Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

My Dues Are Too High! (A Lunchtime Musing)

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Feb 20, 2014 @ 11:36 am PST

userpic=tallitYesterday, I read a very interesting piece on Kveller titled “My Local Kosher Market is Closing & I’m Part of the Reason Why“, and I set it aside to write a post related to it. Yesterday evening, Rabbi Lutz posted a link to an article about why one should choose synagogue membership. Both are worth reading, so I’ll wait while you do so.

(taps feet, looks at watch, taps feet again, while the theme from Jeopardy plays in the background)

OK, so now you’ve read them. What both emphasize, in slightly different ways, is the importance of having the Jewish community — and by extension, Jewish communal institutions — there when you need them. The value of these institutions cannot be viewed solely on what you get back in services over a given time period. In fact, looking at Jewish institutions (or any religious institution) in a fee-for-service manner just will not work. You can’t say: I pay $2000 a year to be a member, and that’s cheaper than buying the services ala-carte.

The reason we join together in the groups we do (be that brotherhoods and sisterhoods, or the congregation as a whole) is to create a community, pure and simple. We want to create a community that will be there to support us — to help us and lift us when we are having trouble, to be there to share our joys. We build relationships within the community, and we help others in the community. We may not always like everyone in the community, but the community should have common values, goals, and mores. Most importantly, we want the community to be there when we need it.

In the past — at least in the progressive Jewish communities — we’ve been told that there is a price of admission to the community (boy, doesn’t it sound wrong when I put it that way?) This price: dues. There are dues for the synagogue, dues for brotherhood, dues for sisterhood. This notion of dues turns people off. It is one thing to have fees for specific services (such as a fee for religious school)… but being told by some entity that you must pay $X to be considered a part of the community seems wrong (although, to be fair, they do allow you to negotiate the value of $X depending on your circumstances).

How do Christian congregations handle this? Ever hear of something called “faith offerings”? Ever seen the basket passed? Congregational support is often done at the end of services with passed baskets, with people giving as the community moves them. This never took hold in Jewish communities because of the traditional prohibition of handling or carrying money on Shabbat. There is also tithing (giving 10% of your “income”) to the church, but (to my knowledge) this is unlike dues in that it is voluntary, not a price of admission.

Some Jewish institutions are exploring a different model. In $mens_club, we’ve done away with our dues system, and made all men in the congregation members. We have ask them to send in support to the community, if they feel the community is valuable, in an amount they deem appropriate. If we do our job right and build a valuable community with strong relationships, then people will want the community to exist and will be willing to support it financially. Yes, it is a risk. However, it is a better level of feedback than robotic collection of dues for an organization that might no longer have a purpose.

What it boils down to is this: You need to support your communal groups if they are to survive and be around whenever you need them. You might not utilize them every day; you might not get back in services what you contribute in support. If you want them to survive, you contribute. This is true whether the organization is your congregation’s brotherhood or sisterhood, whether it is the congregation itself, or whether it is your local Kosher market or JCC. If an organization has value to you, support it.

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Secret Relationships

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jan 08, 2014 @ 11:49 am PST

userpic=tallitIf you ask most congregations, they’ll tell you they are the best kept secret in $location. In fact, they shout to the world that they are the best kept secret (as well as being the most friendly, ummm, haimish, congregations around). They think that shouting they are a secret will overcome the fact that nobody knows what they are doing. The truth, of course, is that most congregations fail horribly on publicity (and a large part of that is exacerbated by the Internet, which has gotten rid of flyers and made newspaper ads much less effective). So, to that end, I’d like to do my part over lunch by publicizing some Jewish stuff of interest on my little blog, which most people don’t read anyway (at least judging by the comments).

  • Separation of Church and State. The issues concerning separation of church and state are big news. There is the battle over the Satanist statue in Oklahoma, and the LA County Board of Supes just voted to add a cross back into the county seal. Want to learn more about the issue? Come out to Northridge CA this Sunday when Michael Risman of the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State will be speaking on “Will the Wall Come Tumbling Down? An Updated Look at Church and State in Los Angeles and Elsewhere”. This is a joint event of $sisterhood and $mens_club at $current_congregation (you can probably figure those out now, but they’re cool to write, so click here for directions), and starts at 10am. There will be a $mens_club business meeting before the talk at 8:45am. Here’s the flyer and the abstract: “The 200+ year experiment of separating Church and State in the United States has been a resounding success by most measures. The political model has been emulated since that time in most all modern democracies and adopted by most UN member nations as a universal human right. And yet, as a front line worker for decades on behalf of the preservation and promotion of the First Amendment, the challenges seem only to have grown exponentially in the US in recent years. With presidential candidates and US Supreme Court judges denouncing the principle, religious groups regularly granted special privileges and shielded by law from accountability, and an array of powerful and well-funded organizations actively seeking to use the power of government to promote their religious ideologies, we may now be facing the strongest challenges to church/state separation in the US today in all of that history.”
  • Relationships With the Community. I’ve been talking for a while about $mens_club; here’s an opportunity to meet us. We’re doing a special $mens_club Shabbat service, with a dinner and short presentation beforehand, and the community is invited. The dinner is at 6:15pm and is a Chinese New Years celebration menu (don’t ask me, I didn’t pick the menu) done by one of the congregation’s excellent caterers — in fact, the caterer that did my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah (the caterer is also active in another local Brotherhood, which I think is cool and a way to build a relationship between the two groups). After dinner, there will be a short presentation by moi on $mens_club, followed by the service which will be performed conducted by members of $mens_club. Visit here to sign up for the dinner.
  • The Secret Rabbi. One of the members of $mens_club alerted me to this interesting post in the Jewish Journal with a wish list for the upcoming year. One suggestion was for the great Rabbi exchange: “So, let’s pick one Shabbat a year and call it the Great Exchange — a day when every rabbi in town gets to speak in a different shul.”. Secrets and fears are the main reason this won’t happen. Consider: Everyone is afraid that if their great rabbi speaks in another community, that community will discover him and hire him away. The other community is afraid that if another rabbi speaks, then the people will make like Moses and “exodus” to that Rabbi’s congregation. Therefore, having another rabbi speak only happens when the rabbi lives far enough away for people to not run over there. In doing so, people are keeping their greatest weapon (for good or evil — you decide) secret. They are also demonstrating a fear that their relationships aren’t strong enough. Banks build sticky relationship with customers by entwining themselves throughout their daily lives. Modern congregations are so detached this never happens. We need to make it happen so that we can be confident when we work with other congregations near us.

 

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Talking the Talk

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Dec 20, 2013 @ 11:24 am PST

userpic=mlj-signWednesday night, I attended a calendaring meeting and a board meeting at $current_congregation. I was there at the request of the President of $mens_club, as the bum was off vacationing in Cancun. The things I do for my friends :-).

More seriously, I did attend the board meeting, and a few things about it have been sticking in my head… and the only way to get them out of there is to share. Hence, this post.

I’ve written in the past about how I would like to have $mens_club be a role model in how to do welcoming right. It appears that one of the themes of the board this year is similar — they are trying to establish relationships along the lines of those talked about by Rabbi Wolfson, and they were all energized to do this from the recent UAHC URJ Biennial. We did an exercise of doing elevator speeches about selling the congregation to someone you meet, and that word “welcoming” was constantly there. People were sharing their wonderful experiences about making friends, kids in the religious school, etc. I even shared about $mens_club.

But… but…

Something was off. I noticed it because I’m not a member of the board. This was my first meeting there. And other than the one person I know from Sisterhood who I sat next to (and who did calendaring with me), no other board member came over and greeted the new person. Translation: Although they talked being welcoming, they didn’t follow through with the stranger in their midst. This is the problem: we can all say we are welcoming, but it takes actual effort to break away from your friends and greet someone you don’t know. They had the opportunity to establish a new relationship, and potentially draw in a new volunteer (c’mon, if I’m stupid enough to attend a temple board meeting in someone’s absence, I can be talked into anything)… and they didn’t follow through. This is yet another example of just not seeing the little things that aren’t welcoming. Welcoming is more than a nametag and a hello: it is an attitude shift and (in many ways) a paradigm shift from the comfortable cliques.

I was also thinking, during the elevator pitches, about the pitches themselves. As someone who hasn’t had the positive experiences (other than with $mens_club), they weren’t resonating. Consider: someone who hadn’t seen the warmth was just hearing words about how warm the place was. What is needed (and I couldn’t put it in words at the time) is something that goes beyond words: doing something that demonstrates the warmth. Invitations. Personal connections. Now there was some of that in the speeches, but perhaps I’m too much of the colder computer scientist to always pick up on it. However (and I think this is important), when giving such speeches, one needs to be aware that you might be talking to someone like me. What do I want to hear? Tell me why this isn’t the typical Reform congregation — why this isn’t a marble house of plastic people.

I had a second observation on the meeting itself. The meeting consisted mostly of reports — there were almost no action items for the Board to act upon and discuss. Some of these reports went on longish, perhaps too longish. I’ve learned from my ACSAC meetings that meetings work best when condensed down to the actions that require the entire board to take, or short announcements that the entire Board needs to hear regarding upcoming due-dates. I didn’t get that sense here. Further, there was the sense of exclusion again. When there were committee reports, there was extensive attention paid to the $youth_group representative, who was new. Other groups that might have had items to report (I shyly raise my hand) were never given the opportunity. Why one group over the others? In short: more focus was needed — reports should be (a) from all committees and auxiliaries, and (b) highlighting upcoming actions and activities within a 60 day period (which is significant for publicity purposes). The focus should not be selecting particular groups to report, and then cutting off when the time limit is reached. Meetings are for the efficient conveying of information and the taking of necessary actions. Meetings are the forum for cross-committee interactions, or extra-committee or higher-level decisions. In particular, upcoming events should be discussed to ensure that there aren’t surprise impacts, and so that everyone can support and discuss them.

Will this scare me off of volunteering again. Probably not. This was a typical temple board meeting — I’ve been to my share. It only means that work of being the role model is even more important.

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RH Sermons 5774: What I Didn’t Hear

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Sep 05, 2013 @ 4:19 pm PST

userpic=tallitThis year’s Rosh Hashanah services are over. I indicated in my last post that the most meaningful part of the service for me is the sermon, and so I thought I would share with you some thoughts on the sermons I heard. More important, I think, I what I did not hear, or what I heard between the lines. A lot of this was heard through the filter I’ve been doing recently for $mens_club.

Erev RH. The Erev (evening) Rosh Hashanah sermon talked about the efforts at $current_congregation to create a caring community — and more importantly, how people tend to refuse any offered help out of a fear of appearing weak or less than.  The point being made was that it is just as important to accept offered helped as it is to offer help. This was a good subject to talk about. It demonstrated that the congregation was one that cared about its members.

But to my ears, I was hearing something a little different. After all, caring communities exist in other forms of Judaism. In particular, within Orthodox, the caring community just shows up when needed — no questions asked, and “no” is not an acceptable answer. So, just as the Rabbi related in her personal story, not only do we need to teach people that it is OK to ask for help, we need to go out and give help when it is needed, with no opportunity for refusal. If you look at the community building in the mega-church community, this is what is done, and this is the goal.

The other thing I did not hear was how we go about finding out that people need help. After all, you can’t get to the point where they can refuse the help if you don’t know they need help in the first  place. There needs to be a proactive relationship with the members of the congregation where we are reaching out and helping each other, and some mechanism where people needing help can be identified, even if they are too proud to ask for it themselves. This requires some sensitivity — it requires knowing people well enough to tell when something is off — to read between the lines.

RH Morning (Rabbi). This morning, the Rabbi did a whole talk about what Reform Judaism is, and why it isn’t ReformED Judaism. I agreed with him 100%, although I did wonder why he didn’t draw the distinction between Reform and Orthodox, and Reform and Christianity (perhaps the latter might have offended?). If you are not familiar with the difference: Orthodox believes that Torah is the literal word of God — and therefore it must be followed as written. Reform believes that it is Divinely Inspired, and must be reinterpreted in the context of the times. This is a critical distinction, and why you can have someone who is Orthopractic and Reform, and someone non-practicing who is Orthodox. As for Christianity, Christians just have a different conception of the nature of God and Messiah than Judaism. That doesn’t make it bad; it just makes it not-Jewish.

What I didn’t hear, however, was why we were getting this particular message? Are we seeing a movement of people out of Reform to non-denominational Judaism? To Orthodoxy? It didn’t answer the question of why it is important to be involved with the official denomination, especially as there is a growing number of congregations that are no longer affiliated with URJ.  Useful questions to ask, but unanswered.

One thing I did hear was an emphasis on how Reform Judaism was “authentic”. I believe this was an attempt to reach out to the GenXers. If you recall, in my last $mens_club post I indicated how GenX is believed to be searching for more authenticity. They could be jumping to Orthodoxy or other approaches believing them to be more authentic. This could have been an attempt to combat that flow.

RH Morning (Congregational President). This was a pretty good talk about how the congregation is a sacred community, and how it builds relationships. I was pleased to hear a number of key words that fit with what Ron Wolfson and Synagogue 3000 folks are doing. However, there were two things that caught my ear for not being present.

First, both on RH Morning and the previous evening, the congregational board speakers emphasized how their relationships came out of the bonds from Religious School. The school brought them in, and they built relationships from there. That works for many. But it doesn’t reach out to the underserved communities — the empty nesters, the intentionally childless, the singles? For those not growing up in the religious school, how do we build the relationships?  How do we reach out to those, and how is community created for those people? That’s a good question, and one that needs to be answered. [I believe that one answer is to build those relationships through various affinity auxiliaries. $mens_club and $sisterhood are a great starting point. I remember the days of Couples Clubs, and there can be other groups that build the relationships other than the schools. Of course, to do this, you need to know your members and their passions.]

The other thing I didn’t hear related to building those relationships. $Congregational_president encouraged people to join committees, to get involved, and to suggest programs and events. I heard that as being the wrong direction. To build the relationships, the congregation needs to take the action. Call members on a regular basis to see what is happening with them, and to see how they might get involved (this addresses the Erev RH call to find people that need help). It also shows the congregation as caring, and doesn’t depend on the people on the margins to take action. Telephone trees were important for a reason — they are a person to person outreach that overcomes inertia on the margins. Secondly, the emphasis on programming and events is the old model of limited liability — it emphasizes that the value (read dues-paying-value) of a congregation is measured by its programs, not the community it creates. Create the community, the programs will come from there. One other thing that wasn’t said: The congregation also needs to ensure that once these new people come to these programs / committees / events, they are welcomed without question. That hasn’t always happened in the past, and just as one must overcome margin inertia, there’s an equal (and opposite?) clique inertia, where people only want to deal with those they like and who don’t welcome and almost push away those not in their circles. Welcoming must be universal, and that takes training.

In any case, that’s what I heard over the last two days. If you attended services, what did you hear?

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A Sacred Brotherhood

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Aug 29, 2013 @ 10:10 am PST

userpic=levysA few weeks ago, I indicated that the President of $mens_club at $current_congregation had given me some books he had ordered at the recent MRJ (Men of Reform Judaism) conference. I’ve been slowly working my way through them, writing up my thoughts as I finish each. While on vacation, I finished the third book in the stack: “ReThinking Synagogues: A New Vocabulary for Congregational Life” by Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman. This is, in many ways, the twin of the previous book “The Spirituality of Welcoming: How to Transform Your Congregation Into a Sacred Community” by Ron Wolfson. Both are reporting on the conclusions of the Synagogue 2000, now Synagogue 3000, effort on rethinking what synagogues should be in the 21st Century. I’m trying to figure out how to apply this effort to the organization that was once called “Brotherhood”.

The basic notion that I’m operating under is that $mens_club should be a role model, just as a father is a role model to their children. If we can internalize the ideas from these books, we can work to improve the congregation. I touched upon this notion in my second post. I also probably approach this issue differently than most, bringing an engineer’s perspective to the issue — in other words, I want to figure out and solve the underlying problem, as oppose to just applying bandages to the situation. This seems to be the goal of Synagogue 3000 as well.

The basic goal of the effort was to turn congregations into what were referred to as “Limited Liability” organizations into Sacred Communities. A LL organization is one where people go to get particular services and don’t expect more. I go to a theatre to be entertained; I go to the YMCA to exercise; I go to shul to pray and get my kids a Jewish education. Essentially, it puts the congregation as a “fee for service”, and creates the question of “What do I get for my dues dollar?” That’s not an attitude that improves either the members or ensures congregational survival. The ultimate goal should be a Sacred Community — one that builds long-term person-to-person relationships that make people want to stay. Building relationships will also move people towards greater participation, and will move them to improving the sacred-ness in their lives. Now I don’t necessarily understand all the spiritual side that Hoffman talks about — because I tend to only be spiritual at camp — but I can understand building relationships. Here’s a great quote that captures this:

Synagogue is not a building, it is the set of sacred relationships that constitute the community and the equally sacred acts that flow from it.

In terms of $mens_club, the question becomes “What is the spiritual purpose of $mens_club?”. How do we make $mens_club a sacred space? Does $mens_club exist just for the purpose of raising money for the congregation, or is there some deeper purpose? How do we go beyond the traditional mens club, doing traditional “mens” activities (gambling, drinking, sports, burning meat)… or how do we make those activities sacred? My contention is that the answer is in building relationships. Every activity that $mens_club does should serve to (a) build relationships between the participating members, and (b) encouraging those on the periphery to start establishing relationships. As part of this building relationships, we also need to remember that Judaism treasures differing opinons (think of Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai). One opinion will win out, but all must be treated with respect.

So what does $mens_club want to be? I can detail what I think it should be: An organization that values every member, that strives to build personal and enriching Jewish relationships between members, and in doing so, serves as a role model to the remainder of the congregation in how to be welcoming and moving people to greater spirituality and participation. But that’s my view. I do think we should start having dialogues to see what the active membership wants. Are they happy being a traditional Brotherhood by any other name, golfing and BBQing to raise money for the congregation? Is the real emphasis the BROTHERhood, as brothers care about each other as a family. One line I particularly liked: “Cease being communities people join as consumers, buying services with dues.”

To do this, $mens_club needs to understand what it is. What practices serve to regulate behavior to address a problem that occurred in the past (I’m thinking many financial practices are likely in this category, as well as some of the election rules), and which practices are constitutional, defining what $mens_club is and what it does? Which of our traditional activities (Pancake Breakfast, Poker Night, Golf Tournament, $mens_club Shabbat, Yom HaShoah Candles, Shabbeques, Mens Only Discussions, Mens Only Seders, and monthly meetings) are traditional / non-traditional? Feeding the spirit / Feeding the coffers? For those that aren’t spiritual, how do we adapt them to build relationships?

One thing emphasized in the book was the importance of seeing people as people, not adversaries. Get people to tell their stories. Learn what has happened in their life since the last time we saw them. Also emphasized was the importance of the sacred side. Connect the activity to Judaism — bring a little Jewish thought to everything you do. Basically, the notion was to embue every activity with 5 components: Prayer, Eating, Study, Action, and Check-In (stories). The movement needs to be to a God- and Prayer- (and People-) centered community, as one that thinks in terms of “programs”.

The book also discussed the importance of finding out member’s gifts and what they are passionate about. Discovering the “gifts” allows people to give in ways other than just money (this is important for the people that don’t have a lot of money to give). People that have BBQ-ing skills can cook; those who build things can work on the infrastructure; those with IT skills can help with webpages and such. Discovering passions allows people to share them, and then to form smaller affinity groups to find others in the group with similar passions (which builds relationships). There’s no reason there can’t be subgroups within $mens_club that share love of various activities, and then share the stories of what they are doing with the larger group.

One complaint that Hoffman has is the atomic nature of congregations and groups within congregations. Basically, the issue is moving from thinking of oneselves as competitors in a business to elements of an overall community. Translating this to $mens_club terms, the question is why don’t we work horizontally with other boards and entities within $current_congregation — developing activities to build relationships, promoting those activities, etc. Why is it all little fiefdoms? Thinking larger, why aren’t we working together with the other mens clubs in the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles. There’s no reason why we can’t build relationships with men in other congregations for the overall betterment of the community — we’re not businesses trying to keep our customers to ourselves at the expense of others. I personally can’t think of a reason we shouldn’t have relationships with the nearby congregations.

The book also noted that synagogue transformation depends on how well rabbinic leaders work with the laypeople. To that end, I think we should be working with the rabbi and cantor to figure out how to do role models right.

In doing this, it is important to recognize the style of the congregation. In terms of style, the book discusses three: corporate (400-500 members at an event), program (200-350 in attendance), or pastoral (under 150 people). It also distinguishes public from private religion — private caters to the spiritual life of members; public states out public claims in worship style or action (think “the gay congregation”). There’s also the issue of leadership style: charismatic, traditional, or rational. The first has a charismatic leader; the second has more of a traditional “king”; the third operates by rational rules. Understanding where you are helps you move to where you want to be. In particular, it is important to recognize and see problems with the congregational culture, and to work against “but we’ve always done it this way”. It is also important to take risks, and not be risk adverse (hmm, sounds familiar). Far too often, congregations are scared about scaring off a single member, without realizing that you might lose one or two, but make a change that brings in a lot more. I’ve seen this in practice: $current_congregation-2 was scared about moving away from Classic Reform. They took a risk and brought in a Charismatic young rabbi that increased membership. However, it was too much of a cultural change. The Rabbi left… and the congregation, though surviving, is slowing shrinking and providing traditional services at low cost…. on life support but hanging in there. The important point is that they tried something, and (I think) learned from that failure.

Lastly, the book explored how to reach GenX, which is looking for something very different than the Baby Boomers (my generation). GenX, according to the author, likes to sample and not to commit. They distrust organizations (leading them not to join easily), and crave experiences that are authentic and not plastic. They also want to see excellence in something before they commit. Far too many synagogues are not authentic — “marble houses of plastic people”, and this turns off the GenX until they have a specific need — and then they only commit as long as it takes to meet that need. Working the group to build relationships and make things authentic is important.

This post has probably gone on too long, but I learned a lot of useful stuff from this book. As always, I welcome your comments on the subject.

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Being a Role Model

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Aug 12, 2013 @ 6:21 pm PST

userpic=levysI’ve written recently about how I was given a number of books to read by the President of $mens_club at $current_congregation (in my role as a VP). In my last post, in particular, I wrote:

The book emphasized being better male role models — and that I can see as being beneficial. For many, our fathers were good role models, but for many others, the father wasn’t a role model or was absence. This is something we can teach.

That dovetails with my thoughts after reading “The Spirituality of Welcoming: How to Transform Your Congregation into a Sacred Community” by Dr. Ron Wolfson. In this book, an outgrowth of the Synagogue 2000 (now 3000) work, he explores how to make a congregation a welcoming space, drawing lessons from all sorts of organizations such as Walt Disney, Chabad, and Pastor Rick Warren’s megachurch. I’ve heard mention of making the congregation more welcoming at various meetings at $current_congregation… but it hasn’t fully been working. They’ve been doing slow improvements, but I still see that visitors are turned off by the attitudes, and often the attitudes in the groups become insular and cliquish… which turns away newcomers. I also see that as they bemoan a declining membership, they aren’t doing activities that will draw in new members, or (at least to my eyes) make existing members more committed.

This is where $mens_club, I think, can make a difference. After reading this book, we should try to make $mens_club an example of a welcoming space in the congregation (and perhaps it can spread to $sisterhood as well). So if the congregation can’t get its act together, we should “man up” and show them how it is done. We need to be welcoming at our meetings, at our events, and at Shabbats.

The following are some of my specific thoughts after reading this book:

  1. We should build a profile database of our members, and in particular our supporting members. Find out what they are passionate about, so we can have activities that will play to those passions and get them more involved. The book also recommended building a “face book” in the original sense of the term — remember that Facebook started as an electronic place where you could put faces with the names. We should work to publish a roster of members where we not only have names and addresses, but faces so that people can be recognized.
  2. We need to revitalize the $mens_club Facebook group, and have all active $mens_club members be friends with each other. We should know what each other is doing, so that friendships can strengthen the intra-$mens_club relationships. We should also appoint a Social Media Chair (this might be a great job for a younger male) to nurture online contacts, encourage event participation, and rally support for members when necessary.
  3. One of the notions in the book was Community / Crowd / Congregation / Committed / Core as circles of membership. Community is the pool of “potentials” – the unaffiliated. In $mens_club terms, they would be the male members of the congregation. Crowd is the people who show up for the occasional service or program, but nothing more. Congregation would be the people who go so far as to join — that is, give financial support. Committed are the people that regularly come to meetings. The core would be the people that, essentially, go to everything. Not only do you need to draw people from the community into the crowd, you need to work to get them to move up the commitment ladder. Of course, as we do this, they will be getting more involved in $current_congregation, and quite likely the Committed / Core will become key members there. As we plan events and do the social media, we need to think how to move people up, and which people are in which category. This also raises the question of exactly who are the target members for $mens_club? Is it just the men of the congregation? Young males with families? We need to design the outreach to get the people we want… and who would want to associate with the current Committed / Core members. How can we, as a bunch of older men, come up with activities the younger men want?
  4. The book talked about the notion of creating relationships — essentially, figuring out how to get people to change from thinking about “the $mens_club” to “my $mens_club”.  This can then go to a problem that has existed of showing the value of $mens_club (and $sisterhood) to the larger core of the Board. The value of these auxiliaries is not just as another source for funds when $current_congregation needs them. It is to create deep relationships of members to the auxiliaries, and thence to the larger congregational community — essentially, we are moving them up the circles of membership. Being smaller groups, it is much easier for people to get to know each other and build these relationships. We need to emphasize this value to the Core … as well as advertising it to the existing membership as a way to “get started” in being welcomed. This might also be a way to utilize the left-over wine tasting glasses in a good way — for new paid members, have a $mens_club or $sisterhood member personally visit them and give them a set of glasses to personally welcome them and invite them to an upcoming $mens_club or $sisterhood meeting.
  5. Although not in the book, one other avenue of being this welcoming role model is to go after welcoming members when the congregation doesn’t. $mens_club (and hopefully $sisterhood) should be at the forefront of getting booths at community events where we can be out there welcoming people and inviting them to join us. If the megachurches can do this as a form of outreach, there’s no reason we can. We can talk about what we find passionate in $current_congregation and draw people in to try it.

As always, your thoughts are welcome on this.

 

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Bro’Hood

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Jul 30, 2013 @ 8:01 pm PST

userpic=levysYesterday, I mentioned how I had received a number of books from our Men’s Club president for me to read — bounty from his recent forey into the wilds for Ft. Lauderdale for the 44th MRJ Biennial Convention. One of the books talks about the importance of Men’s Clubs and Fellowship, and doing various mens-only activities. This whole notion is, in many ways, foreign to me… and so I decided to blog about it.

Note that, in many ways, this isn’t a particularly Jewish issue. Most religious groups have auxiliary fellowship organizations — ladies auxiliary, etc. These groups served the community in various gender-stereotypical ways.  The sisterhood would put out the food at events. The men would grill the meats. The ladies would have sewing circles. The men would have a baseball league. The usual intent of such groups was to promote fellowship between members, do service for the congregation and the community, and raise supplemental funds to support various special congregational needs. As a by-product, the groups also built up a team of leaders-in-waiting, who would eventually serve congregation-at-large positions.  These groups, by the way, were very different than  the traditional congregational committee — the brotherhoods and sisterhoods were membership organizations open to any members (of that gender) in the congregation who contributed dues (or in some cases, time); they were financially independent with their own bank accounts and spending priorities; and they often worked towards multiple goals.

But times have changed — certainly in Judaism, and quite likely in other religions and communal groups as well. Whereas men traditionally had leadership roles, the power dynamic has shifted. More and more often, the leadership roles in congregations are held by women. Perhaps it is the opportunity, perhaps it is leadership skills, perhaps it is the fact that men are often more and more consumed by work at all hours. Whatever the reason, the role of men in congregational leadership has declined.

Additionally, the acceptance of same-sex organizations has declined. In today’s egalitarian society, why have brotherhoods and sisterhoods? Where is the benefit? If there is one, how do we repurpose these organizations to the needs of today? Can a brotherhood or sisterhood in the style of the 1950s-1970s still have a purpose today?

These are the questions the book I’m reading is raising… and these are things I don’t understand. In many ways, I’m not the stereotypical male. I’m not the type that likes to go out and drink beer (I prefer tea). I’m not the athletic type, and I’ve never been into watching or participating in sporting events (give me a good board game, or a night at the theatre). I’m not into gambling or poker. Further, looking back, I’ve never had close friendships with men in particular — I’ve never had a regular ‘bro, I’ve never gone out (or even felt the need to go out) with the boys. I guess I’m just not someone who fits the stereotype.

So, when I read this text about creating a sacred men’s fellowship, I’m confused. Sure, I want to have a “farm team” for men in congregational leadership, but what I really want is a meritocracy of leadership — having congregational leaders that are the best in terms of skill, independent of gender, and independent of their ability to contribute monetarily. I want leaders that can lead and inspire, not just pull out the checkbook or plastic. However, I can see a men’s club as a place to train that leadership, and just like you have multiple feeder teams, you can have multiple feeder organizations.

I can also see the men’s club as a viable service organization, funding those activities that it feels to be appropriate, providing activities that are fun for its members, and raising funds the best that it can.  But these are all traditional “brotherhood” activities. The question the book is asking is: How does one use a brotherhood to bring men back to congregational life? How can the organization go beyond the stereotypes and benefit men?

According to the book, one of the ways to do this is creating sacred men’s only spaces … by creating opportunities for men to talk to men, and lower the barriers that often prevent men from talking about issues. This makes me a little uncomfortable — if I’m uncomfortable talking about an issue, it doesn’t make a difference regarding the gender of who I’m talking to. Still, I can understand creating the spaces and how they might be useful. I’m guessing this is something I’ll need to explore — perhaps I should go to one of our “men’s only” groups when we get them started up again.

As for the other ways to get men back to congregational life, I think the answer is to go beyond the stereotypes. This is why I’m trying to do boardgaming within the men’s club group. This is why I’m trying to organize arts and theatre outings. This is why we need to go beyond the baseball, golf, poker, and barbeque. Perhaps this is where the men’s only groups might come in… Just working this out in my head, but I can easily see such groups as a way to reach the single father households, to reach the men who want to be better fathers. The book talked about emphasize being better male role models — and that I can see as being beneficial. For many, our fathers were good role models, but for many others, the father wasn’t a role model or was absence. This is something we can teach.

More importantly (and I know I’m rambling here, but this is my blog, and I can ramble if I want), we can be proper male role models to demonstrate proper ethical behavior. This is where we can teach that violence is unacceptable as a way to get what you want. This is where we can teach that harassment and bullying is wrong. Leadership in a men’s organization means teaching which masculine stereotypes are wrong. It is where we can use religious teachings to teach proper ways to behave to others in society — male or female. Perhaps in doing this, we can achieve the true purpose of a men’s club.

By now, you’re probably asking why I joined the men’s club in the first place and got active. The answer, actually, is relatively simple. At $current_congregation-2, I was over involved in Board activities, and burned out. It was a 70 family congregation, which was good in that you knew everyone, but bad in that you easily took on too much. At $current_congregation-1, I wasn’t involved at all. So at $current_congregation, a 500+ family congregation, I joined the men’s club because it was a smaller way to get to know people. Over time, I’m slowly accepting leadership positions again. I’m also, as a side effect, slowly building some friendships with men as men. This is something new, and none have reached the level of what you see on sitcoms.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this — as I said, I’m rambling to figure things out. I think the question is what do you think a brotherhood (although even that is an archaic term — it is now “Men of xxxx“) can uniquely bring to a congregation? What do you see as the benefit of promoting friendship and fellowship specifically between men? What can a men’s organization of the 21st century bring to the game that it couldn’t bring in the past?

Music: A Little Night Music (1973 Original Broadway Cast): “A Weekend in the Country”

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Where Is The Jewish Engineer?

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jul 29, 2013 @ 5:57 pm PST

userpic=tallitA number of years ago, when we joined $current_congregation-1, we were invited to a new member welcome dinner at the rabbi’s house. At this dinner, they went around the room asking people to introduce themselves. The litany began: doctor, lawyer, entertainment industry executive, doctor, lawyer, sole practitioner business, doctor, lawyer. When they got to me, I tentatively raised my hand. Engineer.

Fast forward to $current_congregation. As I look around the congregation, what do I see. Doctors. Lawyers. People who have their own businesses. Teachers. People doing various social work. When I look at the programs and who volunteers, again it is the same thing — the lawyers, the real estate agents — people who are essentially their own bosses and have their own businesses. What don’t I see? The engineers. The “blue collar” workers who work for someone else, have the regular hours. I know they are in the congregation… but you don’t often see them.

This isn’t something new. Back in my camp days, I stood out being the person who was interested in the non-medical sciences. I was the person who had the footlocker lined in decoupaged program listings. I wasn’t the person who was pre-med, pre-law, or in the humanities.

I’m mentioning this — in the first of what is likely to be a series of posts of Jewish community* — because I think our congregation life is excluding a class of people. We talk about making our congregations be welcoming places… but welcoming for whom? They are welcoming for those who can contribute money due to their profession — top executives and business owners. They are welcoming for the parents of children, who are active in the schools. Are they welcoming to the blue collar worker? Are they welcoming to the employee who has regular hours and commutes, and perhaps cannot have all the time flexibility of others? Are they welcoming when the primary fundraisers are $200 a plate dinners, art auctions, and similar events.

$current_congregation-2 was a much smaller congregation, distinguished by the fact that there were few “big machers”. Fund raisers were regular dining out nights, where a percentage went to the temple. There was an ad book where the community placed ads, and there was a wide variety of ad prices so all could participate. We never felt “less than” at that community because we couldn’t make major contributions. Anyone could be active on the board without financial pushes.

We send a message about our welcoming nature — and our inclusiveness — not only with what we say, but with what we do. We can say we are welcoming to interfaith and all forms of relationships, but send economic messages that belie that inclusiveness. We have to have a congregation where people from all professions and all financial levels can feel welcome and be active.

*[And now the explanation on why you’re seeing this stuff. I’m a Vice-President of our Men’s Club at $current_congregation. Our president went to the recent MRJ (Men of Reform Judaism), and came back with a load of books on leadership development, making welcoming congregations, and such. As I work through them, I intend to capture my ideas in posts. I’m currently reading one on being a welcoming congregation, and that seemed to fit with this concern I’ve had for years on being the “odd man out” as an engineer in an environment of doctors and lawyers. Yes I know there are many famous Jewish scientist and engineers … but were they active in their congregations and in leadership positions? See what I mean? A future post rolling around in my head will go to the notion of Masculinity — these books for Brotherhood activities talk about getting men together to express their “Masculine” side, but what is that really? Is that getting together for beer, poker, and football? So expect a future post exploring Men’s Fellowship.]

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