Shul Solutions May 2014
   May 2014                                                   Issue 5                                                   Iyar 5774
This issue sponsored by Achva

A Summer is a Terrible Thing To Waste 

by Roger Braverman, Director of Achva
​If your shul is anything like mine, things are pretty quiet in the summer.  Youth programming is mostly on hiatus while most of the kids are away.

Given the long days of yeshiva day schools (extended school days followed by lots of homework and studying), many parents and grandparents feel that kids need a serious break in the summer to relax and refresh.  We can all agree that watching TV all day is not the way to go.

For teenagers, the importance of an educationally and socially productive summer cannot be underestimated! 

What happens when your son or daughter has outgrown camp but still wants to go away and spend a great, growth-filled summer with great kids in an observant environment?

Enter Achva, Young Israel’s contribution to summer.  Achva fills the gap in a child’s post-camp, pre-summer job years.  Achva does that with a travel tour that provides a warm, kosher, and inspirational environment for Modern Orthodox teenagers who want to travel and meet new people.  Teenagers who sign up for Achva are headed for an amazing summer experience which they will remember for a lifetime.

Achva provides summer experiences for post 8th, 9th and 10th graders.  The talented and caring staff ensures that every participant gets the most out of his or her summer. Davening three times a day, interesting, topical learning sessions, inspiring “Ma Rabu Ma'asecha Hashem” moments, and uplifting Shabbatonim make for a memorable, growth-filled summer.

To learn more about Achva East, Achva West, and Achva Alaska/Hawaii, please contact me ASAP- summer is rapidly approaching!!

Roger Braverman
Director of Achva
212.929.1525 x180


Table of Contents

Summer is a Terrible Thing To Waste

When To Raise Yours Dues

10 Best Practices in A rabbinic Search

Junior Congregation- A Mini Minyan

Kiddish is for teens to

Achva Summer 

Membership Dues: To Raise or Not to Raise   Factors to Consider

by Sirena Silber, YI of Scarsdale

The decision to raise dues at the Young Israel of Scarsdale (YIS) was one that neither our Board of Trustees nor I, as treasurer, took lightly.
Coming off the heels of our synagogue’s first operating deficit in years, the Executive Committee was faced with two main financial challenges.  First, the percentage of families that were not able to meet the annual dues obligations had grown steadily since 2008. Dues for the 2012-2013 fiscal year comprised 43% of our total annual revenue, a downward trend from the previous year where dues represented 47%.  Second, fundraising was being conducting on an ad hoc basis to provide programming that the synagogue’s anemic budget could not meet.  As a result, the synagogue leadership realized that eventually we would be over tapping the financial resources of the members that donate voluntarily. 
Therefore, we looked to the ancient model of fundraising during the time of the Mishkan that strikes the perfect balance between relying on the entire community and affordability:  the obligatory half-shekel and the voluntary donations of material. This model deters the largest benefactors from directing the policies of the synagogue.  By raising membership dues for the fiscal year 2013-2014, there would be a stronger sense of equity among members because a larger proportion of the financial health of YIS would be in the hands of the whole congregation. 
The first step we took was to look internally to ensure that we were doing everything possible to contain costs before turning to our friends and neighbors for additional funds.  The bulk of our expenses- building and office expenditures- are fixed, recurring, and nondiscretionary. Disbursements for our annual dinner had dramatically been scaled down since 2008. Although we managed to find a bit of savings on bank charges for credit card fees, there was little room left to cut costs further without severely impacting the social and religious needs of the community. 
Next, in formulating the appropriate increase in dues, we looked at the dues of congregations with similar demographics to our membership base.  For example, members of Modern Orthodox synagogues in the Westchester area have similar tuition bills and daily expenses to our members.  In addition, there are parallels among Westchester synagogues in the costs of operating a synagogue, including building and maintenance expenses, office and catering expenses, and housing costs for synagogue staff.  Unlike communities in the Five Towns and Teaneck that can draw upon a pool of local candidates to staff synagogue positions, Scarsdale needs to pay a premium to attract talent.  After analyzing area synagogues, we found that membership dues ranged from $1,950 to $2,650 per family.  
Finally, we discussed the impact that an increase in dues would have on those families within our community that are facing serious financial challenges.  Many families with young children cannot afford the high cost of yeshiva tuition and a growing number of families are encumbered with the financial burden of caring for elderly parents.  In contemplating a dues increase, the Board was adamant that our congregation continue to work with members who cannot afford the dues increase by offering a reduction in dues appropriate with that family’s financial situation. 
After considering all the above mentioned factors, and soliciting input from various constituents within the community, the YIS chose to raise dues 13.5%, from $1850 to $2100 per family.  The dues increase translated into an addition $110,000 in annual revenue for the 2013-2014 fiscal year and compromised 48.5% of our operating revenue (closer to the ideal 50%).
The dues increase did not cannibalize the revenue that we generated from our Kol Nidre appeal or Annual Dinner. By choosing not to raise dues to $2,500 per family, the average membership fee for the congregations we reviewed, we left the “consumer surplus” in the pockets of our members.   
I hope that the membership of our wonderful congregation will continue to support the Executive Committee of YIS the way that they supported all of our current financial initiatives.  


10 Best Practices in a Rabbinic Search


by Mark GlassbergYI of Teaneck

The Young Israel of Teaneck is a thriving congregation with over 160 families and is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. As we prepared for the transition of our founding Rabbi to the role of Rabbi Emeritus, we needed to initiate a comprehensive rabbinic search process. Following an exhaustive 9 month search, we were thrilled to hire a dynamic rabbi who will assume the position of Rabbi in August 2014.

Based on our experience and what we learned from Yeshiva University's Center for the Jewish Future's Morris and Gertrude Bienenfeld Dept. of Jewish Career Development and Placement and the National Council of Young Israel's Rabbinic Services Department, I would like to share “10 Best Practices” to help synagogues who also may be embarking on a similar undertaking.

Clear and holistic search process- The first step is to plan a seamless process which the Rabbinic Search Committee (RSC) can follow, and the community can easily understand. Our process included 6 major steps: member research, creation of a job description, recruitment and screening of candidates, Shabbos visits (“probas”), membership vote and final contract. Each step had many sub-steps, but this 6 Step Overview gave everyone a clear “road map”.

The right search committee: Appoint a committee that is reflective of the community in terms of demographics, observance, tenure and other factors. The members need to look at the RSC and feel like “someone like them” is on the team and will understand their needs. Equally important is having people with the right skills and character traits such as listening, respect, integrity, and a strong work ethic.  

Know your member needs: As in any healthy organization, knowing what your customers need and want is critical for success. Toward that end, we conducted a series of Focus Groups followed by an online, confidential survey sent to individual members. Over 120 people attended the groups and we had a 75% response rate to the survey. The research probed what members were looking for in a new rabbi, types of classes and programs desired, youth needs and questions about the building and broader community. We used the results to create our job description and candidate profile.  

Clear and well-grounded job description: Guided by the research, the job description should clearly inform potential candidates about the job requirements and expectations. This also gives the RSC a critical tool to conduct interviews and to evaluate candidates on a common set of criteria.  

Fair and efficient screening process:  Yeshiva University, National Council of Young Israel (NCYI) and other organizations presented us with over 40 candidates. Using 10 rating factors, we scored and ranked the candidates. We then used these factors to have an RSC discussion about each candidate which narrowed it down to a group of 12. Through a series of video interviews, we narrowed this list to 6. These 6 were invited for in-person meetings, and 3 finalists were invited for a Shabbat with their wives.  

Continuous updates and communication:  While there is an understandable need for confidentiality, be as transparent as possible with members and the board. We provided updates every 4-6 weeks, which kept our members engaged and excited about the process. It is also very important to update the candidates on their status and promptly inform them as the RSC makes decisions.  

Use external resources: Take advantage of available professional resources such as the YU Rabbinic Placement Office, NCYI, RCA as well as other synagogues who have gone through the search process. We gained invaluable advice from all of them that helped us navigate the entire process.  

Comprehensive salary survey: Know the market and how your offer compares to similar shuls. It is important to benchmark against like-sized shuls in the same region of the country, if possible. The salary data is not always easily accessible, but with persistence and keeping the data anonymous, it can be obtained. Make sure to ask for total compensation, not just base salary.  

Well planned and executed probas: We designed a packed agenda that allowed the rabbi and rebbetzin to meet with the community. The goal is to offer as many points of contact as possible (both formal and informal) with the couple, and to include all key stakeholders such as men, women, youth, various minyanim, and different levels of shiurim. The unscripted Q&A session which we held on Saturday night with each prospective rabbi and rebbeztin was a highlight in terms of getting to know the candidates.  

Fair and effective voting process: With 3 finalists and our by-laws requiring a super majority for a new rabbi, we had a high bar to hit. The congregation met on the Sunday morning following the last proba. By setting up rounds of voting and a ranking system we were able to achieve our objective and vote in the new rabbi.   
It was particularly gratifying to see the members united in support around the winning candidate on the final vote. This process really brought our kehilla together.
One final but important note… Although the current Rabbi understandably has a limited role in the search process, members of the RSC and congregation need to show him the utmost sensitivity. No matter what his future status will be in the synagogue, it is never easy for an “outgoing” rabbi to realize that his tenure is drawing to an end.
It is suggested that from the beginning, a protocol of “thoughtful transparency” be the standard for any dialog with the Rabbi. There should also be ongoing communication between the President and the current Rabbi at each stage of the search process. The Rabbi should not first read about "news" in the shul bulletin or hear about it from a third party. Respect and sensitivity should also be shown toward the Rabbi’s family during this process. In addition to the task of finding a new job, moving on usually involves transition to a new community, finding new schools,  making new friends and saying goodbye to old ones.

It my sincere hope these guidelines help you and feel free to contact me at if I can help in any way. Good luck!


Make Junior Congregation a Mini Minyan 
Giving First-Fourth Graders a Shul Expeience


by Kivi Neuman, YI of Holliswood

The design of our Junior Congregation models a regular shul. We set up a mechitza, (mini) Aron Kodesh, (mini) Torah, and chazzan. All of the children face the Torah, while the Chazzan faces the congregation. The design is important because they have structure. They also know this is how their parents daven, allowing them to feel like adults.
Kids still need to be treated like kids, which is why we have candy incentives like laffy taffy rope or ring pops for the best daveners (one for the boys and one for the girls).  In addition, we are constantly handing out raffle tickets to every child who davens nicely. At the end of davening, there are 2-4 raffles, giving each child the opportunity to win more yummy snacks.  These tickets are stashed away for ticket redemption two times a year, when they can be exchanged for great prizes and treats.

Because of these many incentives, the children stay engaged throughout davening, which lasts for almost 45 minutes!  
What I believe makes our Junior Congregation so successful is what we do before we daven. We don’t start with davening for two reasons; 1) Children show up at different times, 2) If davening were in the beginning, the children would show up later, only wanting to come for the fun parts of groups. Therefore, we do the most exciting part of groups right in the beginning.
The Junior Congregation children have the privilege of going to the park. At the park, lots of different games can be played (freeze tag is a Holliswood favorite).  The benefit of doing the most exciting part first is getting all the kids to show up on time.  Mothers tell me that their kids are pushing them out the door to ensure that they make it to the park on time!
The reason why I find the park most successful as opposed to indoor games is because it allows the children to run off steam. No one likes to be stuck in a basement or youth department for 1-2 hours straight! Kids need to move! This allows for a smooth transition into the “shul” for davening. 
To sum up: 1. Create the opportunity for a fun game that make the kids want to come to Shul. 2. Set up a positive and structured space for tefilla. 3. Make the davening fun and captivating with immediate gratification (tickets and Candy). 4. Have a long term satisfaction (ticket redemption).


Kiddish Is For Teens 2

by Gabi Weinberg, Staff Writer, NCYI
The first installment of Teen Minyan Tools ended with the suggestion that in order to incentivize the teens to lain, it’s advisable to get parents to sponsor a teen kiddush in honor of their child’s Torah reading.

The kiddush serves a second role at the minyan- a draw for teens to join the minyan. Teens can be drawn to join the minyan in a couple of ways because of kiddush. For one, I found it helpful to appoint a couple of teens to arrange the teen kiddush and place the order. These teens, along with a few others, help set up the kiddush on Shabbat. This opportunity gives them ownership of the minyan beyond Torah reading and leading the service. Additionally, many teens do come to enjoy the kiddush after the service, which is not a bad thing.

From a fundamental perspective, it is important that the people involved in arranging the kiddush (hopefully teens with the help of the head of the teen minyan) keep in mind that the food is not an ideal component of the tefillah per se, but the kiddush does provide a time and place for the growth of the teen community in a social and fun way that is normally discouraged during tefillah.
I think it is important for the shul to invest in a respectable kiddush for the teen minyan every week. The “level” of the kiddush may vary based on community. Chulent is a classic choice and does work as an appropriate incentive, but alternatives to chulent do exist (I do not think that is blasphemous). Sometimes it’s best that a nicer kiddush only happens once in a while to change up the pace. For example, a nicer kiddush can even be advertised as a monthly event that revolves around Shabbat Mevarchin.
While some families will already sponsor kiddush for their child’s Bar Mitzvah anniversary or birthday,  there may be a chance for the youth director to find other kiddush sponsors so the minyan can have nicer kiddushim more often.

I think two takeaways come from this kiddush discussion. One is the recognition of fundamental value to “Kiddush Time” as a chance for the teen community to grow. Secondly, I think both young men and young women can and should take charge of balancing the kiddush budget and setting up the orders. Beyond keeping the kiddush varied and exciting, the young women and men can show how they take initiative and play roles in the minyan outside of tefillah.

Questions or comments? Please email  or tweet me @Gabi_Weinberg.


Achva Teen Tours for 8th,9th,10th, and 11th graders
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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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