Friday, December 24, 2010

Synagogue's Core Business

The AKSE Board voted unanimously to renew the Rabbi's Contract.  That part was a no-brainer as he fulfilled one of the prime missions of AKSE with excellence.  There are severe financial limitations with expenditures exceeding revenue.  For years the Board of Governor's, of which I have been a reluctant part, has focused on increasing revenue, from a Capital Campaign which was intended to have nothing to do with operating expenses other than eliminating mortgage payments to enhancement of membership census.  That meant having an ambassador to the community with a pleasing personality that can attract members.  For the first time in years, the membership list has expanded.  No question that changing Rabbi's would interrupt the intent of the leadership.

However, stabilizing finances should be a means to an end, which is the operation of the services that the synagogue provides, particularly those things not attended elsewhere.  I am not sure that the Executive Committee which really has the responsibility for doing this really sees it that way.

There is probably some diversity of opinion as to what the mission of a synagogue ought to be.  I do not think AKSE ever developed a mission statement that could hang in a frame on several conspicuous walls for all to see or that can be printed on the letterhead or agenda of each Board of Governors meeting.  Having community outreach or a mascot is not the mission though it may enhance it or enable it.  The growth of transdenominational Jewish groups separate from denominational label suggests that there are no services that can only be provided by synagogues.  In most American communities, where early settlement records are available, the first project of each new community was to bury its deceased, which has some urgency to it.  Therefore the first communal effort was to purchase land for a cemetery and form a burial committee.  Even now, those unaffiliated with synagogues still have Jewish funerals with burial in Jewish cemeteries so a synagogue is not really a necessary institution even at the time of most immediate crisis.

At the last AKSE Board meeting a new grandmother described her son's community gathering on its own to attend the bris.  That particular community was generated by the synagogue, so one potential mission might be to gather subsets of Jews to better enable loyalty to each other.  Transdenominational groups which in some communities have siphoned both talent and membership dues from are synagogues, the Conservative ones in particular, have almost gone into competition with them by providing a better product at a lower cost. 

I think that the role of the local synagogues not fulfilled elsewhere would be to offer a measure of security for observing major life cycle events and offering a place to worship.  Assembling a community and advancing the Jewish capacity of its participants would fall into the next tier.  My report card on the Rabbi is very mixed, particularly when growth of membership for its own sake is not part of the core activity.  Life cycle events, other than assembling minyanim at the synagogue for those reciting Kaddish has been predictably available, no more and no less than previously.  Too often the worship experience has been numbing more than fulfilling.  I do my learning elsewhere, something that has become very easy in this world of electronic resources.  Groups have assembled more than before, though I am not currently part of one.  I've not sought one out and none has sought me out.  Very mixed assessment though I concur with the majority that it would be a mistake right now to direct attention on AKSE's core business.

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