Thursday, July 18, 2013
Not Seen in a While
Been scarce. Hiding under rocks. Watching shabbos morning services on live stream with a virtual minyan in cyberspace. Wherever people might be instead, they do not seem to be in the AKSE chapel on shabbos morning. I never went looking for them and I doubt if the Membership VP did either. And I don't take attendance either but I have a sense of who used to be there with greater regularity in the past than now, putting myself at the top of the do something else that morning crew. Probably there is a mental note on this by the baalebatim as it is hard to overlook, maybe even some rationalization as to causes but no real incentive to explore or correct this type of attrition. I'm there about half the time, another doctor who used to come regularly and a young professor have found other places to be instead the majority of the time. The retired dentist hardly ever comes anymore. My radiologist friend seems to come primarily as a bimah participant. There are others. I have a sense of why for myself, but for the others I'll leave it to the analysis of sociological trends for not going to shul on shabbos morning. It just seems a little more precipitous than a simple trend. More likely it makes a statement about the experience of being there, though a tacit one.
One of the previous guest scholars at the USCJ affiliate, Prof. Woolfson of the American Jewish University wrote an op-ed piece for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in which he suggested that the decline in attendance and failure to reverse the trend has its foundation in how people already there make an assumption that what they want is transferable to people who would be there if they knew about it. He writes:
To create such a community, we need to turn our engagement model upside down. Rather than spending all our time planning events and hoping people show up, let’s begin with the people: Welcome them, hear their stories, identify their talents and passions, care about them and for them — and then craft programs that engage them with the Jewish experience
In all this time, which for me is about fifty years of being a consumer of Jewish programming, almost nobody has asked what I might like to have that I no longer have. I have also been a designer of Jewish programming, often very successful ones at least on the day of presentation. When I design something, most recently AKSE Academy, the design is my concept of what has appealed to me in other situations, present it and let the consumers' acceptance or rejection prevail. In many ways we have built a trough, filled it with our finest slop, inviting those who feel hungry for something Jewish to immerse their snouts into it. Eventually they will have their fill, no longer be hungry, and waddle off someplace else. And sometimes the contents of that trough leave us with a little indigestion.
So if I really detest Aliyah Sound Bites should I say so or should I silently move on to someplace that has an uninterrupted Torah reading? Or perhaps somebody should ask me so that I can tell them. If somebody likes being in the open space of the main sanctuary instead of the more confined chapel and therefore doesn't come, should somebody on the A-list be aware of that? Not all feedback is actionable, of course, but having sensitivity to solicit it may make all the difference.