That’s right I am giving something away. If you comment on yesterday’s blog (or even read it – it is fascinating that I got fewer blog hits than every before yesterday. Was it because the subject was money?), you will make me very happy and I will give away gratitude to you. Isn’t that amazing?
If you don’t want to respond to the blog, why? Too personal? Private replies are welcome, too.
You can hear either the ABBA song or some other version of this word being sung.
Money is a major issue. I am not even going to go into personal finance issues. Here I am talking about synagogues.
Though I am not working as a congregational rabbi right now, I have major concerns about how synagogues will continue to function with the current economic reality in this country. No congregation that I know of can balance their budget on membership contributions (aka dues) alone. Current fundraising analyses show that American Jews are now not only giving to exclusively Jewish causes (nor should they). However (and I am badly summarizing here) many Jews are not giving to any Jewish causes or institutions. Instead they are donating to the ballet, the symphony or their alma mater. This is a major shift from fifty years ago. What are synagogues going to do short of boarding up the building with membership dues as they are?
My colleague, Rabbi Howard Jaffe offers a suggestion on the URJ blog.
Okay, it is not so modest. It may be a bit too ambitious. So how about this: can we at least rethink how we fund our synagogues?
We need a new financial model in North American Jewish life.
Once upon a time, Jews grew up, became young adults, almost always married other Jews, and within a few years, joined a synagogue. Whatever that synagogue asked for in dues, they paid (and did not see it as a contribution, but more of a Jewish tax). No more. Even so, the vast majority of our congregations still operate with models that were created in a different time, and reflect a different reality. Think about it: right now, if someone comes to one of our communities, we invite them in warmly, and ask them to commit to thousands of dollars per year to become part of a congregation with which they have yet to make a personal connection.
My synagogue is not unusual in relying on dues for the greatest part of our annual revenue. We are in good financial shape, and weathered the economic storm of recent years in large part thanks to two extraordinary well-timed gifts to our endowment. Our congregantship has increased over the past several years, and by most objective measures, we are thriving. And yet, in spite of the meaningful amount of interest that our endowment continues to yield, and in spite of our increased congregantship, our current financial model, the same one that is found in the vast majority of North American synagogue, is unsustainable.
Our congregation has a flat dues program, as opposed to a fair share or other somewhat less conventional model. And like most congregations, we are committed to the principle that no one will ever be turned away from congregantship because of genuine financial need. Beginning in 2008, when we first saw, as most congregations did, a sharp spike in the need for special arrangements, both the number of requests for such arrangements and the aggregate value of those arrangements have steadily increased. While their numbers have been small, we have found, as have other congregations, that every year there are congregants who decide that the extent of their expected financial commitment to the Temple exceeds their sense of what is an appropriate annual contribution, and so, resign their congregantship. Many of them are quite blunt about this it: they would continue to be congregants if they could do so for a smaller annual commitment. There are congregations with flat dues that accommodate those requests, but most, including ours, do not. The result of all of these factors is that, even with careful controls and financial discipline, the income we receive from dues as a percentage of our annual revenue is decreasing, requiring us to increase revenue from other sources or, over time, dramatically reduce our expenses, resulting in a different synagogue than we have today. We are neither small nor huge (about 820 households), and we pride ourselves on the extraordinary efforts and leadership provided by our congregants, but with a smaller staff than we currently have, and without financial resources to support our efforts (as it is, a very small percentage of our budget goes to support programming), we simply cannot continue as we are today.
We have decided, then, to embark on an unprecedented effort (in our community, at least) to increase the level of philanthropy within the congregation, in a combination of endowment and annual giving so as to, at the very least, slow the pace of dues increases, likely reduce the standard amount of dues that we ask congregants to contribute, and perhaps even reduce the threshold amount of “standard” dues so that finance is no longer a barrier to the participation of anyone, not only those who are unable to afford that “standard” amount. Imagine how wonderful it would be to be able to welcome any newcomers to our community to participate in the lives of our congregations, and only later raising with them the matter of financial support!
My own experience has been that raising the level of philanthropy has been much easier than I ever imagined. Ours is not especially affluent community, though admittedly, we have a few folks who have been able to make extraordinary gifts that have made a great difference. Our efforts, however, are broad-based, as the vast majority of our congregants are able to contribute significantly more to the Temple on an annual basis than they currently do, but have never been asked. We know from the experience of other organizations and institutions that rely on philanthropy that a compelling mission and a compelling story result in meaningful financial support. As long as our mission and our story is compelling, we can experience the same results, and create a new model for a new time and a new reality.
Rabbi Howard Jaffe is the Senior rabbi at Temple Isaiah in Lexington, MA.
What are your thoughts on this? Can the synagogue model be sustained on dues? What about Rabbi Jaffe’s proposal? Do you belong to a synagogue?
Today is the commemoration of Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass. It was November 9, 1938 in Nazi Germany and parts of Austria that synagogues, homes and businesses owned by Jews, and people were brutally destroyed.
Though Kristallnacht was 73 years ago. Today there is still so much hate in our world. What are you doing to fight hate in our world?
Yep, I’m still doing NaBloPoMo.
And it was for a happy reason. I knew that while I was asleep, safe in my bed, Gilad Shalit’s transfer from captivity to freedom (and that is a loaded image and I will get there) took place. I looked immediately to my twitter feed and saw that my own worst fear did not come true, thank God, Gilad is alive. I stared to cry tears of joy.
On Sunday, I taught about ushpizin, the tradition of welcoming biblical ancestors into the Sukakh, as we welcome others. I mentioned the emerging news about Gilad Shalit’s release and several parents had no idea what I was talking about. I know that I spend a lot of my time in a particular Jewish bubble, but I was in shock that these parents did not know what I was talking about.
Gilad’s release, I even speak about him as though I know him, is wrought with controversy. Gilad Shalit’s release was a part of a much larger prisoner exchange. I am not entirely aware of all of the details. I think that is telling. There are also a lot of ethical issues, of course, too. Jewish tradition is fairly clear, though. You can read more about this from people who know a lot more than I do. Here is what Rabbi David Ellenson, my teacher, has to say. Here is what Rabbi Avi Weiss wrote, as well. Here is what Donniel Hartman, who I studied with this summer, had to say.
Every time the prayer for healing was read at the congregation where I worked in Toronto, Gilad Shalit’s name was mentioned. Though Gilad’s name might come off the list and his picture might be removed from our Sukkot as one of the ushpizin guests and those who set a place at their Seder table at Passover for him will not have to do so anymore.
Gilad Shalit’s ordeal is not over, of course. We do not know what he had to go through during his five year and four month period of captivity. The physiological injuries will heal, though the psychological trauma will be lifelong. His own adjustment to life will be interesting to observe and people are talking about it,
ברוך אתה יי אלהינו מלך העולם, מתיר אסורים – Praised are YOU, Ruler of the Universe who frees the captive.
It is not a dream or a fantasy. Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by a terrorist organization on the border with Gaza has been released after 1.940 days he has returned to Israeli soil.
ברוך אתה יי אלהינו מלך העולם מתיר אסורים Praised are You, Creator of all as the captives are freed.
I have another post coming today, this time I mean it but I had to make sure that you saw the news.
Yesterday marked 18 years since Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat met on the White House lawn and signed the Oslo Peace Agreement. 18 years. I remember this day and my own excitement of what this might mean for the Middle East. And 18 years later, I am sad. Sad that there is still no peace, that the vision espoused this day seems completely forgotten by everyone. I admit, I didn’t even realize it was 18 years until I heard a story on NPR.
I don’t believe in using hindsight in regards to history. I don’t want to think about or pontificate about what might be. Rather I want to remember that feelings of hope, the anticipation of peace, and the desire to work towards that aim with true partners.
Next week there is likely to be a great deal of news about the Middle East. I pray that there will be a true and lasting peace between these neighbors. That the words of the prophet Isaiah come to be, “nation shall not lift up sword against nation nor will their people’s know war anymore,” (Isa. 2:4)
I wasn’t going to post this yesterday. It didn’t seem right with all of the emotions people were felling about the events of September 11, 2001. I’ve written my own reactions and reflections before. I thought I’d posted them on this blog. Looks like I am remembering things incorrectly. Oh well.
As I was saying, I was driving to my internship on Sunday morning and, as is my custom, I was listening to National Public Radio. They were broadcasting pieces of the memorial services for 9/11. Several things struck me. There was a difference between the locations that mark tragedy. From the broadcast, the Pentagon’s memorial was done with military precision and a strong military presence. Shankesville was something entirely different. And at Ground Zero, from what I understood, no members of the clergy, NYPD or NYFD spoke. I changed the channel when I couldn’t listen anymore and turned to the oldies station.
There they played American Rock … from Paul McCartney. Last I checked, Sir Paul was not an American. This was also being done in memory of 9/11.
So many people have posted on facebook, twitter, and blogged about their own reactions and yet, I think this country is missing something. We are having a crisis of state religion.
What, you ask? How can a republic have a state religion? Think about 4th of July and the rituals that take place. Think about the inauguration of the president. Each of those moments are replete with state religion. The tenth anniversary of 9/11 was a day for such ritual and it just wasn’t there. The United States does not know how to mark time as anymore. I believe we once did. The days of Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day once were times to remember the fallen and honor the heroes. In 2011 they’re cause for sales at shopping malls and long weekends.
In my opinion, 9/11 needs to be a day about remembering the victims of the attacks on American soil, acknowledging the terror that many people experience now that they never did before 9/11/01, and honoring those who died fighting the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the veterans in our midst. Not a lot needed to be said, silence at the appropriate moments might have been best. This is not a moment for one religious voice to prevail. Instead it is a time for a global message of peace among humankind.
Did you attend a memorial service for 9/11 that was meaningful to you?
Sunday School started and I spent the morning with eager young people running into a synagogue looking forward to seeing friends and learning new things. Parents joined the community, too and stayed for almost three hours engaging in their own learning and meeting their children’s teachers. I cannot think of a more fitting way to spend September 11 this year or any other. In education there is hope and in hope will be peace.
This whole blogging while being in school thing is not going very well. I apologize, loyal reader. I would like to pretend that the situation might improve but I want to remain realistic and focused upon my studies so I will write here when I can.
This weekend I saw a phenomenal film. I use the word film, of course because this was truly a piece of art and not something I went to be entertained by. You must first read The Help and then go see the film.
There are many Oscar worthy performances. Perhaps most important though, is the potent reminder of prejudice in our midst. Though this is the story of another time there are far too many class and race issues in our world today.
If I were writing a high holy day sermon it might be about some of these issues. Since I’m not, I will just have to allude to something quite fascinating to save for another time.
Why are you still reading this? Go to the movies and read this book already!
Posting from Jerusalem seems to be harder than I thought. On Sunday morning, Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, I joined Women of the Wall for morning services. In addition to being a prayer service, it was also an action in support of civil rights. This was my first time at Women of the Wall so I want to describe the whole experience as best I can.
I arrived very early, remember morning is probably the coolest time of the day, via taxi. I was wearing a baseball hat to stay out of the sun (and maybe to cover up a bad hair day). There was the usual walk through a metal detector and opening my bag for the police which was no problem.
Since my last time at the Western Wall, the women’s section has gotten smaller. Much smaller. It is clear that the attempt to make this space into a synagogue is much more deliberate. Being there early, it wasn’t too crowded. It was evident when the police and army officers arrived in order to protect this group. Several stood behind the divider on chairs.
Guards were on the men’s side also on chairs to keep people away and prevent flying objects. Two guards assembled on the women’s side. One, a woman, video taped the entire experience. At 7:30am the women gathered, seemingly led by Nofrat Frankel (the woman arrested for wearing a tallit) at the very back of the women’s section in a large sort of clump. Everyone stood save one older woman who grabbed a plastic chair. You can see from the video that I posted below that women are not allowed to wear their tallit (prayer shawl) the traditional way, they must be worn like a scarf wrapped around the neck. It is a completely disgusting that there are now laws legislating the “way” people can pray. Don’t worry, there will be more gross things that I have to report.
In terms of prayer-book, I brought my travelers’ version of Mishkan Tefilah. It was almost entirely inadequate because this service followed a traditional order of prayer more in line with what many who probably read this blog would call orthodox. I sort of knew this would be the case and I mostly didn’t care. I hate the Western Wall. It might be one of my least favorite places in the world. While I know that it is holy and extremely important for some people, the prayer experience wasn’t the principle reason for my visit.
This was what the group looked and sounded like.
During the service there were a few disturbances. First, a man on the ‘other’ side started screaming that what we were doing was forbidden according to Jewish law. He was ranting and raving and it was basically after nothing had happened beyond the recitation of several verses aloud from the prayer service. The police seemed to know this was going to happen and they quickly ushered him away from the group, though he continued to raise his voice in an awkward song of protest as though he was trying to block out our voices by making more noise then we were. At another point a woman approached the police and said something to the effect of, “what are these women doing? This is a place for all people and they are disturbing everything.” She ranted for a few moments but that was basically the end of it.
At the end of Hallel, I linked arms with my friend SAR. Somehow we ended up slowly leading the group of women singing “Ozi v’zimrat Yah, v’yhi li yeshua” from the Song of the Sea and Psalms. (Remember the Torah scroll wasn’t allowed into the women’s section though there were several on the men’s side because of what happened last summer. We reached the exit of the Kotel plaza.
Several members of the group were standing just outside the security check point with the Torah scroll. When the group joined up with the Torah, I had a greater sense of the magnitude of this event. This wasn’t just a prayer service. For some of the passersby it was perhaps the first time seeing a woman carry a Torah scroll. All in all this was a tremendous act of defiance against the orthodox stronghold over who makes the rules for Judaism.
The Torah reading at Robinson’s arch was really lovely. There was the musaf service also which isn’t my cup of tea (you can ask me about that offline) so I was chatting with a few of my colleagues a few steps away from the group. There was a brief Kiddush. Members of the Women’s Rabbinic Network took a photo.
On the left is Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, is holding up her tallit made exclusively for Women of the Wall. You too can purchase one of these tallitot which is a fantastic way of reminding yourself the privilege of wearing a tallit isn’t something to be taken for granted. Women of the Wall and IRAC are always looking for more support for their important work whether monetary or joining them in action whenever the opportunity arrises.
I returned from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism‘s Consultation on Conscience and I have never been more proud to be an American. though there are lots of things always happening in the USA that are hard to stomach, being in DC and hearing from phenomenal speakers who are doing the important work to make change was inspiring. Most of all, it is the RAC staff that truly is a reminder of the capacity of a small group of committed individuals who change the world.
If you want to see what was happening in real-time, go to my twitter feed. Some of my own personal highlights were the following:
-Hearing Vice President Al Gore speak on Sunday evening. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, I heard that he was a pretty dry speaker. In fact he was animated, engaging, and gave an incredible sermon that could have been (and might be used) for High Holidays.
-Sister Helen Prejean, a fierce opponent of the death penalty. The author of Dead Man Walking and one of the most inspirational, thoughtful, intelligent, and powerful speakers I’ve ever heard. She spoke truth to power in telling some of her stories and presented one of the most important theology lessons I’ve ever heard.
-Benjamin Jealous, the president of the NAACP spoke about the history of the RAC and his organization and the important connection between the black and Jewish communities today.
-Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood spoke about the reality that when times gets tough the first to go ‘under the bus’ or be sacrificed to the elite majority are women and the poor. This is why the government was almost shut down because of funding for Planned Parenthood.
Speaking of women’s health, please see my post from Tuesday. That unfortunate bill passed the House and now goes to the Senate. There is so much work to do!
There was also a gala celebrating the 50th anniversary of the RAC.
In time, many of the addresses will be on the RAC’s website. I recommend listening in to the speakers that interest you. At the least, watch the celebratory video.
I know that was more newsy of a post than you might have expected. I am still trying to process everything that I learned, all the while attempting to understand the outcomes of the Canadian election and the Conservative majority. I will try to write more.