Shul Solutions March 2014
 March 2014                                                  Issue 3                                                Adar II 5774
This issue sponsored by Pearlstone Center & Cycle For Unity, INC. 

Our "Future Leaders" Deserve More
Announcing our New Youth Services Project
          by Ari Matityahu, Assistant Director, Synagogue Services 

Growing up in the Modern Orthodox system, I was often told that I was part of the next generation of Jewish leaders. Schools, camps, and youth organizations devote countless amounts of time and resources to training future leaders.  

What about shuls? What does a shul offer today’s youth that a school or camp can't? Do our synagogue youth programs inspire and train our children to be leaders or are they a babysitting service? If we believe that our youth are our future leaders, can our synagogue programs do more?

Over 100 years ago, this organization was built by young leaders who had vision, talent, and passion to do what was unorthodox at the time; to create a movement focused on the young (hence its name- Young Israel). Unfortunately, today’s youth often do not recognize their true potential for leadership. Their drive to push beyond their comfortable limits is distracted by social media and pop culture. 

The National Council of Young Israel is committed to offering relevant and cutting edge youth services and programs.

Waiting for a dynamic, creative youth director to solve the challenges your shul's youth program faces is not the answer. Youth groups are often lacking the magic that creates passionate and motivated leaders. It has become a place where "steel the shoe" and "jail breaking" are the highlights of the hour.

It is time for change. Groups are a place where children should be inspired about learning new things while instilling passion about shul. This is a time where children should interact with each other while learning, playing and living the true essence of Yiddishkiet.

Today’s group leaders need the currciulum and professional development that will enable them to inspire young children. To this end, we are announcing the return of our Youth Services Department. Every week, our youth directors will receive a guide for that week’s Shabbat groups, filled with parsha questions, stories, riddles, games, discussion questions, and more.

Parsha Nation is the name of this exciting project, which will provide youth directors nationwide real substance that will engage children from kindergarten all the way up to the teen minyan. This blueprint will give creative youth directors and leaders tools to inspire our children.  

We are excited to introduce our Youth Services Coordinator, Sammy Schaecter, who has a treasure trove of ideas which he will unveil in the coming weeks.

invite your participation in Parsha Nation and welcome your feedback as we face forward to inspire our future leaders.

Shabbat Shalom,
 Ari Matityahu 
 Assistant Director, Synagogue Services


Table of Contents

Our Future Leaders Deserve More

A Three Step Process To Creating Dynamic Shul Programs

Do Not Clique Here


​Boys at The Bimah

A Three Step Process for
 Creating Dynamic Shul Programs


by Rabbi Zev Goldberg, Assistant Rabbi, Young Israel of Century City, CA

Zev GoldbergOne of the most common refrains I hear from visitors to Young Israel of Century City is, “Rabbi, I wish my shul had a program calendar like your shul’s program calendar!” The comment is always prompted by a visitor picking up our yearly program guide and perusing through the pages and pages of exciting and dynamic programming that fills our shul’s calendar from Elul through Av. Inside our program guide you will find a robust weekly adult education program, a detailed schedule of guest lecturers, socials events, youth events and community health events including a blood drive and an event for free vaccinations. But do not despair! You too can produce exceptional synagogue programming for your shul if you follow the three basic guidelines below: 
1 – PLAN IN ADVANCE – The most important key to creating a dynamic synagogue program is to plan in advance. Many sought-after speakers are booked months in advance and will not be available to speak at your shul if you call six weeks before your intended program date. Our program committee meets in May to begin discussing the plan for the following year. We work diligently throughout the summer months to confirm every speaker (and every topic for presentation!).  Yes, sometimes the speakers we call laugh when we inquire about their availability for Shavuot of the following year, but their calendar is usually open and they are able to accept our invitation. If you start early enough, you will find many speakers are more than willing to join you for a weekend or program. 

Our early planning goes well beyond booking guest lecturers. We spend time coordinating and confirming all our social events for the year as well as all our youth events so that our members know well advance about all our programs. Additionally, we reach out to the numerous other institutions that we partner with and ask them to confirm the details of their events so that it can all be included in our guide. If you plan in advance, your end product will reflect a vibrant and dynamic institution that is multidimensional, engaging and exciting.

2 – SELECT A DIVERSE COMMITTEE – Creating an engaging shul program is not the result of one or two peoples’ ideas and work. There are many likes and dislikes in any given shul and in order for a shul to have programming which interests everyone at one point or another, you have to ensure that you have different perspectives at the table when planning the program calendar. Our committee includes men and women as well as people who have been part of the process since the inception of our guide and people who are joining the planning efforts for the first time. We have younger members and older members and everyone in between represented at the meeting. Our meetings often include heated (and humorous) conversations about what types of programs and speakers we should have for the following year. The net result is a dynamic and diverse program guide which engages a multitude of preferences and perspectives.

3 – FUNDRAISE – Creating a robust program calendar is not inexpensive. There are transportation costs, honorariums and a whole host of other costs involved. It is important for the synagogue leadership to actively fundraise to support the shul’s programming. People are less likely to support programing when the funds for the programming are taken from the general operating costs of the shul. It is either the rabbi’s job or a lay-leader’s job to ensure that all programming related expenses are fully covered by separate fundraising. From our experience, many people are happy to sponsor quality programming. For example, if you know that a particular congregant loves a certain speaker, ask the congregant to sponsor a weekend program with that speaker, perhaps in memory or in honor of a loved one. Consider timing the program to coincide with a yaretzeit so that someone will feel particularly motivated to underwrite the program. Finally, it is important for the Rabbi or the lay leadership to host the guest and to invite to sponsoring family for a meal so that the sponsoring family feels that they are getting their money’s worth.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

Do Not Clique Here!
How to Improve Syngogue Social Dynamics 


by Elly D. Lasson, Ph.D. Young Israel of Shomrei Emunah, Silver Spring, MD

People select shuls in which they daven based on one or more factors- hashkafa, geography, youth programs, the Rabbi or even the Kiddush.  Shuls, however, are complex places.  In some ways a shul is like a family, with some functionality and occasionally some dysfunctionality.  For some shuls, there is some occasional disunity.  In others, it might be ongoing. 
From the time we all were teens, we experienced cliques.  It might have been in school, summer camp, or around the neighborhood. Part of our normal adult development is the realization that though we have circles of friends, to maintain those circles as closed will not serve us well.
Much of our social existence revolves around shul.  In smaller shuls and/or smaller communities, the mutual co-dependence is a natural source of unity.  However, larger and “mega-shuls” (which have multiple minyanim under one roof) are in essence different business units within a larger organization.
In the business world, programs have been initiated to increase unity while maintaining diversity. Some programs are ongoing, some annual, and some every few years. Team building exercises in the corporate world are experiential education “bonding” activities.  Their goal is to enhance team performance, with hopefully a peripheral byproduct of increasing cohesiveness. 
Using team building programs will not only enable shul members in different social circles to be to become acquainted with one another, but will also contribute to the superordinate goal, which is the effectiveness of the shul.
Here are several practical suggestions to address cliqueness;   
Mix it Up Shabbos- Some shuls have matched up families who share demographic characteristics, but do not currently know each other, for a Shabbat meal. Some choose a particular Shabbos to do this (Parshat Vayeira is an obvious choice due its connection to hachnasat orchim). It might be helpful to have three families, just to guard against any awkward incompatibility.  The Rabbi could use that week’s sermon as a “teachable moment” to reinforce the program.
Term Limits- Shul Boards can be cliques unto themselves.  Having a constitutionally mandated rotation to some degree, especially a system which brings in young people to the Board will help set a tone.  It will impart a certain level of “ownership” in an organization which tends to cater more to the “machers”.
Unity Shabbos- In a larger shul with many minyanim, have one or two Shabbatot during the year in which all minyanim combine, with the leadership of each minyan contributing talent and style throughout Shabbat.  It might be a Friday night Carlebach minyan with dancing.  Or a Shabbat morning davening followed by a themed Kiddush.  Maybe a “cholent cookoff”, with teams selected based on some criterion which would bring people from different groups   together.

Limmud HaTorah- Some shuls have used this as a way of bringing people together. Doing an annual siyum of Tanach, Mishna, and possibly Gemara. I have seen shiurim which are based on a common demographic, either single-gendered or couples which have been developed. While an “Under-35 Weekly Chumash Shiur” might represent a specific age group, it may in fact cross-over different social  cliques.

Change Up the Seating- At Shalosh Seudos or a sit-down Kiddush (if you have one) would be a perfect time to change the seating strugtre. If there have been long tables, switch them to round. If round, switch them to long. This is quite simple to do. The most difficult part is that whomever makes the decision to switch things around will get questions. Hopefully, the answer will be obvious and acceptable.

Main Sanctuary Switch- If your fealing really brave, you could switch the seats where people daven. Assign or even encourage members to switch to a new row or secion. Please be aware, that moving your seat to talk to your friend drring davening is not the solution. Moving ones seat next to someone who will inspire your davening is the key. 

Please contact Ari Matityahu to share other successful ideas which he can in turn share with other branches.

The Gabb-ipad
Get Their Names Right Everytime!


by Benjamin Zeff, Young Israel of St. Louis​, MO

Gabbi-ipad 2Magnetic memory.  For folks from the pre-solid state era, these words bring to mind spinning hard drives, floppy disks, and cassette tapes.  For the past six years at Young Israel of St. Louis, magnetic memory has once again been cutting edge and the key to the smooth running of the Kriat HaTorah on Shabbatot and chagim.  Don’t worry- no halachic redlines have been crossed- Rav Shlomo Miller, Rosh Kollel of Kollel Avreichim of Toronto has permitted magenet boards as communication devices! A magnetic board, affectionately called the “Gabb-iPad,” and a carefully organized book of magnetic Hebrew names fills in where a gabbai’s memory so often fails.

The magnetic board is subdivided into labeled aliyot for morning and afternoon services.  Using an existing synagogue database, the full English and Hebrew names of each member were printed on personalized magnets.  The member names are sorted on magnetic binder sheets with separate sections for kohanim and leviim. 

For guests, a wide selection of Hebrew and Yiddish names were printed on separate magnets, aleph-bet-ized for easy discovery, and a selection of “haRav,” “haLevi,” and “haKohen” magnets fill out the mix.  Guests have come to enjoy playing the game of “stump the gabbai,” betting that their old country Yiddish name or modern Hebrew moniker won’t be in our set.  New name magnets are added as needed.  Prior to the Torah service, the full Hebrew names of all men receiving kibudim are placed on the magnetic board. 

The gabbai rishon simply refers to the Gabb-iPad whenever calling up an honoree or reciting a misheberach.  No mangled names.  No confusion. Gabbi I PADGone is the awkward pause after the call of “Ya’amod…” as the gabbai leans close to the congregant or guest, hoping vainly to hear a mercifully short, well-enunciated pair of names, so that he can immediately parrot it out loud.  Instead, the honoree mumbles rapidly, and the gabbai attempts repetition, a distinct tone of uncertainty creeping into his voice.  Perhaps the gabbai, too, mumbles a bit, and with that, Nissan ben Shmuel Aryeh—or perhaps that was Nosson ben Shmarya?—gets welcomed to the bimah.  Such interactions are awkward and interrupt the flow of the services, and the Gabb-iPad makes them a thing of the past at Young Israel of St. Louis.​

Boys at The Bimah
Getting 11&12 Year Olds Involved 

by Michael Feldstein​, Young Israel of Stamford, CT

Providing meaningful programming for 11 and 12 year old boys has always been particularly difficult – they have basically outgrown the traditional morning youth groups on Shabbat morning, and they are not quite ready for teen programming either.
We came up with a great idea at the Young Israel of Stamford for this age bracket: we have a member skilled at nussach and tefila lead a weekly Shabbat afternoon class on how to lead the Kabbalat Shabbat services for the pre- Bar Mitzvah boys.  When a youngster has mastered the service, we’ll schedule a Friday night for him to lead the services.  And they all do a great job!
There are many benefits to incorporating this kind of program at your shul:

1) It gives the shul a great program to promote for the 11 and 12 year old boys.

2) It builds enormous self-confidence and pride in the boys who participate in the class and lead the Friday night service.

3) It serves as an incentive for the youngster’s parents and friends to attend Friday night services, thereby increasing attendance.

4) It makes preparations for the boys’ bar mitzvah less stressful, as they have already been up at the bimah leading a service.

We usually schedule the classes in the spring and through the summer, when the days are longer on Shabbat.  By the time the Yamim Noraim are over, the boys are generally ready to lead the services on Friday night – and we put together a rotating schedule and promote which young boy will be leading the services each week.  The following spring a new group of youngsters generally join the group.
In terms of the halachic permissibility of an boy under bar mitzvah leading the Kabbalat Shabbat services, our Rabbi has allowed for this practice. Communities who are interested in modeling this program should check with their local rabbi to see if he is also okay with this practice, and to better understand what a pre-Bar Mitzvah boy can and cannot do at the bimah.
The program requires only one thing: a motivated volunteer who is skilled enough to teach a group of pre-Bar Mitzvah boys how to lead the services.  The boys are very eager and receptive to learning the service, and they feel  a real sense of accomplishment once they have led the services.  Many of them will repeat the task in future months … and some of them have even continued to lead the Friday night services after they have become a Bar Mitzvah.
This is a program that is easy to duplicate in your synagogue – and can provide many great dividends.  Why not give it a try!

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National Council of Young Israel
50 Eisenhower Drive Paramus, NJ 07652   (212) 929.1525   Fax (212) 727.9526

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National Council of Young Israel
50 Eisenhower Drive
Suite 102
Paramus, New Jersey 07652

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