Last week, I described the process by which we’ve been assessing where we are and where we’re going (https://www.bchavana.org/homepage/19690/). With this week’s missive, I would like to share general findings produced by that process. (This does not include what I am learning from our PeP meetings, which I’ll address separately in the near future.)
Our mission statement:
a vibrant, welcoming, intentional Jewish congregation.
Our community blends meaningful approaches
to experience God and Judaism
and to increase justice and compassion in the world.
ON THE RIGHT PATH
In short, we have confirmed that we are on the right path. We have remained true to our mission and our mission continues to guide us. Thus, there is no need to reconsider the aims that bind us together nor to generate a vision of strategic change.
Interestingly, during this process of discovery I shared some of our original documents with Carl. As a relative newcomer, he brought perhaps the fewest experiences and preconceptions to his reading of them. He shared with me enthusiastically what he found: that we had – and have – remained true to that vision and, most excitingly, we have brought to life that original vision in many dynamic ways.
In other words, we have accomplished what we set out to do. To that we say: “Kol hakavod” (which translates loosely as “all honor to you” or “well done” or “way to go”). The accomplishment belongs to all of us.
MOVING AHEAD: OPTIMIZING WHAT WE DO
I think it accurate to say that what we do, we do well. I’m thinking of the ways in which we build community and relationships; provide ritual opportunities for shared reflection and joy, worship and sorrow; provide learning opportunities that address people where they are with Jewish texts that speak to their issues; engage in social action projects that enrich the lives of their recipients even as they enrich our own.
As we move into the 2020’s, we will continue to do these things, exploring ways to deepen and broaden them. We’ll create ways to strengthen the connections between all of our members. We’ll explore new modes for our tefilot while keeping the best of what we already do. We’ll identify the issues of our lives as empty-nesters and address them with the wisdom of our sages, old and new. And we’ll continue to be a force for good in the world through our volunteering for social action projects.
The one area that we have not yet addressed successfully is in the arena of social justice – “entering the fray” in a way that might produce a more systemic and, therefore, more lasting difference than do our social action projects. I don’t know of anyone in our community, these past few years, who hasn’t had a lot to say about the state of our country and their own dismay over it. It’s time, I believe, to put our beliefs into action. Together, we will identify an issue of common concern and a pathway by which we can work for change.
MOVING AHEAD: FINE-TUNING WHAT WE DO
At the same time that we raise our program to new levels, we will fine-tune in a few things in order to maximize our continued success. There are five places identified for focus:
- Equity in Responsibility. We are a “member-owned and operated” community. Unlike the synagogues around us, we do not hire a staff to plan our programs, pay our bills, etc. All who enter our community enter into a b’rit (covenant) with one another: to provide the wherewithal for success. That includes financial, leadership, hosting, creativity and more. We assume that everyone wants to carry his/her fair share. Some of our members have carried a significantly heavy portion of that responsibility for these first years of our community. It’s now time for us to look at how to distribute our responsibilities more equitably.
- Income. Some people believe that religious institutions operate either by magic or God’s good graces . . . and don’t need money to pay the bills. Our aspiration always has been to run as lean a budget as possible and we have been quite successful at that. We have no building, and hence no building fund. Our staff is limited to me and Debbie Heywood, our very part-time administrative assistant. We have no debt. We do not assess dues. We do not run fundraisers. We only ask for gifts of the heart: once each year as a covenantal commitment, and once each year as a Yom Kippur offering. And yet, come spring each year our leaders have renewed their gifts early so that our financial obligations could be met before the start of the new member year (July 1). It’s time we plug that gap and aim even higher, creating a source of funds to enhance our program.
- Growing our Membership. There are several reasons to do this: to bring new ideas, experiences and energy into our community; to replace people who have moved away; to ensure adequate attendance at our programs; to succeed outgoing leaders with new ones; to bring more income for our operating expenses. The growth will not be large and will not surpass our ability to meet in the homes of our members. Our experience tells us that our community has grown spiritually as new members have found a home with us.
- Reducing the Load On Our Leadership. From the beginning, we have committed to the notion that the community exists to enable its members to engage in what my colleague, Rabbi Larry Kushner, calls “primary Jewish activities,” aka mitzvot. These are things like learning, davening, serving people when they need. They do not include attending meetings and worrying about fixing the roof. We have intentionally kept our governance structure and its meetings to a minimum. In the early days of a community like ours, it’s all hands on deck and leaders are simultaneously charged with setting the destination, steering the ship and shoveling the coal in the burners to keep the ship going. We are now past those days and are now able to reduce the workload of leaders and the frequency with which they need to meet.
- Transparency. When I met with each of you as you began your journey with B’Chavana, I talked about trust – and how difficult it is to find that in some congregations. I articulated the importance of trust in building a spiritual community. And trust has become an integral part of our community. We want to enhance that trust by becoming more transparent. We will communicate more frequently regarding matters of importance to the community so that everyone who wants is aware of those matters.
So, here you have the broad outlines of where we’re at and where we’re going, along with some of the details. As always, I welcome any feedback that you think important to give me.
In next week’s post I’ll share my plans for how I am proceeding to address these elements of our communal life and to envision how we will continue to grow as a community over the next several years.
And, later in the spring, I’ll convene everyone for a Communal Asseyfah/Get-Together. At the Asseyfah, we’ll celebrate our successes and all things B’Chavana. We’ll determine the ways by which we’ll share how we’ll fine-tune our community in response to the five items above. And I’ll share with you my vision of our future together, one in which we will perpetuate and strengthen our community of joy, learning and friendship.