Posts Tagged ‘Synagogues’

 

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.

Special for Blog Readers

Use the promotional code HCNBLOG to receive free registration.

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

Posted on: July 26th, 2012 by Hayim Herring No Comments

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 www.darimonline.org/blog/tomorrows-synagogue-today-insights-author. 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 No Comments

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

Valuing Evaluation: How Shared Rabbi-Board Reviews Foster Effective Congregations

Posted on: July 5th, 2012 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Valuing Evaluation: How Shared Rabbi-Board Reviews Foster Effective Congregations

Photo from: Horia Varlan, on Flickr

I’m continuing to think about the nature of performance reviews as I did in my last post and will hopefully begin conducting some research about it several months from now. A number of you have already reached out to me with suggestions and stories-thank you! Here are some additional thoughts and if you have some feedback, please let me know. Also, while these posts have been about rabbis and boards, many of the ideas apply to educators, cantors, program directors-basically, everyone who is a paid “professional.”

Congregations are in the throes of disruptive change. Especially during such fundamental upheavals, lay and professional leaders express anxiety about the meaning and future of their congregations. This anxiety is neither inherently destructive nor instructive. It all depends upon how congregational leaders respond to it.

As a generalized pervasive state, anxiety erodes morale, breeds defensiveness and often leads to damaging clergy evaluations. In an atmosphere of negative anxiety, lay leaders can use a performance evaluation as a blunt object to punish clergy for their perceived inability to meet goals that are implicit, unrealistic or unshared. A process where the rabbi alone is reviewed, and not the board, is already fundamentally flawed, as it communicates that the board is not responsible for the success of the congregation.

Conversely, anxiety can stimulate a collaborative effort of clergy and lay leaders to open a real conversation about the essence of what it means to be a congregation. The strong undertow of congregational activity can sometimes pull congregations away from their fundamental work. Healthy performance reviews enable congregations to correct their course. They become a regularly calendared time when congregational leaders and staff collaboratively assess their mission and vision, and accordingly realign goals, activities and governance. Equally important, evaluations are the time to ask if the congregations stated values are alive at all levels in the congregation. Do interpersonal relationships and interactions feel coldly corporate or genuinely caring?

These authentic conversations are challenging—but, can be incredibly enriching. They are not only about “accountability,” but about gaining insight, learning and applying that knowledge going forward. They generate the powerful energy that rabbis and volunteers experience when they know that they are doing holy work. In this scenario, the review process becomes a time for celebration of past achievement and inspiration for future accomplishments.

It’s summertime-and hopefully you have a little more downtime. If you’re a rabbi or volunteer leader, and you don’t like the way evaluations are handled or if you don’t have an evaluation process now is the time to start making changes. See what resources your denominational movement has available. Talk to your peers in other congregations about ideas. But most of all make sure that you ask questions that matter. If the questions leave you feeling like you’re at your annual physical examination, then don’t matter for the review process and you can ask them at another time. But if they relate to your essential purpose and generate energy, they probably matter!

Downsize Institutions and Upsize Imagination

Posted on: June 4th, 2012 by Hayim Herring No Comments
Creative brainstorming

Photo: opensourceway, on Flickr

Kudos to Dr. Stephen Windmueller for his piece last week in eJewishphilanthropy, entitled to the unfolding of the third Jewish revolution. Windmueller provides us with a rich framework for analyzing major historical turning points in Jewish communal life, including the one that we’re experiencing now. I want to focus on one of his points – the one that preoccupies many in Jewish communal life today.

Money: who isn’t concerned about having sufficient financial resources to maintain or launch high-quality programs, needed services or simply pay for administrative overhead? Windmueller says it best when he writes, “the American Jewish system is a $9.7 billion annual enterprise that cannot be sustained as a result of the current economic realities.” (We should ask if it should be maintained, but that’s another issue!) It is no surprise that many of our institutions are being downsized. That’s a tough reality for those who are experiencing it.

Precisely because we have to downsize our institutions, we have to upsize our imaginations. All the money in the world wouldn’t solve many of our challenges if we continued to do things in the same way. So this transition can challenge us to think about how to do critical work differently and better. It can also help us prioritize the issues that will have the greatest impact so that we can focus on them and sunset less essential activities.

Upsizing our imagination is one strategy for making our way through the transition successfully. Another is embracing the idea that it is possible today to do more with less in some cases. And that’s a fact that is easy to forget in the current economic environment. For example, it used to take thousands of dollars to build a quality website. Today, a pre-teen can build a website without effort. When we wanted access to a book or periodical, we used to have to spend time going to the library. Today, the library is at our fingertips. One of the ways to do more with less is to fully exploit the advantages of time and cost savings that technologies enable.

I don’t want to minimize the pain that many are feeling as our Jewish community undergoes a major revolution. While this transition may cause momentary paralysis, I hope that it will ultimately energize us as we move further into the 21st-century.

Rabbi Hayim Herring

Introducing Hayim’s Blog (Formerly “Tools for Shuls”) + Special Offer!

Posted on: July 25th, 2011 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Image courtesy of yourdictionary.com

I’m incredibly excited to launch my new blog!  I placed blogging on hold so that I could focus more attention on my book and building my business.  And, I came to recognize that my Tools for Shuls blog was now too narrowly focused.

So much has changed in the Jewish world since I first started blogging a couple of years ago! The economic recession’s impact on the Jewish community, the fractured relationship between parts of the American Jewish community and Israel, the level of civil discussion within our own Jewish community-just to name a few!  “Tools for Shuls” inaccurately suggested by its title that some quick fixes in synagogues could address these issues, so resetting my blog, while launching the new website for the Herring Consulting Network, seemed timely.

If you’ve been a reader of this blog, what can you expect to see that’s different? And for those who are new, what is this blog all about? The general focus is on developing leaders for the synagogue, Jewish communal and non-profit world who want to create the future that they hope to see, instead of waiting for the future to happen to them. For me, that’s a good working definition of leaders: people who dream big about tomorrow and create their tomorrows today.

You can expect two posts approximately every 10 days. One will relate to aspects of leadership. The other will ask you to comment on trends and issues related to your synagogue or organization. I envision the blog as a space for collaboration, where people can exchange ideas and experiences about leading organizations, and where they can pose questions to a diverse audience. So let’s start the conversation by asking:

Special limited offer:
All those who comment on this week’s question will be entered into a drawing for a free consulting session!*  There will be three different levels awarded:  One three-hour session, one two-hour session, and one one-hour session.  The drawing will take place on August 17, 2011, and winners will be notified via email.  So go ahead, share your responses by commenting below and you might win!

I look forward to resuming the conversation with you.

B’shalom,

Rabbi Hayim Herring

 

*Consulting sessions will be given via conference call and will be scheduled according to Rabbi Herring’s availability.  Sessions are non-transferable and not redeemable for any cash value.

Making Better Use of Jewish Real Estate: Inspired by the Past

Posted on: March 25th, 2010 by Hayim Herring No Comments
I’m in Jerusalem at the moment and, while doing some touring in the Old City, I visited the site of the 4 Sefardic synagogues (see the bottom of the map). In this relatively small space, there are 4 ancient synagogues in one structure. Several of them are still functional, too. As I wasn’t there during prayer services, I can’t tell you how much interaction each of the different communities have with one another. But this ancient space inspired me to think about how we might use Jewish physical spaces more creatively, especially in these tight economic times.
The conventional wisdom is that the Jewish community has more real estate than it needs. In some geographical regions, especially in areas which have declining or mobile Jewish populations, the conventional wisdom is probably correct. Buildings are costly to maintain and are a drag on synagogue and organizational budgets. Despite this reality, people often feel strong attachments to physical space, because they are bound up with memories of the passage of time and milestone events. For others, it’s about flexing their bricks and mortar machismo, as in the “my building is better than your building” attitude. Still, others have difficulty disentangling how you can have a thriving community without a building.
The good news is that like this ancient space of the 4 Sefardic synagogues, I’m hearing more stories of organizations sharing space: synagogues of different denominations moving into one space, multiple organizations sharing one building, and a mix of Jewish and secular organizations sharing space.
The next step, which a few of these organizations are taking, is examining together how to create new possibilities of programming, administration and human and capital resource development. This is a welcome phenomenon and offers non-profits ways to think about financial savings and better service at the same time.
In the next week, I’ll be writing about the issue of collaborations, mergers and other strategies for achieving these goals. (If you want to read about this topic now, you can go to a story covered in eJewishphilanthropy.) So here’s a question that I can use your help with: what examples of creatively sharing space do you know of? Where in your community do you see potential for doing so?
Thanks for growing this area of knowledge and to my Jewish readers, I wish you a meaningful Passover holiday (chag sameach).
Rabbi Hayim Herring

I’m in Jerusalem at the moment and, while doing some touring in the Old City, I visited the site of the 4 Sefardic synagogues (see the bottom of the map). In this relatively small space, there are 4 ancient synagogues in one structure. Several of them are still functional, too. As I wasn’t there during prayer services, I can’t tell you how much interaction each of the different communities have with one another. But this ancient space inspired me to think about how we might use Jewish physical spaces more creatively, especially in these tight economic times.

The conventional wisdom is that the Jewish community has more real estate than it needs. In some geographical regions, especially in areas which have declining or mobile Jewish populations, the conventional wisdom is probably correct. Buildings are costly to maintain and are a drag on synagogue and organizational budgets. Despite this reality, people often feel strong attachments to physical space, because they are bound up with memories of the passage of time and milestone events. For others, it’s about flexing their bricks and mortar machismo, as in the “my building is better than your building” attitude. Still, others have difficulty disentangling how you can have a thriving community without a building.

The good news is that like this ancient space of the 4 Sefardic synagogues, I’m hearing more stories of organizations sharing space: synagogues of different denominations moving into one space, multiple organizations sharing one building, and a mix of Jewish and secular organizations sharing space.

The next step, which a few of these organizations are taking, is examining together how to create new possibilities of programming, administration and human and capital resource development. This is a welcome phenomenon and offers nonprofits ways to think about financial savings and better service at the same time.

In the next week, I’ll be writing about the issue of collaborations, mergers and other strategies for achieving these goals. (If you want to read about this topic now, you can go to a story covered in eJewishphilanthropy.com.) So here’s a question that I can use your help with: what examples of creatively sharing space do you know of? Where in your community do you see potential for doing so?

Thanks for growing this area of knowledge and to my Jewish readers, I wish you a meaningful Passover holiday (chag sameach).

Rabbi Hayim Herring

Boards Gone Wild or Why Organizational Values Matter!

Posted on: February 22nd, 2010 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Mission, vision, values….sometimes this last item—values—is omitted from an organization’s foundational documents. Speaking directly, this is a mistake. I say this definitively because I’ve attended too many meetings in synagogues and other Jewish organizations that desperately needed some guidance in Jewish values.

Of course, I’ve also worked with many committees and boards marked by thoughtfulness, caring, dedication to the work, sensitivity and decency. I don’t want to minimize these experiences, which draw in many others to become volunteers for Jewish organizations. But I’ve also lost count of the number of times of people who were great volunteers left a synagogue because it actually threatened their positive, spiritual feelings.

Sad to say, I’ve heard or seen demeaning speech, hypocrisy, selfish behavior, verbally bullying, shouting and I am appalled to admit—an out-of-control individual hurl an object at another person (more than once). In beginning my consultancy practice, I’ve even been warned by caring colleagues to make sure to develop some portion of my clientele outside of the Jewish community because they find it too emotionally difficult to work exclusively within the Jewish community.

That’s why I advocate for groups creating a values statement. A values statement is a list of ideals to which anyone involved in an organization agrees to commit. It is a purposeful declaration of how people in the organization will treat one another and represent themselves to the broader public in carrying out their work. What are some of the typical statements that appear on those organizations which have a statement of values?

While non-sectarian organizations will likely exclude the first value, they still capture its major implications in the second.

As with mission and vision statements, so go values statements: if they aren’t regularly referenced, they won’t influence the culture of the organization. But when they are, and when people are held accountable for their behavior when a value is modeled or violated, others will learn that values aren’t mere organizational window dressing.

Does your organization have a values statement? Would you please share it with us on this blog or send us a link to an electronic copy? What is your experience with values statements—have they helped to maintain civility in the way that your church, synagogue or organization operates?

Thanks for sharing your experience!

Rabbi Hayim Herring

Donors: To Publicly Recognize or Not to Publicly Recognize?

Posted on: January 20th, 2010 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Difficult issues, those which involve competing values, can be argued persuasively from either point of view. In this post, I want to raise one of those issues: should congregations specially recognize donors who contribute significant funds or should all financial gifts be treated equally? In the former case, there are many different forms of public recognition, ranging from permanent naming opportunities to publicity in a synagogue publication. In the latter case, where all gifts are treated equally, that would mean that donations of any amount are either recognized the same way or not recognized at all. 

When it comes to giving philanthropy or tzedakah to a needy person, an authoritative Jewish source ranks completely anonymous giving—where neither the donor nor the recipient know one another—as one of the highest forms of philanthropy/ tzedakah (Rambam, Mishneh Torah Hilkhot Tzedakah 10:7-14). Yet, while this source preferences anonymous giving, it doesn’t dismiss the value of giving in cases where the donor knows who the recipient is, the recipient knows who the donor is, or in which they both know who is the giver and who is the receiver. The issue at stake is preserving the dignity of the recipient. Clearly, when the donor is at arm’s length from the recipient, the recipient’s dignity is better-respected. But even if this condition can’t be met, giving tzedakah is still considered a noble and required act. And this is one of the sources that has more generally influenced the way in which people should ideally donate money, if not anonymously, then at least quietly.

Ideally, synagogue leaders try to embody the highest level of values. While in most of the synagogues that I know the preferred notion of anonymous giving is preferable, publicly recognizing donors is more practical.  Some of the arguments against public recognition are:

On the other hand, there are strong arguments in favor of public recognition of significant gifts:

I know colleagues who have educated their volunteer leaders about not specially acknowledging major contributions to their synagogues. But they are in the minority. While we’re trying to puzzle through these tough financial times and we’re assessing and revising what the new “normal” is in giving, what do you think about this issue? Should congregations acknowledge major gifts, or avoid doing so? Also, share your stories about how congregations have made this decision.

Thanks for helping to create a rich discussion (pun intended).

Rabbi Hayim Herring

Where’s the Game Changer in Fundraising?

Posted on: January 10th, 2010 by Hayim Herring No Comments

The proliferation of social media tools has fundamentally changed organizations. (Not all organizations have grasped this reality!) Specifically, sites like Google, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr have enabled and empowered individuals to deeply influence organizations-to highlight their relevance or their superfluity, to engage with them or to bypass them. (For more about this, see http://tinyurl.com/n7sx7e). Individuals can organize in, through, around and across organizations in ways which were unimaginable only a decade ago.

While I’m not a professional fundraiser, my impression is that non-profit fundraising has not caught up with the Web 2.0 era. And there’s special opportunity for churches and synagogues to benefit from social media tools. Even in this environment, where public charities have seen a decline, the one sector that hasn’t felt this impact relative to other causes is religion (http://tinyurl.com/m889b8 ). True, many faith-based organizations allow members and supporters to donate funds online. They may even announce special campaigns and provide updates on them through their websites, Twitter and Facebook. Maybe some are even using video testimonials to promote fund development. But, the underlying methods of fund development appear to have remained the same: dues for synagogues and donations for churches, special appeals or campaigns, endowments and bequests, annual fundraisers, etc.

What would be some game changers for congregations?
• Within the mission of the congregation, allowing groups or individuals within congregations to determine what they want to contribute to (perhaps once a minimum amount of funds was raised for operations).
• Inviting people who are not members to financially support a cause in which they believe.
• Creating a flash fundraising campaign to support an emergency need (like a flash mob) and then disbanding when the goal is met.
• Providing congregants with opportunities all-year long to offer ideas about how to maintain the financial health of the congregation.
• Adding an on-line component to all ongoing fundraising activities.
• Involving those who are more tech-savvy in discussions about social media fund development.

Maybe I’m off-base, but it seems like we’re still at the stage where we’re using unconventional tools in conventional ways when it comes to fundraising. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one!

Rabbi Hayim Herring, PhD