Monday, November 24, 2008

Planning for the Future--Part #2--The Role of the Synagogue

Synagogues come in all sizes and permutations. Nonetheless, what all of them share, or should share, is that they are communal structures: they are there to serve the community. So, what does it mean for a shul to serve a community?

Obviously, a shul is a place for people to come to daven. But is that all? Well, it should be a place where people come to learn as well. Okay, so what kind of learning did you have in mind? Well, you know, Torah learning, shiurim--that kind of stuff. So that's it? Well there is also tzedaka collecting that goes on for worthy causes. Uh huh. And you can make a simcha in a shul too! And?

A whole lot of shuls are doing nothing but offering very basic services to those who daven there. If asked a question the rav of the shul may give an answer, or may send you to where you might get an answer. But these shuls could be doing more, so much more to actually serve the communities they are supposed to serve.

There are some shuls out there which are already "multi-functioning." In addition to the basic services they may offer talmud Torah classes. Some may offer nursery school classes. Some have a mikveh on premises. Some of these shuls are politically active, legislating for services for their community. Still not enough.

I mentioned in Part #1 that there are certain documents that we all should have regarding health care and death arrangements. If the shuls want to serve their membership in a responsible way let them sponsor someone to come down and speak to the shul membership about these documents. Let them have the blank documents available. Let the rav speak about what a halachic will is and why we should have one.

Let shuls sponsor symposia on budgeting and on money management when times are hard. Let shuls sponsor speakers who will talk about retirement and what will be needed by those retiring. Let shuls sponsor symposia on elder care and what the options are.

And let shuls and the communities they service take on the responsibility for those in those shuls and communities who have no one when disaster strikes. Mrs. X has been a member of a shul for years. Her husband is no longer living. Perhaps she has children but maybe not. Maybe those children don't live near Mrs. X. Maybe Mrs. X still has siblings and maybe not. But what we do know is that Mrs. X lives alone. And on Shabbos Mrs. X doesn't come to shul. Is she away? Is she ill? How would anyone in the community know that? Shuls could be utilized to be a neighborhood watch. Our local Ezras Achim has a call program for elderly community members who live alone. Every day someone calls just to say hello and make sure things are okay. And if there is no answer the person calling keeps trying until the phone is answered. And if it's not answered a volunteer goes to check why. Shuls could certainly do this for their membership. Or how about a shul's organizing it so that no single members, regardless of age, find themselves alone every Shabbos, eating a solitary meal?

And if Mrs. X or Mr. Y should happen to fall ill and this does become known, then does anyone know who to contact and notify that this is the case? And what if there is no one to contact? Shall that person be stuck in a hospital with no one to visit and no one to legislate for care?And c"v if there is a death of one of these elderly people? Does anyone know what arrangements have been made and, again, who to contact? Every shul member should have an emergency notification card filed with the shul.

Shul's are the logical place to get information about life cycle events. They are the logical entities to be monitors that all is well for their members. Shuls are the logical place to be the repository of what to do and who to contact in case of emergencies on the parts of the membership.

Let's have shuls act more like concerned family members then like strangers.


Anonymous said...

Again, the difference between OOT and smaller communities versus the much larger communities of NY. When we lived in the Southwest our shul did what you are suggesting and lots more, but it was the only shul in town and served as much as community center as shul. It also did something that could be valuable in today's economic meltdown. Anyone who knew of a job opening in any field would post it to the newsletter and on the bulletin board in the lobby. They also sponsored a once a month clothing exchange for moms of young kids, a real financial help for young parents.

Anonymous said...

In my daughter's shul, oot, the rebbetzin and one of her daughters runs a nursery. The cost is way less then what it would cost in a yeshiva to send the kids for nursery and also less then paying for daycare individually. The cost to the parents is about $3000 for a twelve month year. I remember when many rebbetzins even in New York did this also out of their shuls.

Anonymous said...

These ideas would seem to be viable only if you daven in a shul that is "owned" by the members with elected boards and with voting rights for deciding on a Rav and on programs in the shul. In shuls that are owned by the Rav everything depends on what the Rav wants to do and how responsive he might be. He's going to be a lot more concerned about his reputation.

Anonymous said...

I get the part Allen about shuls with boards having more say in what goes on in the shul but I don't get why a rabbi who owns a shul wouldn't think that having lots of programs for the members would be good for his reputation. Wouldn't it show him to be responsive to what is going on in his congregant's lives?

Anonymous said...

Trudy think about the MO/right wing divide to explain the reputation concerns. MO shuls are seen as being a mix of gashmius and ruchnius. Their concerns are broader then the more right wing shuls and certainly then the shtiblach, where ruchnius is the main and sometimes only concern.

Anonymous said...

This idea is great but it also depends on the size of the community you live in. In smaller communities the shul tends to take on a community wide roll in providing more then a place of worship.

I just moved to Dallas and the biggest orthodox shul in the area has classes and learning programs every night. But there isnt a beis medrish on every corner.