Posts Tagged ‘synagogue change’


From Network Judaism to Platform Judaism

Posted on: October 8th, 2013 by Hayim Herring



In 2000, I wrote a paper called Network Judaism, later published in 2001. MySpace was launched in August 2003 and Facebook in February 2004. While not long ago at all, it’s hard to recall that social media platforms didn’t exist. But if you were tracking possible significant trends carefully, you could anticipate the potential emergence of the networked organization. What no one was able to grasp was how social media sites would be enable societal changes of major magnitude.


Today, here are a few stats on some popular social media platforms:

Facebook-1.15 billion registered users

Flickr -87 million users, 8 billion photos

Pandora – 200 million registered users

Twitter – 500 million registered

Word Press – 66 million blogs

Angie’s list – 2 million users

Yelp – 12 million users per day

YouTube-500 million visits per day


The numbers tell a story of how rapidly socially media sites have been adopted and how embedded they are in our lives. Yet, synagogues, federations and other historic organizations have not shifted their structures to enable themselves to become platforms for people to connect socially, spiritually, philanthropically and educationally.


As we are now in the networked era, Jewish organizations need to shift their paradigms to a platform model. Otherwise, the great the work that many are doing around making Judaism more relevant, inspirational, meaning-saturated and beautiful will be inhibited or fail. Unlike many Jewish start up organizations that have blossomed over the last ten years, established Jewish organizations need Platform Judaism, or more accurately, platform Jewish structures.


What is an organizational platform (and I can highlight only a few dimensions in this space)? A platform is an enabling space for people to interact and act upon issues. An organization that becomes a platform enables individuals to self direct their Jewish choices and express their Jewish values within the organization’s mission. That is a radical shift from organizational leaders directing people how, when, where, why and with whom to be Jewish- in other words, the dominant paradigm of more established Jewish organizations and synagogues!


Becoming a platform is also a mindset. It means embracing the desire of individuals to co-create their experiences, opt in and opt out of Jewish life, do new things and old things in new ways-of course, within the organization’s mission. This mindset operates within the building, outside of the building, on the website, and anywhere else. It also requires a much more creative and intentional use of technologies to tell individual stories and organizational stories and a redefinition of professional and volunteer leaders’ roles, new governance models and even new professional and volunteer positions.


Most critically, restructuring as a platform requires a relentless focus on a compelling mission and purpose. When organizations can clearly define their purpose, they have the opportunity to help individuals activate their latent hunger for community, experientially educate them about the difference between a discrete cause and an enduring commitment and provide opportunities for deeper relationships that transcend Facebook-type “connections.”


Talking about organizational structure isn’t sexy. But the payoff for paying attention to it is potentially huge, enabling:


In part, I wrote my book, Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today. Creating Vibrant Centers of Jewish Life, to stimulate thinking around the urgency for organizations to move to a platform model. Within about two weeks, UJA-Federation of New York’s Synergy Department and the Alban Institute will be releasing a study and action guide to help synagogues and organizations practically apply the concepts of Platform Judaism, one of the central concept in Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today, to their real world settings. Then, several weeks later, the Alban Institute will be publishing a companion volume to Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today, with a deeper discussion of some of the core concepts of the book and even more practical resources. If you’ve registered for ongoing information, you’ll learn how you can access these new resources-one of which will be downloadable for free. If you haven’t, you can sign up here.


And in October, I’ll be presenting and facilitating number of sessions in Baltimore at United Synagogue’s Centennial; in Westchester, Manhattan and Long Island through UJA-Federation of New York; and the Rockland County Federation’s Rockland Jewish (Synagogue) Initiative. You can click here for more details on these presentations and if they’re in your area and open to the public, I hope that you’ll participate. Looking forward to working together with you!


Crossed posted on eJewishphilanthropy in a modified form.



Mission: Impossible or Possible?

Posted on: February 5th, 2010 by Hayim Herring

It’s legitimate to ask the question, “Why does a congregation need to define its mission?” After all, shouldn’t a congregation’s mission be “to live the word of Torah/Scripture in the world?” On a basic level, that’s true.  But if the mission of the congregation is so amorphous, it will resemble an amoeba trying to move in different directions at the same time.

I like the definition that Rabbi David Teutsch uses in his book, Making a Difference.  A Guide to Jewish Leadership and Not-for-Profit Management.  He writes, “…a strong organization articulates both articulates a picture of the world it is attempting to create and its own particular role in creating it (p.81). Any mission answers the question, why do you exist as an organization?  You can also think of a mission statement as a tombstone.  If your congregation was to leave this world, what epitaph would people write about it?

The skepticism about the need for a clear mission may be related to bad experiences in trying to craft one.  Or, it may reflect the reality that once the work of defining the congregation’s mission is complete, no one really seems to use it.  However, defining and periodically refining your mission can be incredibly powerful for your congregation.

How many times has someone approached congregational leaders with a “good idea,” and was even willing to back it with resources?  If you don’t have a clearly defined mission, you may be tempted to agree to it because of the allure of funding. But that’s a scenario which you will wind up regretting.  Why? Because no major organizational decision should be taken unless it is aligned with your organization’s mission. One of the essential tasks of senior professional and volunteer leaders is to exist in a way that is always faithful to its mission.  With that kind of consistency, your mission will become a driving force for maximizing the impact that you are congregation will have in the world.

Here are some examples of mission statements that can really serve as clear guides to organizational purpose:

What has your experience been with congregational mission statements? Also—I’d love you to submit what you think is an exemplary organizational mission statement. Can’t wait to hear from you!

Rabbi Hayim Herring, President, Herring Consulting Network

photo from, smallritual

Schools: A Case Study in Change for Shuls

Posted on: October 23rd, 2009 by Hayim Herring

I was recently at a favorite coffee shop in Minneapolis.  When I went to pay the bill, there was a post-it note attached to a bowl which had some pennies in it.  The note read, “If you fear change, leave it here.” Given the rapid pace of change in our lives today, I sometimes wish I had a bowl into which I could place my fears about change! But whatever anxieties I have are irrelevant, because it seems that even the most storied institutions we’ve taken for granted are experiencing change.

In fact, I’ve been reading about the next area of great change — higher education– because it has an indirect bearing on synagogues. The halls of the Academy share much in common with the walls of the synagogue.  The Academy has values and traditions.  It also has its own rituals and rewards.  It’s filled with books and learning and prides itself on research and teaching that advances knowledge and changes civilization for the better. Like synagogues, its work takes place in the community and even after graduation (think bar and bat mitzvah and confirmation,) it gives people a chance to continue that relationship through an alumni association. On the financial side, its biggest expenses are capital and staff requirements.

But all of that is starting to change. (I am not making a value judgment about these changes but simply reporting about them.) Many traditional bricks and mortar colleges already offer online classrooms.  Online learning has finally reached the point where it can be delivered with quality. But a traditional university education is very costly compared with earning an online degree.  For better and for worse, as online universities achieve critical mass, students are likely to migrate from the “bricks and mortar” to the “bytes and clicks” environment.

The “better” part of this equation is that higher education will be accessible to more people, while the “worse” part is that an online education cannot account for all of the learning that takes place outside of a classroom.

There may be an even more radical change in the making. It’s not hard to envision a day when students will demand to study with the best professors in their field, whether or not they teach at the university in which they are enrolled.  In other words, they will demand the right to truly customize their education and mix and match courses from a variety of institutions.

We watched the economics of the marketplace force similar changes with other enduring institutions like newspapers, libraries and entertainment.  Now, higher education is the new frontier (and, to my personal dismay, there is a dramatic increase in the number of high school students who will graduate with online degrees, too.)

I’d like to hear your reaction to this post. What other similarities do you see between higher education and institutional religion as found in the synagogue?  What do you think we might be able to learn about the synagogue life from the changes in the Academy?

Thanks and I look forward to hearing from you.

Rabbi Hayim Herring

Renewal Efforts: Synagogue Friend or Foe?

Posted on: June 11th, 2009 by Hayim Herring

Rather than focusing on a particular organizational topic this week, I wanted to make sure you’ve seen a fascinating online debate about synagogue renewal efforts.

It was initiated by a post by Rabbi Gerald Skolnik on Synagogue 3000’s Synablog entitled Synagogue 3000: A Concurring Dissent; Or, Of Babies and Bathwater.  Rabbi Skolnik first describes his Orthodox childhood and education and his journey to becoming a Conservative Rabbi. 

Rabbi Skolnik writes:

It is from this vantage point that I approach the work of Synagogue 3000, STAR, and similar organizations dedicated to the re-creation and re-vitalization of the American synagogue. I understand the challenge at hand. I work with those “Jews in the pews” (or not in the pews!) every day, and know the deep sense of alienation that so many of them feel from traditional synagogue worship and ritual. They are profoundly disconnected from that world of Jewish practice that I live, breathe, and so value. But I have a nagging feeling that, though I understand the goals of organizations like Synagogue 3000 and appreciate what they are trying to accomplish, re-creating the synagogue and its worship is, at its core, a flawed enterprise. That’s why I’ve called this piece a “concurring dissent:” an oxymoron if ever there was one. I agree with the problem, but I’m uncomfortable with the solution. We are changing the davening to suit the daveners, and in so doing, we are losing something precious and irretrievable.

STAR is mentioned specifically in the post and I’ve responded fully to Rabbi Skolnik’s comments. Here’s an excerpt:

I’ve offered to meet with Rabbi Skolnik in Minneapolis or New York to explore the rich, independent data we’ve gathered over the years which tell a story of positive impact that our initiatives have had on congregations of all denominations across North America.  We have a good grasp on what has been successful and what has not, and we think that it’s important to have conversations with others who share our passion for Jewish life and the synagogue which are informed both by feeling and fact. 

We are inspired by the rabbis and synagogues with whom we work – their willingness to hold on to two goals simultaneously: 

These goals can be compatible.

We encourage you to take a few minutes to weigh in on these issues.  Read the Synablog post and comments.

Rabbi Hayim Herring