Posts Tagged ‘volunteer’


Collaborate, Communicate, Connect

Posted on: November 7th, 2013 by Hayim Herring


New, Free, Hands-on Workbook for Synagogues


I’ve generally heard agreement among synagogue and federation leaders that congregational collaboration is a valuable endeavor. Collaboration can lead to elimination of redundant services, cost savings, better programs, etc. So, who would argue against it? If you’ve actually planned, implemented and helped sustain collaborative synagogue efforts, you know how beneficial they are—and also how much effort you have to invest and maintain in them order to make them work!


synergy - UJA Federation - Hayim HerringThat’s why I’m happy to introduce you to another resource that provides you with concrete, practical tools to support your efforts around collaboration, and strategies to increase communications, connections and meaning in your congregation. This free, download is titled, Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today: A Guide for Study and Action, and it’s a seven step implementation guide to some of the key ideas in my book, Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today. Creating Vibrant Centers of Jewish Life. In addition to collaboration, you’ll find six additional units, on topics ranging from becoming an entrepreneurial congregation to preparing for the future by better anticipating trends that may have an impact on your congregation.



What’s Another Term for Volunteer?

Posted on: July 16th, 2009 by Hayim Herring

Volunteering for the Jewish community is not a new phenomenon. Those who know some Bible often point to Exodus 25:1, when God invited the Israelites to offer their gifts for the construction of the tabernacle. Biblical sacrifice, the primary way of connecting with God, allows for individuals to make a free will or voluntary offering as well.  (Leviticus 22:21).

In the Middle Ages, a structure of volunteer societies existed to meet social welfare and educational needs. And many of today’s venerable educational and social welfare organizations grew from pressing, unmet needs which arose over a century ago. So if volunteering is so deeply embedded in Jewish culture, why do we lack a vocabulary to describe the act of volunteering? (And thanks to Jill Friedman Fixler for raising this question.)

Here’s my guess: from Biblical through the late medieval periods, the framework within the Jewish community for doing good was that of “commandment” or “obligation.” Doing good was not optional, but obligatory.  In fact, the Talmud states that one who is commanded to fulfill a right action is actually greater than one who voluntarily takes on an obligation. That idea runs counter to our thinking today. Many of us probably believe that doing good because you want to is superior to doing good because you have to.

But at a time when we value autonomy, maybe it’s time to develop a vocabulary for the act of volunteering for a congregation. Having such terms can heighten appreciation for the work of volunteers and rethink our relationships with them. For example, the root meaning of the Biblical Hebrew word for a voluntary offering translates as “noble.” That can suggest that we consider some acts of volunteering as acts of nobility. For those who know Hebrew, what words would you suggest? And for everyone, aside from “volunteer,” are there other English terms we might use? Looking forward to hearing from you.

Rabbi Hayim Herring

Can Volunteers be “Fired?”

Posted on: July 8th, 2009 by Hayim Herring

I want to raise a sensitive issue, one that arises in every setting which relies upon volunteers.  What happens when a staff member feels that a volunteer is simply unsuited for the job at hand?  Yes, maybe if that staff member hadn’t acted like a body snatcher, pouncing on the first warm body who agreed to volunteer, he might have realized that the person he asked was not the right match for the job required.  Or, even when the volunteer had a decent volunteer track record, and a staff person saw the next volunteer opportunity as a way to help that volunteer move to a new level, mismatches still happen. How do you handle those situations?

The potential for conflict and hurt feelings in this situation is real.  Volunteers may be heavily invested in the work that they’ve been asked to do and believe that they are doing an outstanding job.  To make matters even more complex, the volunteer may be new to the synagogue, or a veteran member with strong social ties to other members, or someone who has contributed significant time or money in the past.  You know that this volunteer needs to be removed because he is leading a significant project which can set the synagogue back if it isn’t done well. In each of these scenarios, you know there will be fallout.

When faced with this dilemma, how have you responded? What are the consequences of your decision? What would you do differently in hindsight? Your contribution to this discussion is especially important for the Tools for Shuls book—it’s a hot-button issue that always comes up, so please share your insights.

Thanks for your candid responses!

Rabbi Hayim Herring

Would You Volunteer for this Synagogue?

Posted on: June 29th, 2009 by Hayim Herring

The motivations that move people to volunteer are varied but here are a few personal observations:

What is important to note is that each motivation requires a different approach to volunteer engagement. As a volunteer talent scout, you get to probe people’s motivations and then match the work to their motivations. So any volunteer “ask” should begin with an understanding of the underlying emotional needs of potential volunteers.

This is not an exhaustive list of motivations for volunteering. So:

  1. please add to the list
  2. and, let me know of one example when you saw a volunteer really grow because you aligned his/her emotional needs with the task at hand.

Thanks, Hayim

A Rabbi’s Great Privilege: Being a Talent Scout

Posted on: April 3rd, 2009 by Hayim Herring

I’ll write about some of the strategies which I’ve learned for getting congregants involved in synagogue life in future posts.  But now, I want to look specifically at the big picture opportunity rabbis have in identifying and cultivating talent within and outside of their synagogue communities.

The American Jewish community is highly educated, accomplished in the arts, education, business, and professions like medicine, law and accounting.  While college is certainly not the right track for every young person, Jews have an exceptional level of undergraduate and post-graduate education. The aspirations of our ancestors in Europe, who left their countries of origin for a better life in “the new world,” have by and large been fulfilled.

Yet, rabbis often allow great talent to slip through their fingers.  (While lay leaders also have to be involved, rabbis have a unique opportunity to be talent scouts, because members are often disinclined to refuse their requests.) The limited research that we have on whether congregants feel valued for their talent is discouraging. I’ve often felt that members are the most underutilized yet potent force in the congregation.  So especially in these trying times, rabbis have to “step up to the plate” and act more enthusiastically in this role.

In order to do so, we’re going to have to debunk a couple of unconscious biases we have.  The first is that if someone doesn’t have a certain level of ritual practice or halakhic (legal) knowledge, they don’t have much to contribute.  My experience has been quite the opposite. For example, if you know of someone who has expertise in communications, if you or someone else knowledgeable in these other areas is willing to work with this communications expert, then collaboratively you can do some outstanding work.  More important than the work itself, you may find this volunteer will become curious about the “Jewish” piece, want to learn more, and become more involved in the synagogue community.

The second myth is that it’s easier to go it alone then to ask for help.  Okay, maybe it is easier to accomplish a task alone, and not every task needs volunteer help.  However, for more significant and complex work, the process or work product that you create will not have the same excellence that it could if you partnered with a volunteer.

The third myth is that once you’ve gotten the commitment of a new volunteer for a project, your job is over. As a talent scout, it’s important to help create a climate in which a volunteer’s abilities can flourish. That means that it’s important to check in with them as they start, give them a clear role, thank them for their help, and be available for questions which they may have.

So I’d like to hear from you about:

Shabbat shalom and a chag kasher v’sameach!

Rabbi Hayim Herring

Image from, photographer’s home page here