June brings two recurrent gatherings, one for the synagogue which I get to attend for free, or at least as a benefit of exorbitant dues while the other costs a bundle to attend though the very modest dues afford me a discount close to what I actually shell out to belong. Both organizations have an upper class that technically I have a vote to approve and both organizations conduct organization business during the gatherings, though most people in attendance, myself included, are very much separated from that business.
What we hope to derive from membership, however, differs drastically. The Endocrine Society provides a modicum of professional affiliation, which I value, and my principal source of professional advancement, which I regard as essential. Well worth the membership dues even on the years I do not attend the meeting. The meeting itself gets me to a place I might otherwise not visit, immerses me amid productive nominal colleagues who do things that make science and medicine better, engage me in conversation about their efforts, expertise and aspirations. While much of the 3.5 days involves sitting amid a crowd of strangers in huge lecture halls watching the speakers' Power Point slides on a big screen, it is the interactive moments that stand out. You have immediate access to experts and to peers. And there is an exhibit hall where vendors show you real advancement, which is often commercially driven.
The synagogue functions on a very different plane. Its purpose seems more elusive and the fees for affiliation cannot be regarded as a valid consumer purchase the way Endocrine Society membership or attendance at the Annual Meeting can. It should be a more interactive place than the Endocrine Society meeting with its thousands in attendance, yet it is not. Experts on anything are in short supply. Much of the activity does not seem purposeful and the need to actually assemble more difficult to justify. So attendance is in the dozens. For good reasons, it last just a few hours instead of a few days.
So can the synagogue meeting, or its ongoing operations, extract the lessons of the Endocrine Society to make the experience more alluring? I think the most striking difference has been the how the two organizations view what they present. In order for the Endocrine Society to serve its purpose, there has to be ongoing productivity to present. People spend the year expanding their expertise, not just the upper tier, but the people in training or obscure clinicians and scientists working very privately in their clinics and labs. Moreover, there are thousands of people who want to partake of what has been achieved. The synagogue annual meeting does not really focus on achievement or innovation. These are in short supply, as all but a few of the members lurk in the background, neither adding to what could have been achieved but wasn't nor particularly eager to take advantage of what others have done. So the meeting becomes a perfunctory by-laws obligation to vote on an officer slate that nobody really elected and to see the budget that will fritter away the dues and fundraising revenues with little to show for it next year.
Solution, if there is any, would be to create a forum to showcase achievement and value it enough to personally invite people of talent to display what they have done Jewishly. But changing the way people think, particularly those with leadership responsibilities, can prove a daunting undertaking, one that is not always welcome but pays off in a grand way when it succeeds.