Posts Tagged ‘Rosh ha-Shanah’

 

If I Had a Pulpit… (And You’re Invited to a Webinar!)

Posted on: August 2nd, 2012 by Hayim Herring No Comments

hayim’s new book

Hayim’s New book: Tomorrow Synagogue Today

 

 

Imagine that it’s Rosh ha-Shanah and you’re about to give your sermon. You and your board have been working hard on fundamentally rethinking what it means to be a congregational community in the 21st century. And, now you have the ideal opportunity to share it.

You look confidently at the congregation, and in a tone that reflects your excitement (but masks your nervousness), speak from your heart and say:

I don’t need to spend much time outlining the issues confronting our society. They are many and serious. And one of the most frustrating challenges is that people on one side of an issue always seems more interested in proving that the other side is wrong than finding common ground. Maybe we can’t heal the world, but we can start with our congregational community and learn how to work together and make progress on some of these issues. And after much work, as professional staff and board members, here’s our vision for our congregational community:

Our community aspires to become a model of a perfected world. Drawing upon the Jewish tradition’s optimistic belief in the power of individuals and communities to change the world, every member of our congregation is invited to participate on his or her own terms with others who want to turn this aspiration into a reality. Our congregation is always open to ways to involve young and old, Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and secular, learned and just learning, committed and seeking to use their unique gifts to make our community and our world more perfect. By engaging in this work, always guided by our Jewish tradition, we create rewarding, purposeful relationships that remind us why the power of many is so much greater than the power of any one of us alone.

In order to work seriously on this mission, you and the board have concluded that the typical descriptions that apply to a congregation’s missions are inadequate. Worship, study, acts of kindness–tefilah, avodah and gemilut chasadim–these are all essential functions that will happen. After all, you are a synagogue! It’s just that they need to be reinterpreted and refocused in a way that aligns with what is both meaningful for people and still authentic to the Jewish tradition.

You lay out four centers around which your congregation will be reorganized:

  1. Healthy Living, which includes issues like diet, exercise, sustainable food production and cultivating a spiritual dimension to life;
  2. Rich Interpersonal Relationships, which includes teaching people to rediscover the difference between a Facebook connection and a face-to-face friendship, and engaging in learning and work that help deepen relationships with family, friends and fellow congregants;
  3. My Relationship to My Local Community, which focuses on working together to ameliorate significant local issues through the congregation; and,
  4. My Relationship to My Global Community, which encourages a cross-fertilization of learning on how Jewish communities in Israel and across the globe deal with a range of issues like care for the elderly, social justice and Jewish education. These are the kinds of issues that lend themselves to shared learning exchanges and potential joint action.

Without going into great detail, you also explain how, over time, board members, committee and staff will be reorganizing the congregation around these four centers of life. But, you emphasize that everyone has a role and a stake in this new enterprise, because it takes everyone’s talents and time to create a just, compassionate, caring world.

The work that you and the board have done is a bold effort to create a model for re-conceptualizing the purpose of a congregation today. And you, as the rabbi, have shaped the vision from your own theology. God gave us a world that was inherently good and that goodness is now at risk. But you believe in your core self that we have the power and responsibility to act as a community to begin restoring and investing in positive action in the world. We are charged as a Jewish community to use our influence for good and it’s time to step up and act more intentionally on this commandment.

You’ve concluded your sermon and one thing is clear – no one is napping during the sermon. You can almost visualize the thought bubbles above different congregants’ heads. One says, “What’s Jewish about this?” Then there was another one floating nearby that says, “Well, this makes me want to be Jewish so much!” Another one says, “Time to send the rabbi on a permanent vacation,” while the one next to it says, “Better extend the rabbi’s contract for a long time. We can’t afford to lose her!”

At this point, you’re unsure if you should discuss how this re-envisioning the community will affect how the work of the congregation is done. You decide to leave that for another time, but provide a hint: the congregation is no longer just a building. It’s a platform that supports the rapid mobilization of people to organize, explore and express how to claim their Jewish selves within these four centers of Jewish life.

Register for “Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today” Webinar

A new conversation about the intersection of theology, organizational structure, mission and vision for the 21st century congregation are some of the issues that I explore in my recently published book, Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today: Creating Vibrant Centers of Jewish Life. You are invited to join me and other colleagues on a webinar where you can explore these issues on Wednesday, August 29 at 10:00a Pacific, 11:00a Mountain, 12:00p Central, 1:00p Eastern. Space is limited, so register early.

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Questions of Ultimate Importance

Posted on: August 17th, 2010 by Hayim Herring No Comments
Since this past Sunday, I’ve had the real joy of being together with two different groups of Schusterman Rabbinical Fellows. Each group has four distinguished students from HUC and four from JTS, learning together about leadership, outreach and inclusion. In one session, the students heard from an outstanding facilitator who worked with them on speaking authentically, that is, not being pontificators but genuine communicators.
One part of that session triggered three questions that seemed so appropriate to think about as we ready for Rosh ha-Shanah:
when were you recently at your best?
when do you think that the Jewish people acted at its best?
when do you think a significant part of the world behaved at its best?
I hope that you will find these questions pointing to issues of ultimate importance. And I hope that some of you will want to respond to them on this blog. And for anyone who is speaking before a congregation on the holidays about some related topics, please send me your sermons or summarize the key ideas below.
Thank you,
Rabbi Hayim Herring

Since this past Sunday, I’ve had the real joy of being together with two different groups of Schusterman Rabbinical Fellows. Each group has four distinguished students from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and four from The Jewish Theological Seminary, learning together about leadership, outreach and inclusion. In one session, the students heard from an outstanding facilitator who worked with them on speaking authentically, that is, not being pontificators but genuine communicators.

One part of that session triggered three questions that seemed so appropriate to think about as we ready for Rosh ha-Shanah:

  1. When were you recently at your best?
  2. When do you think that the Jewish people acted at its best?
  3. When do you think a significant part of the world behaved at its best?

I hope that you will find these questions pointing to issues of ultimate importance, and I hope that some of you will want to respond to them on this blog. And for anyone who is speaking before a congregation on the holidays about some related topics, please send me your sermons or summarize the key ideas below.

Thank you,

Rabbi Hayim Herring

image from Flickr, Horia Varlan

Prayer on Rosh ha-Shanah: Eternal or Eternally Long?

Posted on: July 21st, 2010 by Hayim Herring No Comments
They are only about seven weeks before Rosh ha-Shanah, the Jewish new year. We might refer to a synagogue during Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur as a house of perpetual prayer. Imagine yourself sitting in the pews on parts of these days, for at least a few hours at a time. Overall, what has that experience felt like for you? Did you feel God’s presence or at least a sense of being part of something larger, more purposeful?  Did these experiences open up new insights into dimensions of your life that you don’t usually think about?
These aren’t only asked by those involved in the synagogue community ask; they are also questions that people of other faith traditions ask.  Just go to a recent blog post on The Alban Institute’s website, authored by Graham Standish, who asks: “Why Do We Worship The Way We Always Have Worshiped When People Keep Changing?” For many Americans raised and educated in our primarily secular culture, prayer is tough, regardless of your their faith tradition.
I encourage you to read the Standish’s full post and the comments on it. Here are some thought-provoking excerpts:
•“…what I think is paramount in a worship service [(is)]: encountering and experiencing God in a way that transforms us, even if just a little bit.
•Most generations approach worship differently from previous ones. They are not always looking to reinvent worship, but they are seeking a renewed sense of relevance to their context.
•Ultimately, the problem isn’t that each generation keeps changing. The problem is that as time passes congregations and their leaders forget to keep the focus of worship on the encounter with the Holy.
•Being intentional means…asking whether what we are offering actually connects members of each generation with the Holy. It means asking a simple question: Do people encounter the Holy in our worship services?
Prayer, as currently presented, works for some people. And we know that good music, participation, less Hebrew or more Hebrew (depending upon the makeup of the congregation), a little meditation, teaching the meaning and the melodies—these tactics can enrich prayer, but they mask Standish’s question, “Do people encounter the Holy in our worship services?”
While we have some time before Rosh ha-Shanah, please answer Standish’s question: “Do people encounter the Holy in our worship services?” And more importantly, what can you do so that your congregation can answer this question with a resounding “yes”?
Thanks, in advance, for your reflections,
Rabbi Hayim Herring

There are only about seven weeks before Rosh ha-Shanah, the Jewish new year. We might refer to a synagogue during Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur as a house of perpetual prayer. Imagine yourself sitting in the pews on parts of these days, for at least a few hours at a time. Overall, what has that experience felt like for you? Did you feel God’s presence or at least a sense of being part of something larger, more purposeful?  Did these experiences bring insights into dimensions of your life that you don’t usually think about?

These aren’t only asked by those involved in the synagogue community; they are also questions people of other faith traditions ask.  Just go to a recent blog post on The Alban Institute’s website, authored by Graham Standish, who asks: “Why Do We Worship The Way We Always Have Worshiped When People Keep Changing?” For many Americans raised and educated in our primarily secular culture, prayer is tough, regardless of your their faith tradition.

I encourage you to read the Standish’s full post and the comments on it. Here are some thought-provoking excerpts:

Prayer, as currently presented, works for some people. And we know that good music, participation, less Hebrew or more Hebrew (depending upon the makeup of the congregation), a little meditation, teaching the meaning and the melodies—these tactics can enrich prayer, but they mask Standish’s question, “Do people encounter the Holy in our worship services?”

While we have some time before Rosh ha-Shanah, please answer: “Do people encounter the Holy in our worship services?” What can you do so that your congregation can answer this question with a resounding “Yes”?

Thanks, in advance, for your reflections,

Rabbi Hayim Herring

flickr.com trodel

Assess All Year ‘Round!

Posted on: September 4th, 2009 by Hayim Herring No Comments

It’s hard to believe it, but Rosh ha-Shanah is closing in already! In the weeks leading up to the yamim noraim, the Jewish High Holy Days, we’re supposed to be especially introspective. We’re to take stock of the year and measure ourselves not against someone else—but against the better selves we can be. (Actually, according to Jewish tradition, we’re supposed to conduct a spiritual check-up at the end of each day!) And, as we get older, we don’t only take stock of the single year that has passed. We use the time to do a more complete assessment of our lives.

I didn’t intentionally plan to be writing about assessment during this season, but I’m glad that this topic will be the focus of my postings during this time when many of us are engaged in personal self-reflection. For as it’s supposed to go for the individual person—self-examination in small and large increments—so, too, should it go for an organization. Organizations which don’t regularly practice assessment are unlikely to make it into the future. Assessment, which is another form of organizational learning, is essential to growth.

Yet, in the many years in which I’ve worked work with synagogues, I don’t recall ever being contacted about a question relating to assessment.  It simply hasn’t made it onto the list of critical capacities that synagogues should possess.

Why should assessment stand at the heart of congregational life? Because synagogue leaders, who work hard to secure resources that make congregations vital, can learn whether these resources are having their intended impact. Applying an essential insight of Peter Drucker, the founding father of non-profit management, assessment can tell synagogues if they’re changing Jewish lives and changing the Jewish community in ways which are consistent with their mission. Assessment doesn’t only drive excellence; it drives the very purpose and meaning of Jewish existence.

Here’s where I can use your help in providing information:
1. If you have an experience involving assessment, please share it.
2. What would make you want to learn more about making ongoing assessment a part of your congregational culture?

Thanks and a shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Hayim Herring

And the Results Are…Your Suggestions for High Holy Day Sermon Topics

Posted on: August 26th, 2009 by Hayim Herring No Comments

I promised that I would report back on the recommended sermon topics for this Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur. In no special order and with a little editing, here they are:

Additionally, here are a few other ideas I’ve seen floating around various list serves:

And, Rabbi Kerry Olitzky suggests that rabbis should avoid speaking about:

I hope that the words you hear (or speak) will have the power to help close the gap between our current actions and our aspirations for the new year.

L’shanah Tovah,

Rabbi Hayim Herring

What’s the most important sermon for rabbis to give this new year? Add your opinion!

Posted on: August 20th, 2009 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Today is Rosh Chodesh Elul, the beginning of a month-long, intensive period of spiritual preparation for Rosh ha-Shanah. If you’re a rabbi, you probably have some good ideas by now about what your sermon ideas will be on Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur. But, speaking from experience, there’s still time for one or two more to make it into your sermon. If you’re a congregant, in a few weeks, you might be asking, “What is the rabbi going to speak about this year?”

The sanctuary or chapel may not be so full during weekly Shabbat services, but it’s packed on these holidays. Rabbis have an annual opportunity to reach large numbers of their congregants during these days. One message may not change a life, but it can draw people into greater Jewish involvement—or, it can move them further from it. So, rabbis especially feel the weight of the responsibility and opportunity to reach for deep impact with their sermons at this time, and congregants who primarily come to services infrequently hope for words that are meaningful and relevant for them.

So, here are two timely questions for readers of Tools for Shuls:

  1. What issues are most important for rabbis to address this year in their Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur sermons?
  2. What topics should they avoid?

Whether you’re a rabbi or a congregant, please contribute your ideas. I’ll share the responses in the next post, which will appear this coming Monday.

Thanks!

Rabbi Herring