Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Synagogue Governance

Board Meeting coming up tonight.  I've been on the Board of two synagogues, a co-VP of one in the past, on Sabbatical for a year, then asked to return by the Nominating Committee which thought an infusion of laitzanos (scoffers, as in Mishle) might be helpful.  Like everyplace else, Adas Kodesch Shel Emeth (AKSE) has its challenges.  Our membership has declined substantially in the thirteen years I have been with them.  I do not think I personally scared anyone away but that probably has not  been the case for past and current clergy.  Income fails to meet expenditures and our membership does not include a sugar daddy of immense wealth who provided us with a permanent endowment.  I have been affiliated with two such congregations including the congregation where my Bar Mitzvah took place in the 1960's.  The endowment paid for the Rabbi, even in the absence of congregants.  On my last visit there in 2003, a year before they packed it in and donated the tangible assets to tzedakah, they had a Rabbi, a part time Hazzan, and a few Medicare Beneficiaries to assemble just enough men to read Torah.  Such congregations remind me of what a shul would be like after the neutron bomb decimates the population but does not harm the building or its sacred objects.  By and large the people who worship there should be the most sacred of the objects, though often not regarded that way by the leadership.  AKSE does not have that problem.  We are fully dependent on satisfied members kicking in a goodly number of American Shekels each year to meet our expenses.  It keeps the macher swoops from getting out of hand.

Over the years there have been a number of half-hearted attempts to reverse the trend including a pretty penny paid to a consultant whose advice, if followed, would at least have us governing ourselves more effectively, though still in organizational poverty.  Our synagogue, like many other organizations and individuals, has its comfort zone.  People understand the barriers to greater communal acceptability.  Our president assembled two committees this past year, one to look at financial options the other to look at membership and worship ideas that may make a membership to an outsider more attractive than it currently seems to be and provide better retention of the members that we currently possess.  The new President and Board entered this month, with the reports as the prime item for the first meeting.  I read the two proposals last night, finding the financial one rather thorough and thoughtful.

In many ways, though, the leadership past and present reminds me a lot of my obese diabetics, the bulk of the patient population of most endocrinologists.  These people come to the office knowing years before the initial consultation with me that it is in the interest of their health to slim down.  By the time somebody tips the scales at 300 pounds, there has been one or more attempts at damage control and for a lot of them some temporary success.  As I follow them along their weight rarely changes enough to move them from one health risk category to another.  So how do they control their poundage?  They will put skim milk in their coffee, maybe not eat donuts anymore, watch an exercise show on cable TV or any number of other measures that indicate sincerity of intent but little insight into what it takes to solve the problem.  Even if the insight is accurate, the committment to radically altering ingrained habits just doesn't seem to be there. 

So we continue with our delusion that allowing women to lead a small prayer from the bimah while allowing the more effective option of a Womens Tefillah Group to languish at the level of Junior Congregation will create the illusion of parity.  We grant titles to people with the rationalization of the Wizard of Oz that synagogue volunteers granted committee chairmanship or an office of governance will be able to impart the expertise expected of the position.  I do not think the clergy, Gabbaim or past presidents are above accepting a mediocre status quo rather than become disruptive people who expose naked emperors and offer them a towel.  Just like the fat diabetics who reject the diet and exercise recommendations but get by with some insulin and some metformin, the easy stuff.

My psychiatry professor taught me as a third year medical student that being crazy or delusional and being dumb are two different things.

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