Thinking About Reopening?
10 Things Synagogue Leaders Should Consider

Screen capture Jewish East End; illustration only.

By Barry Mael

I shared ten tips for synagogue leaders in Virtual Fundraising Today to Prepare For Tomorrow as we were starting to deal with lockdowns and Passover. It is now six weeks later and we still have shuttered buildings. Now, as our attention turns to issues regarding re-opening our physical spaces, projecting budgets for our new fiscal year, and High Holiday planning, I’d like to share my thoughts on possible approaches as we navigate towards this new normal.

1) Develop a Reopening Task Force – This team should be made up of lay and professional staff (including clergy), a medical person, lawyer and insurance expert. The medical person would help interpret guidelines from the CDC and others. The lawyer and insurance people can help with liability-related issues, and clergy can help with the fine balance between halachic rules and values of the synagogue community.

2) Establish a High Holiday Season Task Force – The group needs to consider ritual, programming, education, operations and building issues, as well as financial/fundraising/membership issues and communication needs. Topics can include everything from virtual to home services, youth services and whether and how the building will be used for in-person events and more.

3) Envision the Building Opening – Whether your synagogue offers preschool/daycare,  religious school or adult education programs, use the collective creativity to envision what the opening of these programs will look like. Will there be a welcome event? What are the best ways to build momentum and excitement around the reopening and assure congregants that it’s safe to return? How many students will be in a live or virtual religious school class? What will the synagogue’s messaging be and who will craft it?

4) Incorporate Silver lining Lessons – Now is a good time to ask, “in what ways has the synagogue changed for the better?” Are there specific learnings about programming? member communication and outreach? Use of technology? What things did the clergy, lay leaders or staff do to connect with members that deepened engagement?

5) Membership and Messaging – The past few months have, in many ways, deepened the relationship with congregants. How do you keep that going? This effort will pay important dividends down the road in terms of connections and financially. 

6) Acknowledge the Team – Working through this crisis can result in forgetting to express appreciation for the extra things that clergy staff, teachers and lay leaders have done, putting in extra hours. We must almost remember to express and show gratitude and appreciation.

 7) Reevaluate Sacred Cows – I hear over and over from our congregations that certain glaring issues came to the fore during this time. Sometimes there are hard realities that might need to be faced such as the fact that the pre-school – even at full capacity – isn’t the revenue generating profit center it once was. Are there more efficient, cost effective ways to enhance and strengthen the religious school? Be open minded during these conversations.

8) Look at Shared Space/Mergers – Synagogues of different sizes and locations have for years been grappling about what the future holds. Discussions about possible mergers or shared space use have now become priorities.

9) Encourage Creative Thinking – Now is the time to encourage lay and professional staff to think outside the box regarding fundraising, member recruitment, summer programs, family activities and more. Try new things, to bring some fun and refreshed energy to this very challenging situation.

10) Let Your Mission Determine Your Budget – We are now at a time where we need to follow our best instincts and values even though doing so might not be the best response from a specific budgetary standpoint. Think about the members and community first and, within reason, figure out how to reconcile the budgetary and fundraising needs.

At this critical time, our synagogue sacred communities are looking to our clergy and lay and professional leaders to help find a path forward. I am confident that our leaders have the creativity, wisdom and capacity to find that path. 

The key is to be comfortable and nimble enough to be able to pivot when circumstances change. Build that into all your planning! Please feel free to contact me at