by Yoram Samets
Synagogues lagging behind cultural change is nothing new. In fact, there are those who would say synagogues should operate from a thoughtful, process-driven perspective and adopt change slowly. In essence I would agree with that. The challenge is all in the balance.
Synagogues must be able to respond to a rapidly changing culture, while keeping themselves grounded in their mission. Not an easy task, yet we have always found a way to enhance our religious experience through the current culture of our times.
As Jews we must keep our attention focused forward – through the windshield and the dramatic changing landscape ahead. Of course, we must also be alert to the view in the rear view mirror – what we are leaving behind and what is gaining ground.
This dual outlook is what should drive us as individual Jews, just as it drives the Googles, Facebooks, Intels (all with Jewish inside), and even the State of Israel.
Synagogues have the same opportunity of using technology to build a bridge between the synagogue experience and today’s culture. Technology needs to be an outward-looking tool for greater connectedness for the community.
While there are a number of creative synagogues doing remarkable outreach and engaging more members, too few synagogues have been able to emulate their example and create an operational model that will lead them and their communities to a stronger future.
Change happens when leaders intentionally and constructively work toward a better future. Our synagogues need a modern Abraham or Moses – intentional leaders with vision and the passion to lead a movement.
Technology is only a tool. And when used to its maximum benefit, it is a tool that enhances our purpose, our mission, and our movement.
What is your purpose? What is your synagogues’ purpose? Where is our passion?
What holds us together as a people, as a religion, is thousands of years old. Abraham, Rebecca, Isaac, Sarah, Moses, Ramban, Golda Meir – each has served as a powerful connector to our Jewish roots and our religious traditions. Our challenge is to use our rich history of purposeful leadership to regain the strength and focus for our individual communities and create meaningful purpose for our lives today.
American society is constantly changing and that change has impacted our Jewish culture; yet our Jewish foundation remains firm. While our families are spread around the world, less rooted in one cohesive community, we are challenged to create a wholly new Jewish community based on the realities of our world today.
We need to understand today’s 4 P’s for synagogue prosperity, in order to reclaim our Jewish movement in today’s American culture.
- Purpose – the higher goal, the higher calling that resonates;
- Passion – in any movement it takes firebrands to influence;
- People – those we want to join with us;
- Projects – purposeful doing brings people together.
Purpose, Passion, People, Projects – the rest is all detail.
This is the time of year when synagogues have an opportunity to start fresh. The first step out of the gate for thinking fresh is to form a strategic planning task force that, with a clear focus and effective leadership, can help the synagogue better understand the community’s passions and create a movement in support of them.
Strategic planning work is more about the process than it is about the outcome. Working together as a community, learning, listening to understand what others want and value, and then ultimately arriving at a common goal is key to successful community building and successful movement creation.
Re-identify your purpose.
Support it with a passionate commitment.
Focus it outward toward the people most interested in being drawn toward the purpose.
Then create projects that will drive action, and more people toward you purpose.
The outcome – Synagogue well-being.
And through the process you will find out the power of the potential of connectedness in the community, in the synagogue and online.
Yoram Samets is the Founder of Jvillage Network in Burlington, VT. He is a frequent writer and blogger on using digital technology to grow membership and engage and build Jewish community.