Jewish Journal

Thoughts on the Visioning Process

by Susan Esther Barnes

February 13, 2013 | 7:00 am

Last fall, I wrote here about the Visioning process our synagogue is undertaking. Now that the first part of the process, namely the house meetings, is over, our community is reflecting on what has happened so far.

I attended one of the house meetings as a participant, and two more as a facilitator. I also participated in a meeting regarding High Holy Days services that was partly inspired by the house meetings, as well as a wrap-up meeting with Visioning meeting hosts, facilitators, and scribes. As a result, I think I have a reasonable idea of what was said in the meetings, although the official results are still being tabulated.

One thing I already knew, but which came up often in the conversations and bears repeating, is how much we love our clergy. Many people were enthusiastic about them in our meetings, and on several occasions we had to say, “Ok, we’ve heard about our clergy. What other strengths do we have?” Our amazing clergy is a huge blessing, and I hope the final report helps them to know how much we appreciate them.

We are also blessed with a world class Executive Director as well as an outstanding Director of Community Connections.

One of the more prominent challenges is one, unfortunately, is one for which I don’t believe we will be able to find a solution that will please everyone. It is about High Holy Day services, and we already had a meeting about it which clarified for me why it can’t be completely resolved.

Our congregation is so large that we can’t hold High Holy Day services in our synagogue, because the sanctuary isn’t large enough for everyone. Instead, for years we have rented the local Civic Center Auditorium, which seats 2,000 people. On Erev Rosh Hashanah and on Kol Nidre we fill the auditorium. Many congregants love the feeling of being in such a large space filled with praying Jews.

Others, however, feel the auditorium seating and large space are alienating. There are other things about the more traditional, tending toward Classical Reform service that doesn’t fulfill their needs. So, with the blessing of the clergy, a group of congregants began an alternative service in the synagogue sanctuary on the morning of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Over time, the morning alternative service has grown every year, so that now the sanctuary is filled to capacity. As a result, the Civic Center is no longer filled to capacity on those days. Some of the people who attend the Civic Center services are starting to feel abandoned. Some families are split, as some members prefer the Civic Center services, and others prefer the sanctuary services.

We talked about the possibility of changing the Civic Center services to be more like the sanctuary services, and combining the services once again. The “trouble” is that the Civic Center people love their services there, and the sanctuary people love theirs. If we change one to be like the other, we’ll just end up with a bunch of people resenting what they gave up for the other group, and neither one feeling they’re getting what they need any more. In other words, it would be a real lose-lose proposition.

The next steps in the Visioning process will be to scout what’s happening in other synagogues, and to report back findings to the congregation. I’m curious to see what possible solutions and initiatives will come out of this process.


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Susan Esther Barnes is a religious Reform Jew who can regularly be seen greeting people at her synagogue before services. She is a founding member of her synagogue’s chevra...

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