THINK SMALL AN APPROACH FOR SMALL CONGREGATIONS
SAVES A SINGLE
M IS HN A H
Recognizing that more than half of the congregations that constitute the Union for Reform Judaism have fewer than 250 membership units, the Ida and Howard Wilkoff Department of Synagogue Management provides a variety of services tailored to small congregations. These include program- matic materials, consulting services, e-mail discussion groups, and the Small Congregations Resource Fund (a program that provides grants for participation in Union-sponsored events and loans for a variety of temple needs). In addition, the department’s publications address the specific needs of small congregations.
Being a board member of a small congregation is a unique experience. In larger congregations, members frequently come up “through the ranks,” sometimes spending a dozen years on commit- tees and auxiliaries before being elevated to a board position. In a small congregation, just showing interest and giving some of your time can land you a position on the board in a handful of years. In addition, small congregation board members are frequently asked to assume a host of responsibilities, ranging from maintaining the building to being the cantorial soloist. Be aware of and differentiate between the governance (vision setting and policy making) and the management (day-to-day operations) aspects of your role.
So how do you prepare yourself to be on the board of a small congregation? First and foremost, remember that you are on the board of a unique institution. Every interaction and every decision you make should be considered through Jewish eyes. Even though you have a fiduciary responsibil- ity to the synagogue, your primary responsibility is to deal with every situation by using the vision and values of the three pillars upon which Judaism stands—Torah, study, and acts of loving-kindness. Understand that even though you may be called upon to buy coffee cups, your primary role is to set a Jewish example and fix policy that is consistent with Jewish values. So, for example, consider advocating the use of fair-trade coffee and recycled paper goods, or better yet, purchase inexpensive coffee cups and set up a rotation system whereby volunteers will wash them after the Oneg Shabbat.
Focus on learning about the culture of your congregation and the board. This is especially important if you have only been a member of your congregation for a few years. Remember that you are always representing the synagogue, and be discreet and thoughtful when speaking about your fellow congregants. It is not uncommon in small congregations for staff members to also be congregants and for congregants to volunteer to fill roles that might be paid positions in larger congregations. Be sure that your role vis-à-vis the staff members is defined. If there are clergy and staff in your congregation, learn to whom the various staff members report. Always keep in mind that although your tasks as a lay leader are different from those of a staff member, you are all on the same team, working toward the same goal.
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