Beginning the New Year and Looking toward Creating Great Change Together – Rabbi Cohen’s Shabbat Message

This is the first Shabbat of 2020 that I look forward to spending with you, TBS. When I hear 2020, I don’t think of the year rather I think about perfect vision. The reality is, there is no such thing as perfect vision. What we can do is work to make our vision better and stronger.

I am grateful to all those who attended the congregational meeting on Monday evening. It was the start of important conversations and a strong reminder that nothing should happen in a vacuum. That open communication and transparency regarding our congregation are critical to our success. This was a hard conversation but if we are hoping to create a future for ourselves then these conversations are important to have and all voices have a right to not only be heard but listened to.

Our entire world is in a sense of chaos and disruption. We see it in our political discourse, in the international realm, even in the physical world through fires that are engulfing Australia and have destroyed so much here in California and earthquakes that recently were felt in Puerto Rico. And while this chaos and disruption is challenging, this is how evolution and transformation happens.

Clare Graves, a professor of psychology analyzes the paradigm shift that happens in individuals and society when we are in the midst of change. He says we are happiest at times of stability and when change starts to occur, we experience stress and resist attempts to acknowledge that stress. We then try to work at going back to the way things always were. This moment of change and stress creates chaos and disruption and trying to go back to the way things were is not sustainable.

On Monday, the question that came up was why is membership decreasing? Is this unique to TBS? And what can we do to work in this new paradigm.

First, to be clear, this is not unique to TBS. A Pew Research study shows a steady decline in the rates of attendance at religious services and affiliation throughout all religious groups. Americans are not participating in religious services or affiliating with congregations at the same rate they used to. Judaism is seeing a decline in synagogue participation and affiliation as well. Even within our own movement, over the past few years, the URJ has seen a decrease in congregations from over 900 to less than 850. Congregations are not able to sustain themselves by doing what they have always done.

At the URJ Biennial in Chicago this past December, Amy Asin, URJ Vice President, Strengthening Congregations, addressed the attendees and many streaming in with her address, “How Can We Start Addressing Change In A Big Way?” (you can read her whole address here). I shared this address with our Board of Directors last month and now I share it with our whole community.

In her address, Amy shared with us the importance and need for Reform Judaism and our congregations to create change. She acknowledges that it is not easy, but it is vital to our survival.

A few points she states are:

  • “We are going to have to want change, want to change, and all of us will need to lead that change.”
  • “You have been asking us (the URJ) how to get more members to join and be engaged, and how to grow financial support. I’m here to tell you: The same old ways won’t work. But change can.”
  • There are those who are seeking connections to Jewish community, but it is not through services on Friday night or Torah study. There is a major disconnect in what we are offering as synagogues and what people are looking for. Our job is to work with them and find a new way.
  • Some of the issues we are facing with people not joining our congregations has to do with:
    • The number of choices available for community and Jewish connections. It is not just through a building. It can be through the internet and online connections.
    • The Jewish community is more diverse than ever and “many of our congregations do not reflect this diversity because we haven’t yet been open to the change we need to make in order for people who do not look or act like us to feel at home.”
    • People are marrying later in life and having less children. They are not connecting with congregations like the generations before.
    • People are living longer so our congregations are aging. “The older generations often want to keep things the way are, asking why the younger generations won’t simply accept it that way.”

Amy Asin guides us through suggestions of how we can work toward change asking, “Why talk so much about change? Because the decision to stay the same is a decision to allow the synagogue model to fade away.”

None of us want to see this happen but how we have always done it, is not the answer. We can no longer look back at our past and say, “we were once…” or “we once had…” as that is not today’s reality. Where once we thought being an improver was good enough, it will only lead to our disappearing. Being transformers will be a bit more successful but the financial reality is that we need to find other ways to help our congregation be financially solid. Being disruptors can be risky and a choice that will take careful examination and sacred partnership.

Temple Beth Sholom is at a time of needing to create change and we do this together. It’s time for conversation and I want to invite you to join me for coffee or tea and let’s talk about, if we want to change, how can we create change, and how each person can be a leader toward that change and hence toward a stronger TBS.
Shabbat Shalom!

Comments are closed.