Sunday, January 17, 2016

Not running a synagogue

Paul Levy, when he was president and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, had a blog called “Running A Hospital.” His blog provided some insights into how a hospital CEO viewed various aspects of running a hospital. Then he resigned, and continued his blog with a name change to “Not Running A Hospital.”

Last year I joined my synagogue’s board and gradually discovered that the board has no serious involvement in running the synagogue. Day to day operations cannot be the charge of a group that only meets once a month, but in principle a board could make policy decisions. I suspect the board I’m on is a vestigial remnant of some past time when the board did make such policy decisions, but over time the role of the board has, um, changed? Withered? Atrophied? Fled to Florida?

Let me be clear: I like rituals, and Judaism is full of rituals. Those rituals provide structure and comfort, and allow layers of meaning to both encrust themselves and reveal themselves over lifetimes of experience. Those rituals allow connections within the world today and to generations past and future. The rituals evolve, participation ebbs and flows, and still they provide a deep continuity.

But monthly board meetings as ritual? Incantations of calling the meeting to order and asking for committee reports don’t do it for me. Please join us as we rise on line 12 of the youth group proposed budget and say together, “Thank you for not needing us to do anything or decide anything.” No, I’m ok with skipping that service.

So being on the board has left me more informed about the various decisions that we’re not making. It has sparked plenty of conversations about how synagogue policies could be different, but few of those conversations have happened with other board members and none have had any hope of implementation. With no expectation of affecting actual policies at present, I might as well focus on organizing my thoughts about how policies could be different and why they should be different. And perhaps at some point in the future, I can be a useful part of a team that is running a synagogue.

1 comment:

Michael said...

I've been playing with a board of directors as sports team metaphor. The past presidents who remain on the board are the coaching staff. The executive committee are the key starters. The rest of the board members are relievers or utility players. (I see myself being quite contented as a utility player.) We need to also have a farm team or practice squad where we can identify new starters for the future.

The team doesn't work as well when you ignore the coaching staff, abandon your farm team, and treat your utility players as a fan club.