclaiming that capacity is going to be one of the most important roles for contemporary rabbis if we want vital institutions. So rabbis—please share your big dreams for the Jewish community or your congregation (or other institution) here. And others—let me know what you wish your rabbi would dream!

Rabbi Hayim Herring

image from flickr.com muha…

Synagogues, Though Feeling Distress, Provide Support

Posted on: February 27th, 2009 by Hayim Herring No Comments

I’m taking a brief break from writing about rabbis to report on how synagogues are coping in these stressful financial times. As I speak with colleagues across the country, I’m generally hearing the same story:

“Dues revenue is down, while we are providing more dues relief to congregants who can no longer afford to pay what they were paying”

“We’re freezing or reducing staff salaries”

“We’re moving some people from full-time to part-time, eliminating staff or not replacing staff when a staff member leaves”

“We’ve shortened our weekday hours and are having one day a week when the building is closed….”

Anecdotally, these are the kinds of stories that I’m hearing and I expect the situation to deteriorate during the summer, when cash flow in congregations is low. And, I wonder how many people will request dues relief before the High Holy Days or even drop synagogue membership because of feelings of embarrassed because of the inability to pay.

At the same time, many synagogues are doing an exceptional job of reaching out to members and the community. Here is a sampling of the kinds of creative efforts that congregations are making to support members:

These steps will help people make sure that they do not confuse their financial worth with their human value.

These efforts are clearly laudable but beg the question of how many congregations will be able to remain viable in the long term future. I’ll be writing more about that later. For now, please respond to these two questions:

  1. What is your congregation doing to support members in these times of need?
  2. What short-term measures is your congregation implementing to be sure that it steers clear of deep financial trouble?

If you have some insights to offer about these critical questions, please share them so that others in the community can benefit.

Thanks,

Rabbi Hayim Herring