February 2014 Issue 2 Adar I 5774
|This issue sponsored by Cycle For Unity, INC.
|Coming To A Shul Near You
The Importance of Face to Face Contact
by Ari Matityahu, Assistant Director, Synagogue Services
Table of Contents
Coming to a Shul Near You
When to Hire Office Staff Support
Kiddush: A Teachable Moment
How to Get the Most Out of Your Youth Leaders
Intergrating Deaf Members into Your Shul Community
Sponsorship: Cycle For Unity, INC.
The most important lesson any teacher can impart to his or her students is arguably not their particular subject matter. An even more relevant skill is to face forward and pay attention. Life is too fast, and the special moments that can shape our moral and intellectual character may be missed if we do not pay attention.
As a young student I learned this lesson quickly. If my back was turned to the teacher I missed out on the valuable skills needed to solve a problem in math, or the opportunity to answer a question. But when I faced forward and paid attention those problems didn’t seem so hard to solve. Without being attentive, opportunities to advance and change would simply pass right on by. At the National Council of Young Israel, we are taking these lessons to heart with our Face Forward campaign.
Last month’s edition of Shul Solutions promised that 2014 is going to be a game changer for Young Israel, and I believe we are on the right path. Over the past month we had the pleasure of visiting a number of our shuls by meeting with lay leaders, as well as spending uplifting Shabbatot with communities. These experiences were truly eye-opening experiences.
There are several benefits to having us come to your shul for a Shabbos or a board meeting.
Learn how we can be helpful to you now. Your shuls may be facing a challenge that we are not aware of. By simply facing forward and understanding what struggles your shul is dealing with now, we can understand the different ways our organization can better help you. hopefully before a small problem becomes an existential crisis.
Learn your how you can be helpful to others. Every shul has best practices. We created this publication for just that reason- to share various shuls' solutions with other congregations struggling with the same issues. By meeting with each shul individually, we acquire a better understanding of what solutions they can offer our other branches around the world.
Another set of eyes. Any writer, teacher, attorney or businessman will want to have his/her work checked over by a second set of eyes. An objective opinion delivers an opportunity for feedback from those that don’t daven in your shul. It allows us to observe the progress our shuls are making so we can guide them to grow, inspire, and continue the holy work they do for their communities.
Establish a stronger kesher (relationship)- By maintaining a positive relationship or repairing one that soured over the years, we can help you when your shul needs it. Serving synagogues is our raison d'etre, and we will work hard to maintain and strengthen our kesher for years to come.
Brainstorming and feedback- At the board meetings I have attended so far, I always start off the session with a brainstorming activity. We all know the saying, “two heads are better than one” and, of course, when you have 12 Jewish heads in a room working together something truly magical happens. Innovative ideas and projects are what drive our lay leaders to create a more productive and efficient shul.
Support our lay leaders. It’s very hard to be the president of a shul, and it can be a lonely job. Trying to please disparate groups of congregants, navigating between the rabbi and the shul, and fielding the seemlessly endless complaints can take a toll on even the strongest leader. We want to support you, and we can connect you with others who have faced similar challenges.
As our Face Forward campaign kicks into our second phase, I look forward to sitting down with all of our shul board members. Please reach out to me and schedule a time for us to come for Shabbos or a meeting.
We look forward to helping you grow, inspire, and be even greater.
Assistant Director, Synagogue Services
|When to Hire Office Staff Support
|by Ira S. Plitt, President of Young Israel of Boca Raton
When we think of those who keep our synagogues running, we immediately think of the Rabbi, the Gabbaim, and maybe even the lay leadership. However, without a dedicated office staff behind the scenes, these shul leaders will have a much more difficult time keeping their synagogues running at optimum strength. Larger synagogues may have several office employees and possibly an executive director to oversee the synagogue and its grounds. Alternatively, in many smaller shuls, that 'staff' is limited to one person who, along with the Rabbi, is a key player in keeping the doors open and the lights on so that davening, learning, and community social events can run successfully.
It is not an easy task to build an office from scratch. There may be an even greater challenge at hand for synagogues with fewer members. The only way to build a structure efficiently is through planning and a solid foundation. Some of the major challenges for this office building task are funding, management and supervision, and job definition.
Funding in general is a challenge. Funding for a new Torah, new classrooms, upgraded seating or a new Aron Kodesh would seem to be easier because they are tangible items that can be seen and touched. Funding for an item that most members can't see or feel may be a hard sell. If done correctly though, creating an office and properly staffing it will bring about major benefits for the shul and its members.
To ensure that the money allocated for the task is utilized most effectively I suggest the following:
- Define the tasks necessary to manage the running of your shul on a daily basis. All daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal holiday tasks should be listed. Input may be needed from all members currently working as volunteers. In many cases the Rabbi is acting as the Executive Director and has much of the information required. Please note that after all necessary tasks are defined, you may conclude that your volunteer staff is willing and able to continue what they are doing and you may not need additional staff after all.
- Define the reporting structure for the new office and any staff. Generally smaller shuls do not have an executive director. In many cases the Rabbi will be the 'office manager' and supervise the staff because he is on-site and usually the most involved in all aspects of the synagogue. The board may assign one director as a mentor or point person for the office and its staff. If the Rabbi is acting as the office manager then he should be working in concert with the board's representative. Please note that directing an office and its staff by committee is almost guaranteed to fail and is not recommended.
- Have the tools and resources available to make an office run efficiently. Even a one-person office needs to be equipped properly. To start the office on the right path, set up computers and synagogue software. Do some research on which programs will be best for your needs. A great website for this is idealware.org; they have a number of impartial, unbiased articles and research papers on software that may help you to get organized. Whether you have a large or small space to work with, having a dedicated office space with a printer and storage area helps to make your organization more effective and efficient.
Hiring staff is never easy, even for large companies with many resources. Don't shy away from hiring a member of the synagogue to run or staff the office. At first, we were reluctant to do so, but eventually we hired a member on a part-time basis and it has worked out very well. As a result, our office staff has a vested interest in seeing the shul succeed and this makes us a more efficient and personal organization. Additionally, such a person may also understand some of the simple shul politics we all experience such as the seating issues that may occur at shul functions or around High Holiday times.
I hope this brief guide on what to focus on when starting and staffing a small synagogue office helps you to be successful.
Kiddush: A Teachable Moment
Encouraging Healthier & Green Habits and Teaching Brachot
|by Tina Abraham, Young Israel of Plainview
The Sisterhood of the Young Israel of Plainview recently sponsored an eco-friendly “Green Kiddush”. Adapted from the Riverdale YM-YWHA “Green Kiddush in a Box”, this event was designed to educate, demonstrate, and inspire people to make sustainable choices at home. Though we chose the Shabbat before Tu B'shvat, one could do this any weekend. Each component of the kiddush, from the recyclable paper goods to the fruits of Israel, had Torah-environmental awareness tied into it. The presentation was meant to impress; light green table runners decorated with colorful, edible centerpieces made of dried fruit, nuts and carefully constructed fruit roll-up “flowers”. These were a huge hit with the kids! Between the centerpieces were large, delectable platters of fresh, colorful and totally vegetarian dishes (yes, all survived a kiddush without meat!) served in reusable wooden trays provided by Fairway catering.
There was something for everyone's palate; platters of artfully cut vegetables and fruit platters with large pomegranates in the center, babaganoush and hummus wrapped in cucumbers to dip with pita, vegetarian chili, bow tie pasta salad with perfectly grilled vegetables, a very “Go Green” olive and pickle platter, an Israeli cous cous salad, and much more.
With such a spread of Hashem’s great gifts of the Earth in one place, our Rabbi Elie Weissman used the opportunity to elaborate on the brachot of each food group and the order in which they are said before eating, followed by the corresponding brachot achronot. To further incorporate halacha into this experience, each table had a framed “Go Green” sheet with information about sustainable choices and how it relates to the Torah. For example, helpful hints about how not to be wasteful with food and paper goods was followed up with a reference to bal tashchit, the prohibition against wanton destruction of the natural world; “Whoever breaks vessels, or tears garments or destroys a building, or clogs a well or does away with food in a destructive manner violates the negative mitzvah of bal tashchit” (B.T., Tractate Kiddushin 32a).
At the end of the kiddush, everyone went home with a Young Israel of Plainview reusable bag (to take ownership of after Shabbat) to use for carrying personal items or for groceries. The Green Kiddush was a huge success and received rave reviews! Everyone enjoyed the healthier, tasty options and the overall message reminding us that, “One generation goes, and another comes, but the Earth remains forever” [Ecclesiastes (Kohelet)1:4].
|How to Get the Most
Out of Your Youth Leaders
|by Yoseph Aryeh, Youth Director, Young Israel of West Hempstead
Behind every successful youth department is a team of successful youth group leaders. Enthusiasm is contagious and an enthusiastic youth director can inspire enthusiasm amongst the youth leaders, with the ultimate goal of instilling enthusiasm in the youth group attendees.
Throughout the past 14 years as the Youth Director at the Young Israel of West Hempstead, I have developed the following leader training model:
- Set the Standard – As the Youth Director, your team of leaders are watching you for guidance, not just from what you say but also what you do and how you do it. For example, if you show enthusiasm and excitement on Shabbos mornings, your leaders will model that behavior. On the flip side, if you are not putting in 110% at all times, how can you expect your leaders to do so?
- Be Responsible Yourself - Being a youth director means setting the example to your youth leaders. It is up to you to demonstrate skills such as organization, preparedness, promptness, and reliability. Be punctual, or better yet, be early to events. Plan and prepare in advance so that programs go smoothly and the focus can be on the children, not logistics. If you want responsible youth leaders, it starts with responsibility in you.
- Have a Positive Attitude - There is nothing more damaging to a youth department than a cranky leader. If you complain or highlight the negatives in groups, and your leaders hear it, your leaders will connect negative associations with the youth group. Even in the worst of times, you need to be able to put on a calm face. Keep your focus on the good in every situation. Yes, it is hard sometimes, but as a leader you need to keep your group leaders focused in the right direction.
- Set Clear Expectations - Nothing causes more trouble in youth leadership than unclear expectations. Distribute schedules in advance so they know when they are running groups or activities. It's important that your youth leaders know exactly what needs to be done on Shabbos mornings and at any of the events they will be assisting you in running. Assign clear roles and responsibilities. The clearer you are, the easier it is for your leaders to fulfill their expectations. The more a person knows about what he or she is supposed to do, the more responsible and successful the youth leader will be.
- Keep the Lines of Communication Open - Don’t wait until the end of the year to drop a bomb about their poor performance. Throughout the year, discuss with your leaders ways to improve and provide them with mid-year evaluations. Keep the lines of communication open through good times, as well as through any challenging times.
- Tell Your Youth Leaders How Valued They Are - No one likes to feel small and unnoticed and your youth leaders are no different. At a minimum, they should be told individually how much they matter to you, to the Shul and to the children who attend their groups. Let your leaders know that you noticed what they did in groups on Shabbos morning, such as being patient and spending time with a child who was perhaps unfamiliar with the davening, or even how motivated you were to see them lead the group game they played. Even a phone call to a few youth leaders each week will go a really long way. Make sure you say something about how much you appreciate the work he or she does. Responsible youth leaders often feel loved and respected by the staff and students in the youth group. You can implement a “Leader of the Month” award where you announce in shul a name, or a few names, of leaders who excelled at whatever it was they excelled at, and even provide them with a financial bonus for doing so.
- Be Flexible - Not every youth leader is a born leader. It is also important to remember that they are teenagers who are still learning about responsibilities, so be flexible and understanding in your expectations. There are sometimes mitigating circumstances or lapses in judgment that even the most responsible youth leader experiences. Just make sure you have a conversation about the issues so that the youth leader doesn't make it a habit.
- Be Open Minded and Listen – Ask your youth leaders to come up with ideas for games to play on Shabbos mornings and events to run. Doing so will make your youth leaders feel invested and part of a team, especially if you end up trying those ideas out. Youth leaders often feel more responsible for what is going on in the Shul when they feel they have contributed to the activity. You can even hand over the reins to the youth leader if it is his or her idea and just help supervise the event. There is nothing that creates a more responsible youth leader than being the one in control. Suddenly their respect for youth group staff and senior leadership will grow when they realize what goes into facilitating and executing youth events.
|Integrating Deaf Members
Into Your Shul Community
|by David Brener, Executive Board, Congregation Suburban Orthodox Torat Chaim
When approaching one’s relationship to Judaism and Hashem, I believe that the best growth comes when a person combines his or her individual talents with unique life experiences in the service of others. Drawing from experiences and utilizing skills to help one's fellow Jew and strengthen relationships within the community are at the foundation of our Torah.
My Jewish experience has been shaped by growing up with deaf parents. I grew up in a home with parents whose engagement with the world required innovation as well as an extra level of sensitivity and assistance from those around them. This gave me the opportunity to grow as a Jew and as a person in a very unique and rewarding way. Understanding, and then acting on, the fact that there are people who need consideration and innovation in order to fully participate in our communities, is primary to my identity as a Jew.
In the world of Judaism there is much we might take for granted. In shul, we can follow the service with our ears, and we can derive enjoyment from a beautiful chazan or a proficient ba’al koreh. We derive inspiration from a drasha, and feel connected to our past when hearing the Hagaddah and the Megilla. We hear the beauty of our language, Hebrew, even if we might not understand every word. Its sounds and its cadence touch our souls and somehow seem familiar.
For a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, much of what many of us might regard as our primary connection to Judaism, what recharges our spiritual batteries, may be inaccessible. It is hard enough to be a stranger walking into an unfamiliar shul hoping for a handshake or a smile, but how much more so for a deaf person who is unable to follow or experience many of the basic beauties of our traditions in their home shul.
So that the gift of Judaism might be transmitted to each and every Jew, there are a number of things that our shul has done:
Sign Language Interpreting. Our Shul has some deaf congregants who are most appreciative of this effort. During the Rabbis’s drasha all the deaf congregants arrange themselves in a predetermined section of our shul. I myself know sign language and begin to interpret that week's shabat drasha to them. Our Rav is conscious of his speed and pronunciation in order to allow the congregants to read his lips and for me to interpret every word.
Purim for the Deaf. This is a real treat because, as we are not limited by Shabbat restrictions, we are able to use the full advent of technology. Several years ago, we began to use a Power Point of the Megilla, a laptop, and a projector to create a megilla reading so that everyone- hearing or deaf- could follow along. The Jewish Deaf Multimedia Purim has since become an annual tradition in our community. This program was such a success that the first year we did it, we had to bring in extra seats to accommodate the amount of deaf people who came- men and women. Our Ba’al Koreh, a seasoned reader of the Megillah, could not stop pausing and looking up at our huge 2-story wall filled with the glory of our Multimedia Purim Megillah. I think it was as much fun for the hearing congregants as for the deaf. It was our way of creating an environment of true K’lal Yisrael, where everyone was on the same word at the same time.
Tisha B’av and Multimedia Presentations. With the above idea in mind, our shul created a PowerPoint presentation to accommodate the deaf community in Baltimore. By projecting the program onto the wall of our shul, many deaf members were able to follow along. It is important to understand that people in the deaf community often feel like they miss out, or feel left behind. These multimedia presentations offer the chance for everyone to come together as one kehilah.
Momentum in our community built over the years from these efforts, and it was decided that we needed to take it to the next level; a shabbaton. Our shul worked hand in hand with our local deaf leaders, as well as with national deaf leaders to market and organize the largest Deaf Shabbaton our community has ever had. In the end, what was supposed to be a cozy 50-60 person shabbaton, turned out to be a record breaking 250 person event with people coming in from Israel, Europe, and all parts of the United States.
Hopefully our best practice can help your shul reach out to members with any disability in your own communities. Given the effort, you’ll see that the help given to others comes back to you in a reward far greater than you would ever have imagined.
|Cycle For Unity, INC.