Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Panic of 2011


In front of the mirror, you do the sideways tip-toes-pose to get the most flattering angle. "I haven't gained that much weight." You pretend black is the new black that looks marvelous six days a week. Great temporary camouflage…as long as you’re comfortable with a lie.

Eventually, when the dimmer switch is broken, the harsh light screams there is no pivot or color for protection. What you thought you were is merely comfortable fiction that allows you to keep on nibbling. Not even super Spanks could curb that spread. Panic sets in.

At the Jewish Education’s Project’s Summer Institute, Congregational leaders stood in front of the mirror.

“We’re already haimish,” pivot. “We’re warm and welcoming”…get the spanks.

Too few congregations can stand in the light of day and embrace the fiction of their tag line: “a home away from home.”

“Yes, we see the dimples and rolls,” was the affirmation of most of the 200 lay leaders, teachers, clergy and educational directors at the Jewish Education Project's Summer Institute.

Honest reflection in the mirror reveals we’re more highly engaged in programs...not people, despite our deep desire to connect.

We’re not staffed, budgeted or focused on relational Judaism.

Knowing, Seeing, Caring and Accompanying are very different than
Designing, Engaging, Programming and Marketing.

The long hard look in the mirror that followed Ron Wofson’s eloquent teaching about the need for relational not programmatic Judaism gave way to the Jewish educational panic of 2011.

If you are not feeling the panic yourself, "hear" it is.

Ron told us: Programs, no matter how interesting, are not strong enough to connect the human heart to Judaism. It takes five to seven relationships to keep people connected.

Panic: “Now, what do I do?”

Ron told us: The story of the rabbi who has breakfast three times a day three times a week. At 7, 8 and 9 am he meets with different congregants.

Panic: “I don’t have the time for that.”

Ron told us: about the congregations that host Shabbat dinners in clergy and congregant’s homes that are “catered and waitered.”

Panic: “I don’t have the resources for that. My calendar is set for the year.”


In the face of panic, 5 actions are guaranteed to expand and intensify the feeling: Grab, act crazy, scream fire, re-decorate and laugh hysterically...no really.

1. Grab. Don’t panic alone---grab one more person who is saying: “We have to do something. 2011 is no time for one more interesting program. More drums and bells and even whistles won’t cut it. ”

2. Act crazy. Do what is unthinkable. Pick the top three things that redirects (not adds) your energy away from calendared programs and toward building genuine human connections.

Example, cancel each class having a Shabbat dinner once a year (oh how I hate them). Use the money and time to have one class do catered and waitered dinner a few times during the year in home of staff, and congregants. See what comes of that. The following year will be different.

Hold hopes and dreams conversations with parents. Don’t sell, listen. Hear. Connect. We’ll be posting a template for this conversation on innovatingcongregations.org next week.

3. Scream fire. Spread the panic. Help teachers, parents, learners and execs feel the panic. Build a coalition of folks that feel the earth shaking under their feet and want to join the discovery of how to be heneni.

4. Re-decorate. Flowers, chocolate, cushy chairs and coffee? Play the song Stereo Sinai wrote for the Summer Institute (free download on innovatingcongregations.org) to set the tone.

Someone just told me about their visit to Mt. Sinai Hospital where a freezer full of ice cream was there to thank care givers, where freshly baked muffins were given in the waiting room by a cancer survivor. “Where ever we had to walk we were accompanied. They didn’t leave us to walk alone one step.” Some tips here for us.

5. Laugh hysterically. The answer is right under your nose (buried in your cluttered calendar) The truth is your congregation is already doing something very right. Build on what you already do well to truly be present for children and families. How do you already help families and children be there for one another?

Time for the naked truth. Stand in front of the mirror. How do you really look to others? If you look programmatic, pivot.

Put your calendar of events on a diet. Go have a bowl of ice-cream with a family you don't know well.