Posts Tagged ‘Synagogues’


Don’t Mistake Old for Obsolete

Posted on: August 28th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments



Certain words can evoke powerful emotionally biased images, but our mental perceptions of these words are often far from their realities. For example, not long ago, we thought of people with special needs as “disabled,” thereby justifying how we maintained barriers that distanced ourselves from them. Labeling people as “disabled” masked their abilities, but today because of greater inclusion and a change in language to special needs, we’re all the much richer as a community.


Here’s another word than can evoke the kind of dread that often makes us erect emotional walls around people: cancer. Talk with people who have been diagnosed with cancer or some other life threatening disease, and you’ll often hear how their friends cease connecting with them. It’s as if the word “cancer” still conjures up a picture of an imminently terminally ill person lying in a hospital bed, even though that person may live a meaningful life for months and years. Our images of words lag behind their realities because of major changes in technology, medicine and societal values. And that’s equally true of the world “old.”


“Old”-frail, chronically ill, forgetful, dependent, disoriented and declining… sadly, that is experience of some of our elderly population. A line in a prominent prayer recited on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur addresses this portion of the elderly population: “(God), do not cast us out when we are old, do not abandon us when our strength fails.” When you’ve lived a long life, it’s cruel to be metaphorically placed on a shelf and only dusted off from time to time like some museum relic.


מפני שיבה תקום

A sign in Israel quoting Leviticus 19:32 stating that one should give up their seat for the elderly.


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.



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.



Got Shabbat? Share Your Story!

Posted on: June 5th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments


Got Shabbat? Share Your Story!


I’ve always felt that Shabbat enabled me to take a vacation every week without ever having to pack. True, I have to make the bed and there’s no room service (but thanks to my wife, the food is superior to anything that I can find elsewhere!). But on Shabbat, I have a chance to mentally decompress from work, socially reconnect with friends and spiritually recharge through study and prayer.


Over the years, the most challenging part of Shabbat for me has been finding a consistently meaningful prayer community. Part of the reason has to do with my own relationship to prayer, while part of it has to do with the reality that services often don’t catalyze that feeling of transcendence that I seek. And I know that I’m not alone in having this reaction.


But the good news is that things have changed and are continuing to evolve! The variety of spiritually rich Shabbat communities in reinvented established synagogues, start up minyanim and newly formed congregations have blossomed. New kinds of liturgy, fresh music, meditation, soulful chanting and greater participation are helping to reawaken Shabbat services in some locations.


I’m writing an article for Contact Magazine about the creative landscape of Shabbat celebration. So please let me know how Shabbat is celebrated in your congregation or minyan, or other community that you’ve been to and enjoyed. What contemporary approaches does your community bring to this age-old experience? How much instrumentation is in your services? Is there anything new that you’re doing liturgically? And what is it that you would like to experience on Shabbat that is currently missing?


Please share your experiences and forward this link to one other person, requesting that he or she responds. You have a chance to share, learn and maybe make a difference for your Shabbat. In addition to responses posted on my blog, I’ll let you know when my article appears. Thanks for your insights!





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?



Do Synagogue Movements (Except for Chabad) Know What They Really Sell?

Posted on: April 24th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments


My friend and colleague, Dr. Jim Schreier, sent me a link to an article called, “The Only Thing Apple Really Sells,” that inspired the content of this post. The gist of the article is that Apple does not sell hardware, software or cloud-based solutions. Rather, Apple sells an ecosystem. Their products and services are, “one-way tickets to platform archipelagos, to fiercely guarded fiefdoms where everything works in harmony within walls that are high and strong. And the longer you’re inside, the harder it is to leave.” The author of the article goes on to say, “That’s (an ecosystem) the endgame. An ecosystem so interconnected, entwined so tightly, that you can’t leave even if you wanted to. It’s not hardware, or software. It’s a family of products, apps, services, and accessories with the gravitational pull of a black hole. And Apple, today, simply does it better than anybody else.”


Do denominational synagogue lay and professional leaders understand that they are really selling a Jewish ecosystem? Or, do they fall into the understandable default position of selling “membership” (a product). (more…)

Incomprehensible: My Reaction to Cyd Weissman’s Blog Post

Posted on: March 11th, 2013 by Hayim Herring


I read a blog post by a friend and very talented colleague of mine, Cyd Weissman, titled, “Surprisingly East to Quit My Synagogue” with disbelief. Perhaps I could have understood the response of her clergy if it was 2000 and not 2013. But while I try to be respectful of my fellow klei kodesh (clergy), their response to Cyd’s request is incomprehensible to me. And I say this as a former congregational rabbi who, already in the mid-1980s, was working in congregation that already had multiple happenings on Shabbat morning.


I’m only going to list three reasons why I find their response so baffling: (more…)

Incomprehensible: My Reaction to Cyd Weissman’s Blog Post

Posted on: March 11th, 2013 by Hayim Herring

I read a blog post by a friend and very talented colleague of mine, Cyd Weissman, titled, “Surprisingly East to Quit My Synagogue” with disbelief. Perhaps I could have understood the response of her clergy if it was 2000 and not 2013. But while I try to be respectful of my fellow klei kodesh (clergy), their response to Cyd’s request is incomprehensible to me. And I say this as a former congregational rabbi who, already in the mid-1980s, was working in congregation that already had multiple happenings on Shabbat morning.

I’m only going to list three reasons why I find their response so baffling:

I hope that the leadership of the congregation will reconsider its stance.  I am sure that their efforts where well intentioned, but their logic is flawed.

More Than Cosmetic Changes On the Way

Posted on: February 11th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments
More Than Cosmetic Changes On the Way

photo from:

My father was recently hospitalized with a serious infection (and is thankfully much better). Ever the cheerful spirit, he told me the following joke (sorry, Dad – I’m taking a few liberties).


A man became very ill, very suddenly, and was rushed to the hospital. Tragically, the doctors were unable to save him and he died. His soul went to heaven, and pleaded before God that his time shouldn’t have come yet. He had too many things left to do. God listened to his arguments and said, “Okay – you’re going to live another 25 years and 8 months. Back to earth you go!”


The man recovered fully and when he left the hospital, decided that he was really going to live this time around! First, he went to a hair stylist and dyed his gray hair black. Then, he had Botox injections to remove the wrinkles from his forehead. Finally, he decided that he was going to have the nose job that he always wanted. As he was walking out of the plastic surgeon’s office, he stepped off the curb and was hit by a bus. He was killed immediately and his soul went back to heaven. The man was distraught, and demanded to know why God had ended his life after he was promised another 25 years and 8 months. God turned to the man and said, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t recognize you!”


When I started Herring Consulting Network several years ago, I had a general idea about what I hoped to be doing. Over the past couple of years, with new experiences and new training, I have a much more clear direction. During the next several months, in addition to completing a resource guide and toolkit for Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today, I will be devoting time to revamping my website to reflect a more focused, future-oriented approach that I’d like to bring to congregations and Jewish organizations. It’s time for us to get ahead of the curve instead of playing “catch up” to yesterday’s innovations.


Because of some time pressures, I’m going to take a break from blogging. When I return, you’ll still recognize Herring Consulting Network, but you’ll also see the fruits of my planning for how to continue to help synagogues, organizations and nonprofits provide greater relevance and impact into the future. Look for a new look-and a new direction!

The Hoagie Generation

Posted on: August 22nd, 2012 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Recently, some of my close friends and I have been talking about a new iteration of an older phenomenon. In 1981, Dorothy Miller coined the term the sandwich generation to describe middle-aged individuals who were taking care of older parents and younger children. They were sandwiched in between two generations. Perhaps it’s time to rename this phenomenon the hoagie generation. Hoagies are longer than sandwiches, and with adolescence lasting longer and parents living much longer, the image of a sandwich, with regular size slices of bread, misses a change in this phenomenon.

One of the largest growing populations is the old elderly. Additionally, a new understanding of adolescence suggests that it goes well into the mid-20’s. That means that if you are currently a member of the Boomer generation, you can be parenting your parents who are easily in their 80s and older, while still parenting older adolescent children. Adolescence lasts longer, parents live longer and therefore the sandwich resembles more of a hoagie roll that sandwich bread in terms of length.

Those of us who are in the middle recognize the difficulty of children struggling to acquire independence in a new economic reality. At the same time, we can identify with the frailties of our parents, as we begin to experience some early signals. Their task is to safely keep their independence. Government alone can’t meet the challenges of each of these generations. Rather, this is the kind of situation that is well suited for a congregational community. Congregations have the potential to be multigenerational communities. They can give dignity to the elderly, faith to younger generations that they will come through this economic storm and support to those in the middle. Additionally, they provide an opportunity for generations to celebrate transitions in time, marked by lifecycle events and holidays.

With the beginning of the new Hebrew month of Elul, it means that the Jewish New Year is just around the corner. At services, all three generations will be well represented. If you’re at services, take a look around at the crowd. And think about the opportunity that synagogues have to address these kinds of complex issues.