Friday, January 15, 2016

Correcting gaps in our synagogue membership categories

Because the congregation must be financially viable to survive as a congregation, it is easy for the leadership to focus on membership as a means of maximizing dues. Because we live in a consumerist society, it is easy for individuals and families to focus on minimizing dues (and an easy way is to avoid becoming a member). This focus on dues distracts us from the important aspects of the congregation: community, education, worship, and tikkun olam. We need to focus on building and supporting a meaningful community, make it clear that membership is an important statement of belonging to our community, and ensure that there are no obstacles to becoming and remaining members of our community.

Our synagogue’s current membership policy as spelled out in the bylaws clearly works for the many individuals and families who are members. Unmarried Jewish adults can be individual members, and families where at least one adult is Jewish and all adults in the family are committed to the goals of the congregation can be family members. This leaves a couple of gaps. If an adult wants to be a member but their spouse does not, that adult has no membership option. If a family includes a Jewish child but no Jewish adult (as can happen through death or divorce), that family has no membership option.

We can correct the first gap (when an adult wants to be a member but their spouse does not) by striking the word “unmarried” from the description of individual membership. We should also make it clear that an individual member is welcome to become a family member at any point when a partner or child would also like to be a member.

We can correct the second gap (when a family includes a Jewish child but no Jewish adult) by changing the definition of family membership to be a family where at least one adult or child is Jewish, rather than requiring at least one Jewish adult. It takes courage for a non-Jewish adult to raise a child in Judaism, and we should provide every support rather than turn them away. We want them to feel welcome in our congregation as a family and be able to participate in congregational life. We want the child to attend Hebrew School and to become Bar or Bat Mitzvah. We should open our doors, not close them.

There are good reasons to require family membership for a child to attend Hebrew School and to become Bar or Bat Mitzvah. It reinforces a model of community participation and belonging and ensures greater financial support for the congregation. But that membership requirement should not be a litmus test that some families are not allowed to pass.

If asked, we would make exceptions to our written rules to accommodate individual requests. But rather than exclude some prospective members and then depend on them being willing to ask for exceptions, we should amend our rules so that we can be as welcoming as possible.

1 comment:

Ed said...

This is excellently said.