Vision 5782: Adat Shalom’s 2016 Long-Range Plan
Accepted by the Adat Shalom Community following extensive communal input, May 2016”
בְּאֵ֣ין חָ֭זוֹן יִפָּ֣רַֽע עָ֑ם וְשֹׁמֵ֖ר תּוֹרָ֣ה אַשְׁרֵֽהוּ
“Without Vision, the People Disintegrate – but whoever keeps the
Torah (instruction / way / law) is happy.” — Proverbs 29:18
5782 is the Hebrew year that starts just five years from now, in the Fall of 2021. Though we cannot foresee what our world or community will look like then, we have asked our members about their hopes and dreams and visions for the next three to five years. The year 5782 is also the next shmita year, a fitting interval for serious reflection – and, potentially, for Adat Shalom’s next long-range planning process …
Though numerous attempts were made over the years, including a useful “future search” in 2004, this is the first sustained long-range planning process in Adat Shalom’s storied 28 years. The process was designed to be substantive, yet manageable; wide-ranging, but not fully comprehensive. Much – much! – is already going right. Many areas of our communal life in 2016 already have robust mechanisms for ongoing feedback, and continual improvement. Yet stepping back, and asking the big questions that day-to-day and month-to-month efforts may miss, remains vital.
A convening committee (rabbi, executive director, and co-presidents) met, drafted the design for this planning process, worked with Board and Staff to shape the approach, and recruited and empowered four Visioning Groups to address key areas in the life of our community. Where current Committee and Board leadership have their hands full doing great work on weekly and monthly time-scales – and they certainly offered their input to these groups – it was important that the Visioning Groups take a wider view, looking more broadly at where we are and whence we might be headed, and thinking about what would best position us for the near- and intermediate- future. These Visioning Groups’ efforts are the solid foundation of this Long-Range Plan (“LRP”).
The document which follows is rich in ideas, proposals, perspectives, and more. Following the Executive Summary (pp. 2-3), pages four through eleven list a number of key recommendations for our community in the years ahead — which were thoroughly vetted by synagogue and LRP leadership teams, and in Spring 2016, by the community as a whole. Following those, the reports of the Visioning Groups begin on page twelve. As they contain much insight and many hidden gems, we urge interested members to delve into these reports. These four Visioning Groups and their areas of inquiry are:
Youth Engagement: Addressing every entry point for Jewish identity-building, ages 0 to 17 – including tot Shabbat and programs; informal grade-school gatherings; youth program; incentives for Jewish camp/youth/Israel experiences; & relationship with wider community initiatives.
Lifelong-Learning: Considering all our synagogue initiatives, from Torah School through Jewish Studies – all the many ways in which we use our building, our staff, our curriculum, and our program to maximize the level of Judaic literacy and excitement in members of all ages.
Long-Term Vitality: Looking at the complex matrix of membership, dues, year-to-year solvency, and long-term financial security – with demographic considerations; where new members come from, and how best to bring them; and key institutional questions of revenue and expenses.
Beyond the Shul: Addressing all the mission-centric ways in which we are not an island unto ourselves, but have external connections and commitments – with the larger metro area; other faith groups; the Reconstructionist movement; Israel & the larger Jewish world; tikkun olam efforts.
Our KEY RECOMMENDATIONS: The twenty-two pages of Visioning Group recommendations are replete with suggested directions for our community, numbering well into the hundreds. The Long-Range Recommendations (pages 4-11) highlight a few dozen key directions, which the community has found to be worthy, impactful, and at least semi-realistic in the next three to five years. A few top examples are named here.
General and Recurrent Themes: Strengthen our publicity efforts and communications mechanisms; seek out and strengthen partnerships with other institutions where feasible; improve and routinize program evaluation.
Youth Engagement: Further encourage and incentivize Jewish summer camp attendance; slowly build up informal youth efforts, toward a robust post-b’nai mitzvah program; seek strong staffing, youth empowerment, and leadership development.
Lifelong Learning: Get kids and families more comfortable in the sanctuary; develop that post-b’nai mitzvah program along the lines of our former ben/bat Torah initiative; strengthen and further diversify our well-regarded Jewish Studies courses.
Long-Term Vitality: Rethink dues structures, to incentivize younger families, and perhaps move to a voluntary model; expand technology; better use our facility in the summer; strengthen inreach efforts; further strengthen and utilize our village system.
Beyond the Shul: look afresh at how we select and implement Social Action initiatives; expand environmental commitments into the climate advocacy arena; increase our efforts in interfaith dialogue; strengthen our Reconstructionist movement connections.
APPRECIATIONS: more are in the appendices; a special word of thanks here to our core team of eighteen – Visioning Group co-chairs, volunteer facilitators, and senior staff plus co-presidents (names on final page). Special thanks too to everyone who volunteered on a V.G., and elicited the key ideas in this plan. Finally, we’re grateful to the sizeable percentage of members who offered their input, in one way or another. This plan stands thanks to you….
NEXT STEPS: At the board level, the coming Adat Shalom leadership will (a) begin with a retreat focused on implications of this LRP; (b) add a new at-large board position for long-range planning and implementation; and (c) establish a new practice, at least quarterly, of leaving substantial board time for our leadership to consider long-term goals and objectives.
At the committee level, our Visioning Groups generated even more ideas than can appear even in a forty-page plan. These ideas are being communicated to current and incoming committee chairs, while the V.G. leaders themselves will remain in the loop.
And communally, long-range thinking and planning is now part of our fabric. All are encouraged to focus on our long-range reality, and to revisit this document early and often – even as we anticipate new processes for input and revision in the years ahead. (Note also the simultaneous, parallel but independent, formulation of a new Mission Statement).
This LRP is not a full road map for the years ahead; its scope was not comprehensive, and unforeseen challenges and opportunities await. But it should be consulted early and often as we set priorities, evaluate, and adjust our course. To the future, together!
— LRP conveners: Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb; Executive Director Marla Cohen;
and co-Presidents, Hannah Lipman and Phil Zipin. May, 2016
Each Visioning Group started with a robust selection of ideas to draw on, thanks to the 200 or so members who contributed via the three town hall meetings, or initial survey (Jan. 2016). They then did their own original research – scanning extant literature; personally interviewing members, and outside experts; researching regional and national organizations to determine best practices, and potential partnership paths; and consulting with other local shuls, Reconstructionist synagogues, and innovative or top-performing spiritual communities elsewhere. They did this brilliantly – all the more so, given how little time they had, with the need to summarize their efforts by mid-March. Their full reports begin on page 15; the following “key recommendations” are drawn from their sacred work, with a few additions suggested by the community during the March-April 2016 comment period.
The ideas in the following nine pages are not an exhaustive list of the “best” ideas drawn from the four Visioning Group reports – but they are a useful starting-point. First the LRP conveners and synagogue leadership lifted up the following few dozen ideas which seemed worthy and impactful, reasonably attainable, and of broad interest. Then the community as a whole (through a survey and town hall gatherings in April 2016) weighed in. These “key recommendations” will be the first pages to which incoming and future Boards and Committees turn, as a pre-vetted list of steps worth taking. Still, the fuller sets of ideas contained in the four reports are available (pages 12-33) as well, along with yet more “parking lot” material (www.adatshalom.net/2016-LRP-extras); it all has a future.
Because even these seven pages contain more good ideas than can be done all at once, we have starred the handful of ideas which we recommend implementing as soon as possible, and placed those at the front of each section. We have assigned action items to many of the top recommendations, and where possible have indicated the current status of similar efforts.
Here, then, are our carefully considered recommended actions and explorations for the coming years at Adat Shalom, as determined by the community in early 2016:
GENERAL / RECURRENT
*** Communications and Publicity: each Visioning Group noted a need to strengthen these areas, to better and more consistently reach potential participants in each of our many strong programs and initiatives. We must make better use of existing communication channels, improve them, and/or create new ones, to better promote and publicize our many wonderful activities. Efforts to strengthen our communications functions are currently in progress amongst key staff and volunteer leaders; a larger task force may be called for.
*** Program Evaluation: We should make this a norm, broadly pursuing program evaluation in all that we do, gathering information from all corners, to identify strengths and weaknesses. And we should routinely be “willing to tweak programs, based on timely and thorough feedback” (Youth Empowerment’s language, broadly applicable to all that we do). Action item: create and test evaluation tools, to be assigned and determined by new Board.
*** Partnerships: our one mid-size shul need not and should not try to do everything on our own; we can draw strength from, and lend strength to, other institutions. Suggestions include partnering on youth activities with other synagogues and JCC’s, and groups like PJ Library; strengthening existing synagogue consortia; joint social action efforts with other synagogues; and focusing on alliances like Jews United for Justice and interfaith groups. Action item: Program Council (all committees), and Board, to focus on current and potential partnerships.
Further General/Recurrent Recommendations
Establish a “Volunteer Coordinator” position – volunteer, or paid — to work across multiple committees to track, recruit, and help train volunteers for all sorts of projects, rather than the entire responsibility continuing to rest on individual projects’ leaders. This might include expanding the synagogue database and making members’ interests and skills searchable; such ideas are currently under discussion as a volunteer position. Action item: Board will consider what resources can and should be devoted to this effort.
Working Groups: Part of the LRP process going forward will be deciding which of the many suggested task forces to convene; that is an action item for the Board. Possible topics include: (1) strategizing ways for kids to spend more time in the sanctuary; (2) studying the feasibility and desirability of a preschool renting our facility; (3) relaunching the “Torah School Minyan working group”; (4) determining best ways to select social action projects.
Staffing: Many LRP recommendations can be handled entirely by current volunteers and staff; others specifically point to staff expansions. With current budgetary realities, large expansions of staff hours appear unlikely. Still, the process suggested specific expansions that might be particularly beneficial: (a) routinizing a youth director position, expanding it toward half or even full time; (b) a communications director; (c) continuing to have a shaliach; (d) a volunteer coordinator. Note that other key areas with staffing needs that might well expand, like pastoral concerns and general programming, were not directly addressed in this LRP.
*** Continue to encourage Jewish summer camp attendance and grow the Daniel Thursz Youth Fund and Camp Scholarship fund, building on our outsize contingents at Camp JRF and Moshava, and the wide number of camps our kids attend, all offering immersive experiences beyond what we can do in Bethesda – while remembering that Jewish summer camp won’t always work, or be affordable, for everyone. Specifically, try matching families in threes: one with children nearing camp age; one with a child who’s attended for a year or two; and one with a long-time camper (or counselor or CIT) – let them share a meal together, show camp photos, and talk about experiences; “allow the older kids to share the joy!”
*** For pre-teens and teens, keep in mind that “building a post-b’nai-mitzvah youth program can’t happen instantly, but needs to build over time.” While supporting current explorations like Rosh Hodesh programs, we should “continue to support the new youth advisor position, in permanent and ultimately full-time capacity.” Though full-time may be far off, there’s no doubt that this position needs serious ongoing resources – “the success of the youth program depends on having the right person leading it” – and on our supporting youth leadership development (with older youths recruiting and mentoring their younger peers); and events that are conceived and led by youth, with oversight by the youth advisor.
Further Youth Engagement Recommendations
Consider havurot (intimate groups of perhaps 6-10 families each) – organized by shared location (roughly by Village), and common ages of children.
For tots and preschoolers, and their families: (a) Create midweek activities, music classes, playdates, gardening, yoga, etc. for young children and parents-grandparents-caregivers. And/or (b) support the ‘preschool feasibility exploratory group’, to determine if our location, facility, and situation might help fill a local need while attracting young families.
Recognizing the importance of the youth minyanim on Shabbat mornings, and the need to never rest on our laurels, perhaps we should re-launch the minyan working group for strategic planning — to build on the strengths of our minyanim, and strategize ways to instill an even greater sense of awe, belonging, and spirit, while imparting skills of Jewish ritual practice (details on page 19).
Celebrate students’ accomplishments – the start of High School as well as graduation; drivers’ license; etc. – in visible communal ways like aliyot, or mention in our e-Scroll or Scroll. Members may submit such shout-outs or ‘mazel tovs’ to email@example.com.
From Youth Engagement’s extensive parking lot of ideas: Have a special Torah School day to talk about what God is. More storytelling (in progress, with Marilyn Price and our own Noa Baum). Open our secular youth programming to all, to make better use of our building and create social opportunities (e.g. college prep classes, physics tutor available on Sunday mornings). Have “camp for a day” instead of Torah School (currently done each Fall as Camp Ruach Shabbat), at periodic intervals. Consider non-membership ways for people to connect with AS, since not all people are interested in becoming members. Intergenerational pairing-up with folks across culture, faith, and class lines, to do joint tikkun olam / service projects. Focus on a few summer weekends for intergenerational outreach and programming. Outreach to new parents and creating cohorts, along “Mommy & Me” lines. Build incentives into the youth program, so as kids get older there is always something to look forward to.
Organize a youth social hour during the oneg hour, beyond the current Torah School class onegs — with informal activities such as arts and crafts, sports, counting in Hebrew, working in the garden, or singing with a song leader.
We lift up the recent Youth Committee report by Jaime Banks and Beth Sperber Richie as something that should inform present and future youth leadership – as the Visioning Group summarized it, this work of youth engagement “has to be done through multiple channels, and upholding four basic principles: (1) We have to empower kids, (2) It has to be separate from [though coordinated with] Torah School, (3) It needs a social component, and (4) We need to employ a strong, compelling leader with ‘that certain magic’.”
*** Let children (and their parents) connect more in the main sanctuary. Convene a working group to strategize how children can further participate in services, and feel more comfortable in the sanctuary on Shabbat mornings, as part of their Jewish development. Incorporate more participatory roles and learning opportunities for youth (Torah School, Day School and other) in Shabbat services. Have inter-generational singing in the final minutes of the service. Further encourage families to attend on Shabbatot without Torah School, and encourage Tot Shabbat families to be in the main sanctuary before or after Tot Shabbat. Offer meaningful High Holy Day family services for all grade levels (now in progress); explore alternatives for mentoring youth leadership for these services (also in progress). (These recommendations were shared between Lifelong-Learning and Youth Engagement V.G.’s)
*** Develop a post-b’nai mitzvah program to engage older children in the synagogue community and in Jewish learning through their teen years, including appropriate recognition of student completion. One proposed structure would follow our old “ben/bat Torah” model (offering numerous individualized ways to get ‘credit’ toward meeting collective goals in key areas like Jewish learning, experiential learning, synagogue service, and community service). Action item: build on extant youth programming efforts to outline such a plan, with student input, in 2016-17, and launch it for Fall 2017.
*** Continue, and build upon, our well-regarded Judaic studies courses. Expand the range of adult education offerings with more cultural and multi-generational opportunities — such as congregational theater outings, book clubs, family-friendly film series, etc.
Further Lifelong Learning Recommendations
Enhance the appeal and effectiveness of Torah School by incorporating more experiential learning; training teachers (which has begun) and madrichim in experiential approaches; surveying Torah School teachers, parents and students for input; engaging a Jewish educational consultant to review curriculum, and suggest further opportunities for participatory learning. (Youth Engagement similarly said “develop a progression of experiential learning projects).
Evaluate the non-curricular aspects of Torah School (including the need to attract and maintain experienced and dynamic teachers); explore new models for Hebrew education (a long-standing search which can be taken to the next level). Further encourage Torah School and other families to connect with one another.
For the High Holy Days, incorporate more religious and holiday-specific content in children’s programming, and offer age-appropriate and engaging services for children and/or families on each Holy Day (this is already in discussion to begin in Fall 2016).
Consider more intergenerational educational opportunities – such as having adults (perhaps seniors), and/or older kids, help younger students, particularly with prayer skills.
Conduct a carefully crafted Adult Education survey, deliberately focused to assess the educational interests of all adult members – including topics, formats, timing, and more.
Provide opportunities for congregants of all ages to learn Hebrew, and to become more knowledgeable about the structure, meaning, and melodies of Shabbat services. This could include routinizing learners’ minyanim on non-Torah-School Saturdays, or on Sundays.
LONG TERM VITALITY
*** Establish a task force to continue the important work of the informal “Dues Working Group” (2012-15) as well of the 2016 LRP “Long Term Vitality” effort; receive their findings and suggestions with an open mind. Initial restructurings might center around incentives for members in their 30’s and/or families with young children (Youth Engagement and Long-Term Vitality each had different specific ideas here; see pages 15 and 26-27). And down the line, cautiously, we should explore the feasibility of moving (partially or entirely) to a voluntary or “fair-share” dues structure – even as we build up the vital nascent endowment.
*** Expand outreach efforts. Make it easy for folks to join us. Ramp up ways to make “word of mouth” more effective and plausible, while strengthening our social media presence, public relations efforts, etc.
*** Explore how new and enhanced technology can significantly expand our offerings and improve our efficient day-to-day functioning. (We recently began live-streaming in the sanctuary, and hope to add video-conferencing in the library next; electronic bill-pay, and acceptance of credit card payments for all synagogue transactions, are now in the works).
*** Develop Summertime programs open to the community – e.g. movie night, evening at the amphitheater, Havdalah story-telling and sing-alongs, ice cream social on the porch, Sunday brunch with a guest speaker, etc.
*** Further strengthen, and better utilize, our Village system – starting in limited ways, like more use of Village listservs for neighborly queries, and organizing in-home Village-based gatherings that don’t conflict with AS-Central community activities.
*** Strengthen our inreach efforts in numerous ways: develop a buddy system pairing new and veteran members; expand our periodic in-home Shabbat – Havdalah pot-lucks (which will require new volunteers to help find hosts, especially those open to small children); reach out with aid and ritual at key transition moments like when members become empty-nesters; leadership development; etc. Recall, as Kay Abrams (our 2014-16 Board member for inreach) said: “Anything that strengthens connections among members is important. In-home activities, including committee meetings, is helpful. Revive some old activities (and integrate new ideas) by encouraging committees, villages & chugs to continue to be creative.”
Further Long-Term Vitality Recommendations
Our long-term vitality requires a culture where every member can see themselves as an important part of the community, and can participate to the fullest extent possible. Inclusion and accommodations must be a consideration in all of our efforts, from planning and communications, to execution and evaluation. We should focus on the inclusion of and accommodations for people with visible and invisible disability; people of all ages; and those who are part of historically marginalized groups (e.g. LGBTQ, Jews of Color, intermarried, etc).
Certain staff positions might be turned into points of contact for those who would request accommodations. We should consider making our “Inclusion Advisory Group” a permanent presence, tasked with making Adat Shalom more inclusive as well as providing accommodations as feasible. (More on these lines at www.adatshalom.net/2016-LRP-extras).
Another key area of inreach is meeting members’ acute needs as they arise. While pastoral efforts and staffing arrangements were beyond the purview of this or any Visioning Group, numerous respondents noted that with a somewhat aging population (and with five member households in simultaneous shiva during the public review of this Plan), we should be proactive and planful around meeting these growing needs in the future.
For outreach purposes, consider hiring a part-time public relations professional to coordinate and oversee Adat Shalom’s external publicity (website content, social media posts, communication with local press, etc) – or a professional PR consultant on a time-limited basis to advise our lay and professional leadership (professional and lay) on how to improve our outreach effectiveness (particularly in promoting our Torah School and rental space).
Concentrate outreach resources toward young families – with such possible initiatives as hiring a part-time family programming coordinator to create and carry out programs oriented to young families [since parents have little time or energy to handle such tasks]; creating a Torah School brochure, both online and on paper; and developing outreach (and inreach)-oriented programs for our under-programmed summer months, as below.
For Tot Shabbat: create more online publicity; arrange brief clergy appearances there, knowing it means them stepping off the bimah; and develop a “business card” with AS contact info (including young families listserv) for visitors at Tot Shabbat and other young-family-oriented outreach/inreach programs.
Increase publicity of our ongoing programs that have strong outreach potential, such as Shabbat Breirot and Makom at Adat Shalom, to the community-at-large. Similarly, we can publicize and open our social action initiatives and programs to the broader community.
Consider a series of in-home salons with Adat Shalom members as presenters, where hosts and member/attendees invite non-member guests – a downscaled, casual, outreach-oriented, no-charge version of Candlelight Conversations.
Hold an “Adat Shalom 101” event prior to the High Holidays, geared toward new and veteran members alike (particularly veteran members looking to reconnect), with information about specific programs and classes for the program year, and volunteer opportunities.
Encourage each of the organized chugim to sponsor at least one class or activity for the broader synagogue community — such as a cooking class, a drumming demonstration and talk, a hike, a talk with an expert on a subject of general interest, etc.
Explore a new approach to rethinking Building Fund payments (see Long-Term Vitality report); consider a further refinancing of the mortgage (though the Finance Committee recently researched this and determined it was not in our best interest).
BEYOND THE SHUL
*** To develop effective processes for selecting, implementing, managing, and publicizing social action projects, Adat Shalom might create a Social Action (or Tikkun Olam) Task Force to consider — among other appropriate issues – how we might be more effective acting in partnership with other Jewish congregations, Jewish groups such as Jews United for Justice, and/or other faith groups (IPL, JCRC, etc) to increase our service and advocacy impact.
*** Environmental advocacy activities, especially around climate change, are a logical extension of our profound commitments in this area, and next step in our advocacy program – perhaps in the context of a “Critical Issues Forum,” as mentioned in the Social Action report.
*** Increase Interfaith dialogue and programming by (1) bringing more interfaith programming into Adat Shalom, (2) more actively participating in interfaith coalitions, and (3) publicizing individual opportunities for participation in the larger community. Recognizing the importance of interfaith efforts at this moment in history, and the unique role communities like ours can play, create an “Interfaith Initiatives Committee.”
*** Strengthen connections with sister regional Reconstructionist shuls through these types of actions: (1) invite them to Adat Shalom events, (2) publicize and attend their events, (3) undertake joint initiatives such as joint social action projects, (4) hold regional retreats, (5) invite their clergy to give a d’var Torah, and (6) share best practices.
Further Beyond the Shul Recommendations
Expand current use and awareness of our grounds to include an educational trail, signage, more native plantings, etc. — with additional volunteers (including with Torah School) and funding (both internal and through grants) – building on our extant Sacred Grounds, Mishnah Garden, Shmita Orchard, and Derekh HaEtz efforts.
Our concern for inclusiveness (including of those who don’t drive at night, or at all); desire to be good environmental stewards; limited parking; and location away from public transit all suggest that we develop ridesharing systems, shuttles, and other ways for people to get to Adat Shalom without a car.
Support a progression of tikkun olam projects for youth, building on current efforts in place for grades K through 6 (articulated by both Youth Engagement and Beyond the Shul).
Deepen the culture of service that has already taken root in our community – as in our four (so far) Haiti missions; our local and regional service efforts; a service component to most Israel trips run through Adat Shalom; etc. Ours is also an internal ethos of service – people giving of their time and energy to build up the community in myriad ways.
Although Israeli politics and the Israeli-Palestinian situation can be difficult and divisive topics, they’re important. We might creatively partner with local NGO’s and other shuls to form safe spaces in which to learn and to share perspectives. Or we might create our own forums for conversation (other than the listserv), with a facilitator if necessary, referencing the numerous resources on “respectful dialogue on Israel” at the RRC website.
Organize Adat Shalom Israel trip alumni as an ongoing chug; have them plan events for themselves to which the broader membership is invited.
Deepen our involvement in Jewish-Muslim and in multi-faith dialogue, especially through the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington and the Jewish-Islamic Dialogue Society of Washington. Recalling that we are well-placed to educate others about Judaism, consider convening an outreach group of educated volunteers who do just that.
Expand our connection to the Reconstructionist movement and its teachings through a Scroll column; courses on Recon texts and values; & continued and expanded bimah teaching.
Look to the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (Jewish Reconstructionist Communities) as a valuable resource for adult education, guidance on social action and Israel, shul leadership consulting needs, and possible rabbinic intern opportunities.
FINAL NOTE: ALL THAT GOES WELL
As this process made clear, most of what we do is already solid, and some of it is exemplary. All these things help to define our already strong community, and all of these things will continue into the future. For just a partial list of some of the things that are going well and will continue to do so, see page 38.
And: remember that a core ethos of Adat Shalom since its founding has been to think as much about what we can give and offer to the community, as about what we might expect or receive from it. Indeed, the two are closely connected; the more we offer of ourselves, the more we get out our involvement. Stay connected. Make your own “Long-Range Plan” for being active at Adat Shalom…..
The vital work of our four Visioning Groups has already been articulated (on pages two and five), even as each page of this LRP offers testimony to their efforts. Every one of the “key recommendations” in the foregoing pages is rooted in their research, which was done in a quick three-month window, with much appreciation.
While the preceding pages were drafted and edited by the widest number of people, the individual Visioning Group reports which follow capture the very hard work of a handful of devoted volunteers. They represent a snapshot of these remarkable efforts from early March, 2016, when the timeline demanded that they cut short their research and discernment (which could have been taken yet further), and summarize their efforts. They compiled these reports admirably in a short time frame; further notes, “parking lot” ideas, and more from them can be found at www.adatshalom.net/2016-LRP-extras.
In attempting to articulate what is already working well at Adat Shalom, and to identify areas where more effort may be needed, it was clear that our community already produces an exhaustive wealth of programs. It was simply not possible to fully evaluate all relevant initiatives within our one community, much less beyond, in the limited timeframe. The LRP conveners chose not to edit these four reports, but to let them stand as a repository of good ideas for the future. Careful readers may quibble with a particular phrasing, or name examples of how we already take steps in the directions suggested here – but such responses will fade into irrelevance next to the richness, breadth, seriousness, and value of the hundreds of ideas and perspectives on the pages which follow.
Our tremendous thanks go to all who participated in the Visioning Groups. The first two names for each group are the co-chairs, and the third is the volunteer facilitator; co-presidents and senior staff served ‘ex-officio’ on each of these Visioning Groups:
Youth Engagement: Betsy Toretsky and Jodi Lipson; Susana Isaacson; Jamie Banks, Craig Flamm, Rachel Lanham, Lynn Mandell, Beth Sperber Richie, Abe Schuchman, Janet Zwick – with Hazzan Rachel, and Phil Zipin
Lifelong Learning: Marshall Mazer and Suzanne Kalfus; Phillip Abrams; Todd Schenk, Mim Eisenstein, Scott Lanman, Jackie Glass, Nehama Babin, Sarah Werner, Ruth Spodak – with Rabbi Julie, Hazzan Rachel, Marla Cohen, and Hannah Lipman
Long-Term Vitality: Shelley Sadowsky and Bob Barkin; Hilary Joel; Sandy Hayward, Victor Katz, Sandy Perlstein, Victor Rezmovic, Steve Sharpe, Mark Silver, Fran Zamore, Josh Levine – with Marla Cohen, and Phil Zipin
Beyond the Shul: Sheila Blum and Clint Wolcott; Wendy Swire; Bob Lubran, Carol Stern, Jeff Rubin, Jerry Kickenson, Preston Plous, Sue Dorfman – with Rabbi Fred, and Hannah Lipman
May the following pages be read and appreciated by many; and may the great ideas contained here yet find their moment to flower, and bear fruit. Enjoy!
GOALS FOR YOUTH ENGAGEMENT
a) Engaging and connecting young families in a meaningful way
b) Integrating young families with the entire synagogue
2. Strengthen the experience of Torah School-age students by cultivating Jewish identity, a lifelong interest in Judaism, and connection with Adat Shalom, by
a) Offering enhanced social and learning opportunities
b) Increasing interaction between children (and their parents) and the main sanctuary
c) Strengthening teacher and madrichim training and support
d) Building on the strength of Torah School minyanim
3. Engage and minimize attrition among post-bar/bat mitzvah youth by
a) Encouraging robust, sustainable youth programs and leadership development by supporting the objectives of the Youth Committee report, by Jaime Banks and Beth Sperber Richie, to keep youth engaged with Judaism and the Adat Shalom community
b) Recognizing that this has to be done through multiple channels while upholding four basic principles: (1) We have to empower kids to design and implement their own programming, (2) This programming has to be separate from the Torah School, (3) It needs to include a social component, and (4) We need to employ a strong, compelling leader with “that certain magic.”
RECOMMENDED STRATEGIES FOR REACHING OUR GOALS
I. PROCESS AND PROGRAMMING TO BENEFIT YOUTH OF ALL AGES
1. DEDICATE STAFF RESOURCES
Work toward employing a full-time staff for programming for families and youth of all ages, perhaps as an outgrowth of the current youth advisor position.
2. ENHANCE COMMUNICATIONS WITHIN THE ADAT SHALOM COMMUNITY ABOUT YOUTH PROGRAMMING
Establish collaboration between the Communications Committee and the Youth Committee to improve and clarify communications about youth programming.
3. INSTITUTE PROGRAM EVALUATION
Embed program evaluation in the process by gathering information from students, parents, and teachers on all programs to identify strengths and weaknesses. Tweak programs based on timely and thorough feedback.
4. ENCOURAGE JEWISH SUMMER CAMP ATTENDANCE
5. CULTIVATE AND SUPPORT YOUTH LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT
6. INTEGRATE YOUTH INTO THE SANCTUARY
7. SUPPORT A ROBUST AND ENGAGING TORAH SCHOOL CURRICULUM AND OPPORTUNITIESFOR TEAM-BUILDING AMONG TEACHERS AND MADRICHIM
Work with the education director and Torah School Council (and, in the long run, the youth advisor) to assess current practices and develop meaningful and appropriate strategies.
8. HOST SPECIAL EVENTS
Hold special events for families with children of all ages, or specific ages, that might also draw people from outside the Adat Shalom community. Examples include an annual Chanukah party; special Friday night Shabbat services with musicians or other special guests; events at Adat Shalom on a government holiday; and events partnering with outside groups such as PJ Library, another synagogue, or the Jewish Community Center.
II. YOUNG FAMILIES
1. DEVELOP HAVUROT FOR FAMILIES WITH YOUNG CHILDREN
Establish havurot with 6-10 families each, based on location and age of children (opt-in), with monthly or bi-monthly get-togethers–e.g., game night, Shabbat dinners, picnics, hikes, Sukkah party, break-the-fast, Chanukah parties. Each family within the havurah picks a month to plan. Sunday morning/afternoon is the most desired time.
2. SUPPORT AND PROMOTE OUR STELLAR TOT SHABBAT
Promote Tot Shabbat via JConnect, Jewish Week, Washington Parent, and local community and family listservs. Encourage families to join the main service before and after Tot Shabbat. At Tot Shabbat, have the leader ask new people to introduce themselves. Establish a procedure to capture contact information of people who come to check us out, and follow up. Give potential members a flyer to sign up for the young families’ listserv or to be contacted by a young families co-chair. Hand out existing recruitment packets.
3. INSTITUTE WEEKLY ACTIVITY/PLAY GROUP FOR PARENTS WITH YOUNG CHILDREN
Offer creative ways to bring parents/grandparents/caregivers with young children to Adat Shalom during the week, e.g., parent/child music classes; family yoga classes; informal playgroups; with Jewish Food Experience, cooking classes, talks on healthy eating, and work in the Mishnah Garden.
4. SUPPORT THE FACEBOOK PAGE (ALREADY IN THE WORKS) FOR YOUNG FAMILIES AT ADATSHALOM
5. DEVELOP AN ALTERNATIVE DUES STRUCTURE
Demonstrate that we are a welcoming community for young families by offering an alternative dues structure, for example first year free; 50 percent off the first or second year; reduced membership for people with children age four and under; or 50 percent off the first year, 25 percent off the second year, and full price the third year.
6. SUPPORT THE EXPLORATORY COMMITTEE FOR PRE-SCHOOL FEASIBILITY
A pre-school could fill a local need while attracting young families to the congregation. NOTE: A small committee is already considering the feasibility of this.
III. TORAH SCHOOL-AGE STUDENTS
1. SUPPORT A PROGRESSION OF TIKKUN OLAM PROJECTS FOR K-6 GRADERS
Convene a group of students, parents, teachers, and clergy to plan and implement Tikkun Olam projects throughout the year that are appropriate and meaningful for each grade, using the Torah School Council’s work to date (see “parking lot of other ideas”). Tie the projects to Jewish learning and values. Possibly provide non-Torah School students with an opportunity to participate (depending on how it is integrated into the Torah School).
2. DEVELOP A PROGRESSION OF EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING PROJECTS
Use the same working group as III-1 (Tikkun Olam projects) to plan and implement appropriate experiential learning projects for each grade level that students can anticipate with excitement, based on the successful current models of our Ellis Island simulation, and New York City trip. Possibly provide opportunities for non-Torah School students to participate (depending on how it is integrated into the Torah School).
3. CONTINUE TO ENCOURAGE FAMILIES TO CONNECT
For example, continue and perhaps increase the number of family gatherings such as grade-level onegs, Shabbat or Havdalah dinners in members’ homes, and grade-level family chevrutah Torah study groups. Set up a system for members with demonstrated skills or expertise to discuss and demonstrate rituals and facilitate discussions.
4. STRENGTHEN TORAH SCHOOL MINYANIM AS WELL AS TRAINING AND SUPPORT FOR MINYAN LEADERS
Re-launch the Minyan Committee for strategic planning to build on the strengths of our Torah School minyanim and strategize ways to instill a sense of awe, belonging, and spirit, while imparting skills of Jewish ritual practice. Refer to the “parking lot of other ideas” for issues to address.
5. INCREASE EXPECTATIONS, RESPONSIBILITIES, AND APPRECIATION OF MADRICHIM
a) Offer madrichim leadership and perhaps teaching opportunities.
b) Survey madrichim regarding suggestions and satisfaction with their experience.
c) Give the madrichim a break during the morning to come together.
6. ORGANIZE YOUTH CHUGIM AT ONEGS
Bring children together during the oneg lunch with informal activities such as arts and crafts, sports (count in Hebrew!), work in the Mishnah Garden, or music.
IV. BAR/BAT MITZVAH AND AFTER
Establishing a post-b’nai mitzvah youth program takes time. In 2015-16 we began with a very-part-time youth leader who is overseeing a leadership training program for theseventh-graders, meetings on Sunday nights for eighth-graders, and a gender-based program organized around a developmental curriculum. For next year, Hazzan Rachel has proposed a somewhat expanded program that includes Tikkun Olam and a musical piece. Programs must be evaluated as we go along, and it’s going to take time to bring both kids and their parents on board.
Adat Shalom post-b’nai mitzvah youth program must be youth-driven — it should not be imposed on the youth, include passive learning, or feel like an extension of Torah School. The youth themselves, under the guidance of a skillful adult leader, must propose, create, and pursue activities through their own initiative.
2. CONTINUE TO SUPPORT THE YOUTH ADVISOR AND EXPAND THE POSITION INTO A PERMANENTAND ULTIMATELY FULL-TIME POSITION
a) Budget to hire a well-qualified, highly motivated youth leader, backed by the commitment of the synagogue to sustain this position long-term. The success of the youth program depends upon having the right person leading it; having to recruit repeatedly disrupts the continuity of the program. It is essential that the budget for this position be in place so that recruitment can begin early enough to attract the best candidates and retain them.
b) Have the youth advisor continue to serve as both an organizer and a role model.
3. SUPPORT EVENTS THAT ARE CONCEIVED AND LED BY YOUTH, WITH OVERSIGHT BY THE YOUTH ADVISOR
4. CELEBRATE STUDENTS’ ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Celebrate students’ accomplishments, e.g., with aliyot and other honors during services and a communal acknowledgment of their graduation from high school and future plans.
V. PARKING LOT OF OTHER IDEAS
1. Invite Rabbi Isaac from the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (JRF) once or twice a year to provide dynamic programming, within or outside the Torah School, to infuse [camp] spirit, and promote Jewish camp in general (not necessarily JRF).
2. Periodically, have “camp for a day” instead of Torah School, where kids go outside and become immersed in content and camp spirit.
3. We are a spiritual community. Conversations about God are encouraged throughout. Some suggest having a special day when we discuss our personal ideas about God.
4. Allow multiple teachers and musicians to participate in Torah School classes and minyanim so that people can become better prepared to fill vacant positions.
5. Incorporate more storytelling and even drama into the Torah school; there is an amazing built-in story every week that all children love to hear. Why not capitalize on it? Even if it introduces more-adult topics, this will focus children’s attention and be a launching point for discussion and Jewish identity.
6. Engage kids in oneg duty.
7. Charge for cultural events and concerts with outside performers to supplement revenue.
8. Do programs in local schools.
9. Offer ways people can connect with Adat Shalom that are not membership based; not all people are interested in being members.
10. Encourage adults and Torah School students to pair with adults/students from different faiths and income levels to do service projects TOGETHER…not us helping them. [from survey]
11. Offer child-/teen-appropriate services during the summer once a month to encourage and maintain a connection to Adat Shalom over the summer [taken from survey]
12. Develop a pre-school/pre-K program for members and the community that incorporates Reconstructionist Judaism values/ethos. [from survey]
13. Honor graduating seniors during services. Make this a BIG deal; give a gift from the synagogue, and print names and schools in a program.
14. Honor kids when they get their drivers’ licenses by calling them up to the bimah and saying the prayer for safety.
15. Offer incentives so that as students get older, they always have something to look forward to. Offer role-model leadership skills, conflict resolution, and working with a team.
16. Do a Mommy and Me class (or similar activities) when babies are 10+ months old and are on more of a schedule. Recent research on birth and membership shows that moms meet other moms when their babies are 10 months old (not when they are born, when they are holed up nursing and trying to sleep and eat amid all of the diaper changing. If you get moms into the synagogue and making friends with one another, they will stay as their kids get older.
17. Tikkun Olam programming has been explored by the Torah School Council. The following is excerpted from its work. Some of these projects have been implemented.
Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) is a strong value in our community. Our congregation is committed to instilling this value through formal Torah School education and informal experiential activities. To this end, Tikkun Olam is integrated into the main Judaica curriculum. Teachers will teach this value and, together with parent volunteers, will create meaningful, age-appropriate experiential education. Teachers will explain the concept and resulting actions at age-appropriate levels.
By the time students start preparing to become b’nai mitzvah, the focus on Tikkun Olam increases. In Kitah Hey (5th grade), there is a special educational unit on tzedakah. In Kitah Vav (6th grade), they start preparing to take more responsibility and ownership of their own Tikkun Olam activities and contributions. This continues into Kitah Zayin (7th grade).
Examples of age-appropriate Tikkun Olam activities that Torah school classes have undertaken in the past or plan to do in the future include the following:
· Kitah Gan and Aleph (K and 1st grade): Conduct a clothes drive for Wider Circle.
· Kitah Bet (2nd grade): Clean the library and donate books to the National Center for Children and Families.
· Kitah Gimel (3rd grade): Pick apples at Homestead Farm and donate them to the Manna food bank.
· Kitah Daled (4th grade): Visit Riderwood Assisted Living Center to interview residents (especially Adat Shalom members) and participate in leading their Shabbat service.
· Kitah Hey (5th grade): Coordinate cans for our Can-u-kiyah collection, volunteer at the Manna food bank, and work at Kayam Farm to learn Jewish values about tending the earth.
· Kitah Vav (6th grade): Begin to research and carry out individual b’nai mitzvah Tikkun Olam projects.
· Kitah Zayin (7th grade): Share b’nai mitzvah projects with classmates and invite their participation.
18. Issues for the Minyan Committee to address:
a) recruit new leaders and/or train current leaders, to bring a consistent spirit of joy while learning;
b) pace and number of prayers kids should learn;
c) whether kids learn one prayer at a time;
d) the power of storytelling of the parsha as a launching point for discussion and Jewish identity;
e) creation, by kids, of a prayer book with Hebrew transliteration of prayers; all kids can submit artwork;
f) on entry, sing a special song and put on kipot to set this time apart;
g) more hours with Ari or someone with his qualifications and spirit;
h) create opportunities for children to learn specific and grade-level-appropriate prayers to deliver to the minyan and/or congregation or Kiddush;
i) sit in a circle, with the minyan leader visible;
j) encourage parents to attend the minyan;
k) teachers and madrichim who aren’t leading minyan supervise students in audience.
Learning up through the b’nai mitzvah/Torah School
Hold age-appropriate and engaging services for children/families on each day of the High Holidays, and incorporate more religious/holiday content in children’s programming during the High Holidays
Incorporate participatory roles and learning opportunities for Adat Youth into Shabbat services (Torah School students as well as Day School and other youth congregants).
Enhance the appeal of Torah School learning and community among Torah School youth by incorporating more experiential learning; train teachers and madrichim in that approach; survey Torah School teachers, parents, and students for input; use a Jewish educational consultant to review the curriculum and to suggest opportunities for additional participatory learning. Evaluate non-curricular aspects of Torah School (including the need to attract and maintain experienced and dynamic teachers), and explore new models for Hebrew education.
Learning for Youth through Teenagers
Develop a program to engage our older children and teenagers in the synagogue community and in Jewish learning after the bar/bat mitzvah year through their teen years, which include appropriate recognition of student completion at the end. Propose a structure modeled on the old ben/bat torah concept of individualized program in the following three areas: learning, synagogue service, and community service.
Adult and Multi-Generational Learning
Conduct a carefully crafted adult education survey, deliberately focused to assess the educational interests of all adult members.
Provide opportunities for congregants to learn Hebrew and to become more knowledgable about the structure, meaning, and melodies of Shabbat services.
Expand the range of adult education beyond the current well-regarded Judaic studies courses. Broaden the nature and range of educational offerings to also include cultural learning and more multi-generational learning opportunities, such as congregational theater outings, book clubs, and family-friendly film series.
Youths and Teens
Main Goal: To engage our older children and teenagers in the synagogue community and inJewish learning after the bar/bat mitzvah year.
a. Key areas of strength to build on:
b. Areas where more effort and resources are needed:
Lifelong Learning Priorities: Learning Up through the B’nai Mitzvah/Torah School
Services for Children/Families on Each Day of the High Holidays
Incorporate participatory role and learning opportunities for Adat Shalom youth into Shabbat services.
Enhance the appeal of Torah School learning and community among Torah School youth.
Create a grade 6-8 program combining Torah School and teen outreach.
Develop a greater range of intergenerational and cultural learning opportunities.
LIFELONG LEARNING: ADULT EDUCATION AND MULTI-GENERATIONAL LEARNING
Introduction and Key Strengths to Build Upon — We have knowledgable clergy and open-minded membership. There is a wide sense of commitment to our shul, with a willingness to innovate.
Initiative #1. Adult Education Survey — Conduct a carefully crafted survey to assess the educational interests of all adult members. The goal is to evaluate the optimal array and timing of courses and other adult educational activities. Assess extant offerings, and solicit ideas for new programs of potential interest to currently uninvolved (as well as active) members. Survey aim is to a) provide a basis for course offerings; and b) aid in the re-examination of the Adult Education management system, potentially leading to an even more effective, efficient, and responsive Adult Education program. See Initiative #3 and Program Management, below.
In 2016 — Design and conduct initial survey. Start date for resultant initiatives would be determined on case-by-case basis, including consideration of availability of clergy/staff/resources.
In 2021 — Repeat educational program surveys routinely on a five-year cycle, as membership interests change over a 3-5-year period.
Initiative #2. Foundational Learning – Provide opportunities for congregants to learn Hebrew, become more knowledgable about the structure, meaning, and melodies of Shabbat services.
In 2016 — Offer (a) basic Hebrew, and (b) introduction to Reconstructionism, i.e., Recon 101. Review other options for foundational learning, such as welcoming learners to observe Torah School minyanim and other creative ideas.
In 2017-2019 — Offer intermediate Reconstructionism, as many congregants need a clearer understanding. Invite non-members of our shul as guests.
Initiative #3. Adult Ed Program Range Expansion – Adat Shalom’s Judaic studies courses, such as those in the Sunday Series Jewish Studies program, are highly regarded and have a core group following of about 50 members. Recommend broadening the nature and range of educational offerings to include cultural learning and more multi-generational learning opportunities: e.g., Jews in the arts/science/comedy; Jews in early America; Jewish cooking; theater, museum, and other congregational field trips.
In 2016 — Consider range-widening program options and prioritize potential offerings, at least partly based on results of the survey described in Initiative #1;
-Plan at least one activity that combines multi-generational learning and community building, such as the field trips described above.
-In 2017-2019 — Implement two offerings during the school year, and one each summer.
Communications: In 2016 — Improve methods to inform external audiences about our educational and other programs.
Program Management: In 2016 — Start investigation of methods that other synagogues and comparable organizations use to manage their adult education programs, including prioritization, cost/resource control, and communications.
Program Sharing: In 2017-2019 — Conduct outreach to other synagogues/organizations regarding the creation of joint programs with shared resources and venues, shared costs for instructors, etc.
Yesodot HaLimud: In 2017-2019 — Conduct a third Yesodot HaLimud sequence, or version thereof.
(For further Lifelong Learning insights, please go to www.adatshalom.net/2016-LRP-extras)
First, a general proposal [we can dream, can’t we?] relating to all outreach – [for purposes of this general proposal, defining “outreach” broadly to include efforts not only to attract new members for the congregation, but also to attract outside groups and individuals to rent our space:
Hire a part-time PR professional to coordinate and oversee Adat Shalom’s external publicity. Adat Shalom’s outreach initiatives would likely be more effective if our publicity directed to the community-at-large (including website content, social media posts, communications with the local press, etc.) could be coordinated by a paid PR professional instead of member-volunteers whose availability may be limited. Whether on-staff or retained as an independent contractor, a PR professional likely could help us direct limited external publicity dollars to their maximum benefit. And, if funds aren’t available in the near term to hire or retain a part-time PR professional, the next best thing may be to engage a professional PR consultant on a time-limited basis to advise our leadership (professional and lay) on ways we may increase and improve our outreach effectiveness (particularly in the areas of promoting our Torah School and our rental space).
Turning to more specific outreach initiatives, the general consensus gleaned from comments is that if outreach resources are to be targeted to a particular demographic, it should be toward young families. (Regarding young [under age 30] singles, based on the Pew survey and our own observations, the consensus was that, at least for the time being, we concede them to Sixth & I and other local organizations and groups that are working to address the spiritual/cultural/social interests of young singles.)
Some specific outreach initiatives proposed for the young-family demographic are:
*Hire a part-time family programming coordinator to create and carry out programs oriented to young families (in the near term if possible; we’ve heard that parents do not have the time or energy to handle such tasks).
*Create a Torah School brochure – online and on paper (near term if possible; perfect task for the PR professional discussed above);
*Develop outreach (and in-reach)-oriented programs for the summer months (little ones are not at sleep-away camp, and our amphitheatre, social hall, and classrooms are sorely underused in the summer months). Also, during such programs, promote our Torah School, Tot Shabbat, and school-year family-oriented programs (for summer 2017 and beyond);
*Increase online publicity for Tot Shabbat;
*Have our clergy periodically step off the bimah to make brief appearances at Tot Shabbat to welcome non-member parents and invite them to join in kiddish/motzi at the conclusion of the service in the sanctuary;
*Create a “business card” with AS contact info (including a young families’ listserv) that Ellie or another program leader can give to visitors at Tot Shabbat and other young family-oriented outreach/in-reach programs;
*And finally, regarding outreach to young families, we are currently exploring the possibility of having a small gathering (a focus group, if you will) with some DC residents who are parents of young children, to explore whether and how Adat Shalom might better connect with that demographic.
Some specific outreach initiatives proposed for prospective members, in general and without regard to demographics, are:
*Develop summertime programs open to the community, such as a movie night; an evening at the amphitheater, including Havdalah, story telling, sing-alongs; an ice cream social on the porch; or Sunday brunch with a guest speaker;
*Increase publicity of our ongoing programs that have strong outreach potential, such as Shabbat Breirot and Makom at Adat Shalom, to the community-at-large;
*Hold in-home salons with Adat Shalom members as speakers/presenters, where hosts and member/attendees invite non-member guests (downscaled, casual, and no-charge versions of Candlelight Conversations, perhaps); and
*Open and publicize our social action initiatives/programs to the community-at-large.
Here are some in-reach initiatives that we propose, based on comments we have received and our own views:
* Develop a buddy system (with a better name) that pairs new members with veteran members. Given our size, the participatory nature of our community culture, and our hope that all members will be as involved as they hope to be, we repeatedly hear that a “buddy” system would be beneficial to the orientation of new members. [Notes: We’ve heard from one member that another congregation has recently paired its board members with new members for the first year of membership. Perhaps that’s something for our incoming officers to consider. We did not otherwise flesh out any other suggested specifics for this initiative.]
* Reinstate periodic in-home Shabbat and Havdalah pot-lucks. [Note: We heard from a number of veteran members that they miss this community-building activity; we heard from some newer members that they’d welcome it. Yet, we also heard that finding hosts willing/able to accommodate young families is a problem for planning in-home gatherings for the entire community.]
* Hold an “Adat Shalom 101” just before the High Holidays each year, and bill it for new and veteran members alike (particularly veteran members looking to reconnect). The session would provide information about specific programs and classes planned for the program year, including information about volunteer opportunities.
*See summertime programming proposal described in Section I above.
*Our Village system – We’ve heard from some members that reinvigorating our Village system would be good for community building. (We’ve also heard from the Community Life co-chairs that if we’re going to reinstate in-home Shabbats, it would be better to do it outside the Village system, because it has been very difficult to line up a host in each Village.) If some Villages need reinvigoration, perhaps it might be limited in scope (so as not to invite disappointment). For instance, it would be relatively easy to encourage more use of Village listservs for the following: (i) neighborly queries, such as ride-sharing to services and other Adat Shalom events, and (ii) organizing in-home Village-based gatherings that don’t conflict with central Adat Shalom community activities.
* Encourage each of the organized Chugim to sponsor and organize at least one class or other activity to which members who aren’t in the particular Chug are invited — such as a cooking class, a drumming demonstration and talk, a hike/talk with an expert on XXXX. We heard that more frequent “fun,” “funky” program options are desired by members who aren’t necessarily drawn to the Jewish Studies offerings.
* A point emphasized by our Community Life co-chairs: In connection with our long-range planning process, it is important that consideration be given to the significant number of Adat Shalom activities that compete for time in the lives of all members. Thus, they recommended that an inventory and evaluation of current programs be completed as part of this process, particularly if new activities/programs are proposed.
Finally, as Fran Zamore, a member of our Visioning Group, summarized in a memo following up on a conversation she had with Kay Abrams for purposes of our assignment: “Basic take-away is that anything that strengthens connections among members is important. In-home activities, including committee meetings, are helpful. Revive some old activities and integrate new ideas by pushing committees, Villages, and chugs to be more creative.”
The data show that our congregation is aging. Therefore, we first recommend that the Board set a dues structure that does not impede the effort to encourage younger Jews to join the congregation. Currently, those under age 30 pay $180 for single membership and $360 for family. Those who are ages 30-35 pay $609 for single and $1,170 for family. We recommend that we keep the current dues for the under-age-30 group; set dues for ages 31-35 at 25 percent of regular dues ($300 and $580); and for ages 36-40, dues are set at 50 percent of regular dues ($609 and $1,170). For those over age 40, dues are the full price. Since there are so few current members in these adjusted categories, the cost to the congregation is de minimus, with the potential of significant revenue growth if new members join and remain in the congregation.
Second, we recommend that we refinance our mortgage to lower the annual debt service to approximately half of our current debt service. At the same time, we recommend establishing a single rate for the building fees, and lowering the dues of our newest members to the levels that members of more than eight years pay. Building fees fund the Capital Fund, and we estimate thatimplementing the simpler single-rate building fee would have no impact on the Capital Fund, because the lower mortgage payments will offset the lower building fee collections. All current Capital Fund budget needs will continue to be met, and there would be a significant increase in our financial flexibility going forward.
Finally, we recommend that the Board look closely at a voluntary dues system to determine whether it would work for Adat Shalom. We have gathered research on the experience at other congregations, including a variety of models, and have spoken to Alan Halpern of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, who has offered to work with Adat Shalom if we need assistance. We recommend that the Board engage the congregation in this discussion but remain cognizant that such a path might not be appropriate for our congregation or could actually damage our financial standing if not done with great discernment.
On the technology front, we continue to believe that we should research opportunities to use technology to facilitate our operations.
Dues – Detail
The Dues Subcommittee also engaged in outreach to staff and clergy affiliated with the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College/Jewish Reconstructionist Communities (RRC/JRC). The portfolio for the RRC/JRC’s vice president for community engagement, Alan Halpern, is one that includes consultancy and services for congregations that are examining dues restructuring, and he has offered to be available to Adat Shalom (including making personal visits, as appropriate) to assist us in our inquiry.
RRC/JRC assisted us by supplying valuable information regarding two (three) separate resources over the limited time we had available for our work (for “3,” see “Mishkan Shalom” below):
Synergy Report. We received (and are providing at www.adatshalom.net/2016-LRP-extras) a new and significant study on voluntary dues, prepared by the UJA – Federation of New York. The 2015 study, entitled “Synergy: Innovations and Strategies for Synagogues of Tomorrow (Synergy),” is the result of a detailed investigation into the challenges of financial stability now faced by congregations, and the innovations that have reinvigorated congregational dues and vitality in at least some of them. The specific focus of the Synergy study is voluntary dues – an approach it calls the “Voluntary Commitment Model” (VCM), a model that dates back “to the building of the Mishkan in Biblical times, when all whose hears were willing brought donations.” Congregations examined in the study take different approaches toward VCM: Some frame their dues structure around the concept of individual “sustaining member” levels. Others build VCM around the concept of family “sustaining member” levels. Others still identify recommended levels of support based on age or income cohorts (e.g., senior citizens, youth).
The Synergy report is rich in case studies and tables. Two bear note (and are reproduced) here. First, the report contains an informative chart profiling the 26 surveyed congregations identified as having adopted the VCM model to date. These congregations range in size (from 124 membership units to 1,750). They also vary in age (newly formed to 147 years) and length of years of VCM experience (1984—present). (The Synergy report includes Reform, Conservative, and Independent congregations. No Reconstructionist congregations are included.)
Second, the Synergy report identifies the percentage of members giving within each range (e.g., “above sustaining”; “at sustaining – $1,580”; “at sustaining – $1,000–$1,500)” and the percentage of total revenue from each cohort collected via voluntary pledges (that is, exclusive of fees and other development gifts). Nationwide, 17 percent of members pledge at “above sustaining” levels, an amount that translates to 29 percent of congregations’ voluntary giving. Forty percent pledge at “at sustaining – $1,580” levels (representing 40 percent of total collections). From the standpoint of “bottom-line revenue and growth,” the Synergy study reports the following eye-catching conclusions (all of which must be scrutinized in more detail):
It must be stressed that the Synergy study does not endorse VCM. It does identify the model, however, as “one pathway toward rebuilding and realigning [congregations’] spiritual and financial health.” That said, the subcommittee was impressed by the methodology and comprehensiveness of the analysis contained in the Synergy report. We strongly recommend that the Board review the report and continue to closely consider the approaches and recommendations discussed therein.
Other Resources. Halpern has also identified the following new book (not reviewed by this subcommittee) on the subject of congregational dues: New Membership & Financial Alternatives for the American Synagogue, From Traditional Dues to Fair Share to Gifts from the Heart, by Rabbis Kerry M. Olitzky and Avi S. Olitzsky. The book is available from Jewish Lights Publications, http://www.jewishlights.com/page/product/978-1-58023-820-5.
Mishkan Shalom. Halpern also identified one Reconstructionist congregation (Mishkan Shalom, Philadelphia, Pa.) that has instituted a VCM model over the past three years. (Dorshei Tzedek, in Newton Mass., is another). These examples and any other from Reconstructionist communities – including materials gathered by Rabbi Shawn Zevit and others in older JRF “Torah of Money” resources – should be consulted going forward.
Building Fee Proposal
Goal: Reduce Membership Cost for Newest Members
Proposal: Lower Building Fee Assessments (BF)
Currently we have a two-tier BF model:
Tier 1 Members: 1st year = no BF, and 2nd through 8th years, the BF is approximately twice as much as the ongoing BF.
Tier 2: ongoing BF after the 8th year of membership
With a One-Tier model, the first year of membership would have no BF, and the current ongoing BF would be the same for each demographic: $450 for families, $333 for single-parent families, $225 for individuals, and no BF for members under age 36.
What would lower BFs mean?
What are BFs used for?
Is there a financial risk with lower BF collections?
(For further Long-Term Vitality insights, please go to www.adatshalom.net/2016-LRP-extras)
An Extension of Our Reconstructionist Jewish Values
Beyond our Shabbat and holiday services, beyond the numerous Jewish-learning classes, beyond our abundant onegs, lie several important areas that reflect our Jewish values and are addressed in this report. The rich and vital areas, which have been grouped under rubric of “Beyond the Shul” for the purposes of this long-term planning project are:
• The Reconstructionist Movement
• Social Action
• Environmental Action
• Israel Connections
• Interfaith Initiatives
• The Wider Jewish Community
Although these topics are diverse, they all require that we move away from a tendency of insularity and self-satisfaction to enter into relationships with the wider world. Each of these areas is also a concrete manifestation of our Jewish teachings and progressive values. They each provide opportunities to respond to injustice, to heal our earth, and to become acquainted with, and work together with, fellow Jews and people of other faiths. Finally, but not least in importance, is the call to feel more connected to our Reconstructionist Movement, its teachings, and our fellow members. Our group created a vision for these six areas that reflects how our priorities might change over the next several years.
We came to realize that despite strong links to the Reconstructionist Movement and RRC by clergy and some lay leaders, many of our members have only limited knowledge of Reconstructionist teachings, we do not take full advantage of the rich resources available from the Recon website, and many of us have only limited involvement in regional and national activities.
In considering Social Action, we wrestled with the question of the nature of our future social action portfolio: Should we take on fewer but more significant projects or should we continue the status quo? – We also revisited an old question of how we should be involved in social action advocacy. Regarding environmental action, many Adat Shalom members value our position of leadership in environmental protection and sustainability, and we pondered how to enhance the effectiveness of our building and grounds projects, whether we should engage in climate change advocacy, and whether we should have greater involvement with Jewish and interfaith environmental groups.
In the interfaith arena, Adat Shalom has had no formal activities for quite some time. Should this void be filled with interfaith programs designed to promote mutual respect and understanding? We sensed considerable interest in doing so. As far as the Israel Connections committee is concerned, Adat Shalom’s activities have been oriented to the Israeli cultural, literary, artistic, and even culinary worlds, and has avoided such challenging topics as the Israel-Palestinian conflict and religious pluralism. Can we find a way to engage in respectful dialogue on such potentially-divisive issues? Finally, we looked at our engagement with the wider DC area Jewish community and considered what we can learn from other shuls and organizations, how we can work in coalition with others on various issues, and how we can increase Adat Shalom’s visibility in the wider community.
The reports of each of the six Beyond the Shul topics follow – each including a number of valuable recommendations – with a list of recurring themes at the end of the report.
THE RECONSTRUCTIONIST MOVEMENT
Background: Adat Shalom was created as a Reconstructionist synagogue and has been a loyal affiliate since its inception. Numerous members have played leadership roles in the movement, and Adat Shalom is widely seen as a movement leader and model community. We have deep connections to the Reconstructionist Movement through our clergy, lay leaders, numerous Camp JRF families, and RRC students and staff.
Challenges: Despite strong connections by a limited segment of our community, many members lack a strong knowledge of, or sense of engagement with, the Reconstructionist movement. Although we are considered by many to be a strong community within the movement, we do not reach out sufficiently to (1) benefit from the considerable resources at the RRC, including its impressive website; (2) engage with sister congregations; and (3) enhance Adat Shalom’s visibility and positive influence.
Vision: Adat Shalom will become a less-insular community whose members feel connected to the Reconstructionist Movement and have broad knowledge of Reconstructionist teachings and Reconstructionist positions on issues of the day; and that we will work together with sister Reconstructionist communities and benefit from the impressive resources available through the RRC.
Ideas for further/ongoing consideration:
Background: The Adat Shalom clergy and a substantial proportion of the membership are committed to active engagement in social action projects that align with the values of the Reconstructionist Movement and the progressive religious community in general. In addition, our community includes a significant number of individuals with expertise and experience in the social action policy world. Carrying out a meaningful social action portfolio is therefore of considerable importance to our congregation.
Challenges: Our social action program is faced with a number of challenges. We lack an effective process for selecting and prioritizing specific projects to help create a significant and meaningful social action portfolio. We often face difficulty obtaining sufficient volunteers for projects, whether from lack of interest or inadequate communication. Among the questions that need to be addressed are whether we should continue to engage in as many small service projects and missions (Manna, serving meals, Haiti), or are these areas in which there are ample faith communities already providing their time and energy? Should we instead seek to replace some of those projects with a significant signature project? In addition, while many members show interest in engaging in advocacy on issues central to Jewish values, such as hunger, homelessness, health care, and income inequality, should we struggle to undertake such work, either as an individual congregation or in coalition with others? Since social action/Tikkun Olam is an extremely important reflection of our Jewish teachings and spiritual values, we should find ways to make our social action program as robust and effective as possible.
Vision: Adat Shalom creates a robust, effective, and meaningful social action portfolio, with at least one significant initiative and a large number of members participating in these projects.
Background: Adat Shalom’s land and building projects (green materials, solar panels, Mishnah garden, sacred grounds, and a host of sustainable practices) have established us as a local and national leader in faith community sustainability. We have many knowledgable members, including numerous environmental professionals and lay leaders, and a rabbi who is a national leader in the environmental action field.
Challenges: We have a core of dedicated participants, but we need to reach the broader Adat Shalom community more effectively. Communication efforts have not always been sufficient, or effective enough, to recruit the desired number of volunteers and participants in environmental initiatives and to effectively maintain projects over time. Further, our current environmental actions have been focused on our building and grounds. The questions are how could we be an even more influential model in the area of protecting the environment, and should we engage in activism against climate change?
Vision: Adat Shalom becomes an even greater leader in the environmental field, through increased involvement with Jewish and interfaith organizations, through projects that engage a larger proportion of its membership, and through activities to combat climate change, including advocacy efforts.
Background: Adat Shalom has nurtured the deep connection that many of its members have with Israel in a number of important ways. Periodic Israel trips with our clergy attract a wide range of members, which helps to keep active members engaged and exposes less-involved members to the Israel experience. The congregational shaliach program has deepened Adat Shalomers’ personal engagement with Israel for the past four years. More generally, a variety of effective cultural programming activities have taken place under the Israel Connections Committee. Our congregants also participate in community-wide Israel-focused activities.
Challenges: We should seek to reach beyond the limited number of members who are very knowledgable and active in Israel affairs, to expand the audience for Israel programming and also to expand the scope. But discussions within the American Jewish community about the State of Israel — and more specifically, about issues relating to the Israeli – Palestinian conflict — tend to be contentious, heated, and divisive. For this reason, the topic is often avoided for Adat Shalom Israel Connections programming. Moreover, a sizable portion of the membership feels that there is a distinct lack of acceptance of diverse views, which makes such discussions difficult to say the least. Can we address this?
Vision: Adat Shalom embraces a wide variety of Israel-related programming. Its members strongly support religious pluralism and progressive NGO’s in Israel, as well as peace and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians. The shul invites a wide variety of speakers on political issues in Israel and the Middle East. Discussions of the current political situation in Israel are carried out in a respectful and open-minded manner.
Background: Adat Shalom’s values as a progressive, Reconstructionist synagogue appear to be well aligned with supporting and implementing interfaith endeavors, which seek to increase mutual understanding, respect, and connections. The fact that there has been no interfaith programming over the past several years could be viewed as a major void.
Challenges: The shul’s interfaith programming has been very limited until the recent and well-regarded “Islam Matters” at February’s Shabbat Breirot. Current affiliations with interfaith organizations are also limited. They’re strongest with Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light (http://gwipl.org) and Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington (http://ifcmw.org), but only through Rabbi Fred. There is no organizational structure within Adat Shalom to focus specifically on interfaith issues.
Vision: Adat Shalom is a shul with a strong commitment to interfaith education, dialogue, and joint projects. It actively seeks to increase mutual understanding among Jews and other faith groups.
THE WIDER JEWISH COMMUNITY
Background: Adat Shalom has a wide variety of ties to the local Jewish community, and its members are active participants in many organizations, but often just through clergy. The shul is also affiliated with broad-based organizations such as the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. We have had involvement with Jews United for Justice, Yachad, and Mazon through our social action program.
Challenges: There is a lack of effective community-wide publicity for Adat Shalom events and an absence on the website of clear links to external partners and clear information for non-members to best access our events and resources.
Vision: Adat Shalom becomes a significant element of the local Jewish community and gains strength and perspective from that relationship. The shul looks for opportunities to work in partnership with other Jewish congregations and organizations that further our values and goals.
– Outreach and publicity are not separate functions of congregational life, but rather, a part of every engagement outside the congregation. We should place a high priority on finding ways to increase our effectiveness through synergy with other organizations, particularly in social action, but also in all areas.
RECURRING AND CROSS-CUTTING THEMES
(Find more resources from and notes on this effort at www.adatshalom.net/2016-LRP-extras.)
2016 LRP PROCESS and TIMELINE
ü Gain consensus at staff & EC & Board; refine the plan; book dates for various LRP events
Identify, recruit, and equip Visioning Group chairs, facilitators, 1-2 overall/event coordinators, and campaign recorders (secretaries)
Form the four Visioning Groups; have them meet once before winter break (maybe at one big meeting, ½ hour for everyone then 1 hour broken into the four working groups).
ü Inform Congregation of Launch (12/24 congregation listserv, Ma Chadash, 12/28 village listserves and interest group listserves. Post to website week of 12/28.
Begin regional in-home “visioning meetings,” i.e. parlor opportunities (using the villages, incl. 1/5; 1/7) – such as smaller town hall meetings, with focus on “your thoughts, hopes, and dreams”
Begin “town-hall” meetings (1/10/16), to both hear people’s dreams and visions for the shul community, and to solicit their input on the four key areas we’ve outlined
Post to website week of 1/11 the visioning groups and chair people
Each Visioning Group meets twice, to move their agenda forward, with research and drafting – ongoing, through Jan-Feb and into March –the heavy-lifting piece of the LRP process
Assemble and publicize one or more surveys as another means of soliciting communal input
Campaigns continue to meet, research, and draft, with an end to deliberations already in sight
At February (or additional) Board meeting, a preliminary update on the LRP process, and chance to weigh in; Board members will hopefully have been to at least one of the events by then
Reconvene an expanded version of last year’s mission statement working group — re-up that effort, and also refine the survey instruments, in light of the initial LRP work
Visioning Groups wind down their efforts and generate short reports (just 2-3 pages) –outlining key areas of strength to build upon; areas where more effort or resources are needed; clear suggestions for next year and the 2-4 years thereafter; and issues for further/ongoing consideration
Late March town hall meeting/s, to (a) present preliminary findings and directions for draft LRP report, and (b) solicit input on the efforts to re-articulate our mission statement – (conceptual updates alone on the LRP as a whole, plus detailed discussion on the mission statement)
Convening group begins to draft the LRP report: 1-page summary; the report (10 pages max), highlighting concrete “next steps” for each of the coming 3-5 years; and campaign reports.
By early April, conveners edit the LRP report; share draft with the Board, then the congregation
Mid-April, hold a town hall meeting (or two?) for feedback on draft LRP; use input box too
Convening group quickly revises the draft in light of community feedback
At late April board meeting, discuss and approve the LRP; then send Plan to the community
At Annual Meeting, vote on (and hopefully) accept the Long-Range Plan
Thereafter, continue devoting large chunks of board meetings (at least quarterly) to LRP
Convening committee and Visioning Group chairs, with input from many others, do an evaluation of process, with eye to replicability circa 2020-2021 – it’s good to plan far ahead!
Encourage Visioning Groups to continue meeting, if periodically: to review progress, further research, and continue offering new ideas for lay leaders, committees, and staff to consider
Stay tuned at www.adatshalom.net
Offer feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
Adat Shalom’s 2016 Long-Range Plan
The Four Visioning Groups and Eighteen Key People:
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Beyond the Shul: Addressing all the mission-centric ways in which we are not an island unto ourselves, but rather, have external connections and commitments – with the larger metro area; other faith groups; the Reconstructionist movement; Israel and the larger Jewish world; and all Tikkun Olam efforts.
Consultants: Wendy Swire, Hilary Joel, Susana Issacson, Philip Abrams
Resource Staff: Rabbi Julie Gordon, Hazzan Rachel Hersh
Conveners: Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, Executive Director Marla Cohen, Co-Presidents Hannah Lipman and Phil Zipin
QUESTIONS for each group to initially consider:
(a) How to better organize and publicize what we have now?
(b) What else should we be doing; and what are we now doing that we might retire?
(c) What might we research, build, organize, etc., to meet unmet needs?
(d) What key trends should we be watching?
(e) What relevant “best practices” should we note?
(f) What new resources might we seek and obtain to make this area more robust?
FINAL APPENDIX: ALL THAT GOES WELL
As this process made clear, most of what we do is already solid — and some of it is truly exemplary. All these things help to define our already strong community, and all of these things will continue into the future. Here, picking up from page 12, we offer just a partial list of what goes well — and of what will, with all our help, continue to do so:
ever innovative offerings, from shlichut, to Makom, to Sacred Grounds & Mishnah Garden
being a safe space, emphasizing the social & spiritual over the superficial & professional
being a caring community, with supportive relationships and structures
educational and fun holiday celebrations
strong educational offerings for all ages
a membership that’s deeply involved
a culture of service
and much more
At the same time, we ought never to rest on our laurels. While what we’ve been doing works for many, others have not yet found in our offerings that which moves them to greater involvement or meaning. As the foregoing pages suggest, there’s much work ahead. And the world and the Jewish world are rapidly changing, so even where we have a winning formula at a given moment, we must continue to evaluate and recalibrate. Ours is, after all (to quote Mordecai Kaplan once more), the “evolving religious civilization of the Jewish People.”
Finally: know that ever since its founding, a core ethos of Adat Shalom has been to think as much about what we can give and offer to the community, as we think about what we might expect or receive from it. Indeed, the two are closely connected: the more we offer of ourselves, the more integrated into the community we are, the more meaning we find, and the more we get out our involvement.
So please stay connected. Make your own “Long-Range Plan” for being active at Adat Shalom! Help us implement the recommendations we’ve identified through this Long-Range Plan, and keep surfacing new innovations as well. Together, let’s ensure that our ever-reflective, ever-improving community plays its vital role in the meaningful lives of its members, the future of the Jewish people, and the repair of the world.
Hadran alach – we will return to you – Long-Range Plan!