As we transition from summer to fall, and the calendar moves to October, I reach the midpoint of my semiannual projects and the midpoint of my time on AKSE's Do Not Call List. The six projects could have been further along by now but I regard myself as rather successful in exploring alternatives to a generally mediocre synagogue experience that resembles Hebrew School a lot more than it resembles college Hillel, the principal encounter that really cemented me to Judaism. Hillel has transformed itself organizationally in the decades since I graduated. Rather than providing a building for interested people to enter, they have become more assertive about sending shelichim around the campus, identifying friends and friends of friends who might benefit from participating in the programs, then inviting them to be absorbed into the group. I will assume that the learning and worship that goes on there, at least at the larger places, has stayed at university standard in parallel with other university offerings.
Hebrew schools struggle, the one at AKSE becoming more suitable for a one-room schoolhouse than a multi-teacher enterprise. Membership at synagogues is down. I almost ration my own attendance to two shabbatot a month, that being my temperamental limit of Aliyah Sound Bites and Hebrew School facsimile, though it might be different if it were as welcoming as my hospital has been. Yet as I explore Rabbi Schwarz Jewish Megatrends and Ron Wolfson's Relational Judaism and now Hayim Herrings Tomorrow's Synagogues Today, I know there are better experiences to be generated and people on the sidelines willing to put forth the effort to generate them. Accessing them without offending the people in place who indeed do a lot of work and think they are accomplishing more than they really are takes a blend of tenacity and finesse. I'm good at tenacity. Maybe the place needs a Cruise Director, that individual who assumes the responsibility for making sure that there are no spectators for the Line Dance. It's one thing to have activities, quite another to want to be part of the pageant. It is doable but it means thinking differently.
One approach might be that of IKAR a transdenominational enterprise in Los Angeles. Everyone can come and watch but you cannot become a member unless you commit to some activity to engage in. AKSE could do that up to a point and would be better off with tapping into talent as a requirement instead of depending on A-list invitations from the President. Maybe my project would be to catalog talent, if I end up wanting a project. Talent exists but it stands with me on the sidelines, either for not being asked or for being former talent that got slighted in some way. Some upcoming chat with the visiting scholar next month.