Archive for the ‘Idea Warehouse’ Category

Rekindling Tradition as Life Partnerships End

Monday, January 18th, 2010

It is somewhat surprising that researchers have paid so little attention to how people experience divorce in congregations. Studies that do address the relationship between religion and divorce are largely quantitative, measuring divorce numbers. Rarely do these reports consider the personal impact and how (or if) communities support those affected by divorce. Do synagogues know how to handle end of relationship issues?

From 2005 to 2009, author Kathleen E. Jenkins conducted sixty interviews with divorced individuals (eleven Jewish) active in a variety of religious communities. Jenkins interviewed forty clergy (twelve rabbis) and lay leaders. Three of the rabbis had been divorced.

Jenkins includes anecdotes from her interviews that may surprise many in the synagogue community while not surprise others at all. The report concludes with some simple, practical suggestions for synagogues to better serve this distinct community.

Download the full report

CO-STAR: Rabbi Aaron Spiegel on “Why Synagogues Need to Increase their Use of Technology”

Monday, February 18th, 2008

S3K’s new Board chair (mazal tov!), Rabbi Aaron Spiegel:

We talk about wanting to be more welcoming, particularly of young people. But our actions say that what we really want are young people who are willing to learn, participate in worship, and be part of our community, in the same way their parents and grandparents did. Statistics say this isn"t working. Technology is a tool.

The church world calls it a tool for ministry. Synagogues need to start thinking of technology as a tool for connecting with our congregants, and for them to connect with one another and the rest of k"lal Yisrael. And dare I say, in the most reverent Buberist terms, with God.

What’s in a name?

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

Some of our Christian colleagues are having a bit of a blog & comment-fest around the future of the terms “emergent” and “emerging” to describe their work:

Kester Brewin at Signs of Emergence
Steve Knight at Emergent Village
Brian McLaren at God’s Politics

It’s hardly a new conversation for them, but rather goes back at least to 2005.

So what’s in a name? Brian McLaren and his conversation partners make some reference to political implications, especially vis-a-vis the 2008 elections, but there’s little exploration of the link between types of spiritual community-building and modes of political action. Kester Brewin’s conversation stays more or less at the meta-level (where he intended it to be, I think). Steve Knight’s discussion concerns language as a description of action; one commenter, Wayne, writes, “In the same way, as the number of churches deal with the change in approach, emergent will be redundant and it may just be ‘church".” What’s interesting about this (Christian) emergent discussion is how theological and ekklesia-focused it is; there is little attention paid to the organizational structure of these new groups, still less to how they actually spend their time (worship? social service? social change? evangelism? learning? personal growth?).

Over on our side of the fence, we’ve tended to be concerned with organizational structures. Thus, a group that rejects denominational structures and rabbinic authority is, hey presto, an “independent minyan.” But that hasn’t necessarily helped things. Some people like to use “independent minyan” or “indie minyan” as synecdoche, to refer to the phenomenon as a whole; it’s occurred all too often in some of the recent reporting on the S3K-Mechon Hadar Survey. The problem is that whatever else they may be, new communities such as Brooklyn Jews, IKAR, Jews in the Woods, Kavana, Kavod House, Kol Tzedek, Mitziut, Nashuva, Riverway, Saviv, Yavneh, etc., simply aren’t independent minyanim.

Most people aren’t interested in terms at all; they’re busy doing the work that they set out to do, and don’t have much interest in what it’s called, so long as it gets done. Certainly there are other metaphors one might use to describe these differences, but the initial point I want to make here is that for now, our conversations about distinctions among the “independent minyan” vs. the “rabbi-led emergent” vs. something else are letting internal organizational structure drive the discussion, or, if you will, letting ontology recapitulate phylogeny. Indeed, our survey data does show significant distinctions among “independent minyanim,” “rabbi-led emergent communities,” and “alternative emergent communities” (and yes, there’s some truth to the claim that the “alternative” category is a bit kitchen sink-like, but we do say our report is preliminary).

This initial point – the priority of organizational structure – leads to my second point: underlying these organizational differences, however, are significant similarities: commitments to community-based (rather than inner-directed) spiritual expression, deep hospitality, democratic worship, sustained confrontation with tradition, theologically-informed social change, blurring of the sacred/secular divide, and so on. Perhaps “emergent” is not the ideal term to capture these big ideas; “emerging” may be a slightly generic, though it doesn’t have the richness associated with “emergence.” Still, for now, “emergent” is serving an important purpose: to capture in a single word or phrase (“Jewish Emergent”), one not dependent on organizational structure, the broad swathe of new spiritual communities that have sprung up over the past decade or so.

And this leads to my final point, which is about where all of this is headed. I think the Christian Emergent debate about labels is more productive than what has (or, rather, hasn’t) transpired among Jewish Emergent leaders. Brian, Kester, Steve, and others are exploring the meaning of their work and looking for ways communicate that meaning not only to themselves but more broadly to the Church as a whole, in the ultimate hope that Christendom might reconsider the way it lives out its faith. In contrast, the “Jewish Emergent” conversation seems aimed less at effecting change within the broader institutional community than at coming up with new forms that at best ignore the mainstream. The broad conversations that do occur, often facilitated by mainstream institutions or by funders, mostly are framed as “us-vs.-them,” rather than as “we,” and there is relatively little visioning of how Jewish Emergent might shape klal Yisrael.

The question very few people seem to be asking (admittedly, emergent types just do rather than spend time asking questions) is whether these developments ultimately will result in reform or revolution in existing ecclesial institutions like churches and synagogues (as Wayne suggests above), or whether we ought to be looking at new ways of mapping the organized religious world. Some independent minyanim — Minyan Koleinu, Altshul, PicoEgal — already are finding physical homes in synagogues; whether that means they eventually will assimilate into one another remains to be seen. Some “synagogue-like” rabbi-led communities may move in non-synagogue directions. Speaking personally, I’ve been a member of IKAR all but since its founding: when we “grow up,” I don’t know that we’ll be a synagogue, or even that we want to. And the alternative communities are pushing the organizational envelope furthest of all.

Perhaps Emergent Village and Sojourners have more in common with each other than they do with churches, seminaries, and denominations. Among Jewish emergents, perhaps the independent minyan Kehilat Hadar has more in common with the yeshiva at Mechon Hadar than with the synagogue Anshe Chesed; perhaps the rabbi-led emergent community IKAR has more in common with the social justice group Progressive Jewish Alliance than with Temple Beth Am; perhaps the alternative community Kavod House has more in common with Boston’s Jewish Community Relations Council than with Chabad House (denominational differences notwithstanding). And what that might mean for klal Yisrael — beyond the constraints of our existing institutions — is an exciting conversation just waiting to happen.

Zeek on independent minyanim

Tuesday, January 1st, 2008

The excellent Spring 2007 issue of Zeek finally is online, with links to “DIY Judaism: A Roundtable,” moderated by Shifra Bronznick, Riv-Ellen Prell’s “Independent Minyanim and Prayer Groups of the 1970s: Historical and Sociological Perspectives,”, Ilana Kurshan’s “Stacking the Plastic Chairs: Running an Egalitarian Minyan in Jerusalem,”, and Ethan Tucker’s “What Independent Minyanim Teach Us About the Next Generation of Jewish Communities.”

Steven, Elie, Michelle, and I cite many of the articles in our report on emergent communities — though again, it’s important to recognize that the Zeek articles and symposia focus exclusively on independent minyanim like Darkhei Noam, Hadar, Kol Zimrah, Mission Minyan, etc., not rabbi-led emergent communities such as Kavana, IKAR, Kol Tzedek, etc., nor alternatives like Kavod House, Riverway, etc.

Synagogue consulting – toward the state of the field

Monday, December 17th, 2007

Our friends at STAR have published three new reports on synagogue consulting, a field that has grown tremendously over the past few years. We’re proud that the report highlights the impact of S3K alongside the Experiment in Congregational Education and the Alban Institute. Yasher koach to the STAR team for its important work in an under-studied, under-supported area of synagogue life.

Rabbi David Teutsch, a leader of the project, is a member of our S3K Synagogue Studies Academy, and his colleague Noga Newberg was the founding president of Kol Tzedek, a community represented in our Emergent Sacred Communities Working Group by Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Hermann.

Tolle et lege….

Big Tent Judaism

Monday, October 8th, 2007

Rabbis Elliot Dorff and Kerry Olitzky, both members of S3K’s Synagogue Studies Advisory Board, present Big Tent Judaism:

It is time for the Jewish community to rally together around the issue of welcoming newcomers. No mitzvah is repeated more often in the Torah than to “welcome the stranger.” (“Stranger” is not our preferred translation because of its sometimes negative connotations in English, so we say “newcomer.”)

Welcoming newcomers is not the domain of just one movement or institution. We must coordinate across denominational and organizational lines to determine what works best in finding and reaching people, how we on the inside can engage those still on the outside, and what are the messages of meaning and value that will draw them in.

Join the Big Tent Coalition here.

A little honesty goes a long way

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

STAR’s Rabbi Hayim Herring, a member of S3K’s Synagogue Studies Advisory Board, notes in JTA that

“[T]he vast majority of rabbis are aware that they must continue to pursue ways of engaging members, reaching out beyond the core community and including participants who have historically been sidelined by the synagogue….What is most apparent is that many synagogues are seeking ways to change the fundamental assumptions about membership and participation. Rabbis are honest about the problems that synagogues exhibit and know that critiques are often leveled at them — they are still not shaping enough people"s lives and often are perceived as out of touch and parochial.

However, with their heightened willingness to rethink their roles and congregations, rabbis are hopeful that they will overcome challenges to make Judaism more relevant in the lives of American Jews beyond the High Holidays.”

Looking for a last-minute sermon? Go from out-of-the-box to fill-in-the-blank!

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

At S3K, we take pride in disseminating only top-quality research and learning on synagogue life. But sometimes–for example, when there are mere hours before the first of five or more High Holyday sermons (followed immediately by one or two Shabbat divrei Torah)–quality just won’t do: it’s all about the quantity. Words, words, words: ideally, strung together coherently, but at this point….

Thanks to our friends at the Jewish Journal, help is on the way!

Shanah tovah umetukah to all!

Cheshbon Ha-tefilah

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

The RRA’s Richard Hirsch offers good advice in The Forward for reviewing High Holyday services:

“Given the diverse nature of our community, did our services manage to provide comfortable access for most people?”

“Given the need to balance personal reflection and prayer with communal participation and congregational singing, did our services allow enough time for both?”

“Given that many of our members are familiar with the liturgy while many others are not, did our services hit a reasonable balance between fidelity to the core structure and innovation?”

“Given that this year we decided to try a new innovation, do we have enough sense of the response to try it again, drop it, or modify it?”

“Given that we assign the final responsibility for shaping the Yamim Noraim services to the rabbi, are there suggestions you might want to offer to her for consideration for next year?”

“Given that there are many opportunities for spiritual enrichment, what was one moment during the services that you felt was particularly powerful for our community?”

For our communities to fulfill the high expectations we have for them, we need to think in terms of “we” and not “me.” Congregants should come to the Yamim Noraim with the expectation of working on teshuvah, and then rate the services in terms of how well the services supported that work. That will be an authentic indicator of how well a community and its rabbi work together to accomplish the holy work of the season of repentance.

Kehillot y’rakot….

Thursday, August 2nd, 2007

The Forward‘s Rebecca Spence on green synagogues:

synagogues and Jewish organizations across the denominations are moving — some faster than others — toward better aligning their buildings and business practices with Mother Nature. For the most part, they"re joining the wider global shift toward environmentalism for distinctly Jewish reasons.

The article concludes by noting that “a host of synagogues …have opted to replace the electric light above the ark where the Torah is kept, known as the ner tamid, with a solar-powered fixture.”

Socialized through Gregarious 42