Our Temple President, John Weiss believes that there are a significant number of Beth El members (that’s you!) who would be willing to get more involved if only someone would ask them. By the end of this article, I hope to test John’s hypothesis. First, however, I’d like to set the stage for the experiment by dispelling three myths about our congregation.
The first myth is that there’s a mysterious process by which people become involved in helping to lead Beth El. Perhaps some of us imagine a process akin to that mystifying rite in which only certain teenagers are invited into the exclusive, inner circle of “cool kids.” In this imagined process, Temple leaders are quietly identified, taken aside and taught the secret handshake. The reality is that most of the folks who end up leading our congregation are identified because they show up and say they were willing to help. Yes, we are always on the lookout for potential leaders and we do sometimes reach out to encourage promising individuals to get involved. In fact, we need to do even more of this reaching out including the exciting, “Beth El Connects” conversations that John Weiss has initiated under the leadership of Sharon Feinberg, Elissa Grad and Amy Tananbaum (and in which we hope you’ll all choose to participate).
But the single most effective way to become part of our congregation’s leadership is to pick up the phone and call a committee chair (they’re all listed in the Directory), to show up for a committee or congregational meeting (they’re listed in the Temple calendar) or to tell the “Beth El Connects” folks, the Temple President or me that you’d like to help out (just don’t email me; call or stop by!). Appearances to the contrary, there’s no secret handshake. There’s only a wonderful group of people (exactly like you) who have decided to make helping the Temple one of their personal priorities.
The second myth in need of “busting” is that the Temple doesn’t really need more help. While our congregation could use more hands in almost every area of its work, we have what I would consider critical needs in the areas of Fundraising, Budget and Finance, Communications (in all forms including social media), Human Resources (managing the Temple’s relationship with its employees), Outreach (programming focused on interfaith families and other, less-traditional constituencies), Volunteer Development, and House (that’s buildings & grounds and custodial supervision). Under the leadership of Rabbi Sandi Intraub, we’re also working hard to develop a corps of leaders who will help guide our Mishpachah program (focused on the needs of families with young children). But whatever your area of interest or expertise, we absolutely can find volunteer work for you and would welcome your involvement! The more people who help, the less we will burn out (or scare off) a very dedicated but overly small pool of volunteers.
The third myth I need to challenge is that the only, real responsibility of a Temple member is financial support. While making a financial contribution is one of the truly important (and deeply appreciated!) ways you help our congregation, the Truth is that in order to achieve any of our goals, we need more from most of you. Every single program and service the Temple provides depends on the efforts of dedicated volunteers. The creation of a tightly knit, caring and supportive community among 420+ families can’t be achieved through the efforts of six staff members. The development and implementation of a compelling, evolving vision for our congregation requires many voices and a variety of creative input. Yes, a financial contribution in accordance with your means is one important responsibility of membership. But if the only thing that members contribute to Beth El is money, we won’t succeed in our shared mission. Just as a beautiful synagogue building does not guarantee a vibrant congregation, a balanced budget (which, by the way, would be really nice!) does not create a successful one. Our success has always depended on the kind of people who step forward to help, the quality of the relationships we create and the sacred work we choose to do together.
So, here’s my test of John’s hypothesis. As the Rabbi of the congregation, I officially announce that all of you are invited (enthusiastically and immediately) to come help out with Temple leadership. There are tasks, small and large, that need doing. There are current leaders who will welcome you (in fact, don’t be surprised if some of them cheer when you call!). And there’s an ancient mandate from Jewish tradition teaching us that while we are not expected to complete the work, we do have a responsibility to help.
-Rabbi Jonathan Kraus
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