Why do we worship? Perhaps it's our need to feel connected to something larger. God does not need us to bless God's Holy Being, but in doing so we are reminded that we are part of that holiness ourselves. Worship connects our spirit with all like spirits, reaching for a Universal Spirit. A silent prayer or a spirited song connects us with each other through communal purpose and via the connections we make with God. In the moment of devotion comes a Oneness with God.
Each year I trek to the mountains, to the wilderness, to get away from "it all," to commune with the beauty of Nature, to be together with old friends and share a challenging and awe inspiring experience. Removed from my native environs I carry with me all I will need for 7-10 days. Surprisingly, instead of wearing me out, backpacking renews my sense of self-reliance, fills me with awe, and leaves me invigorated (OK, also with some minor aches and pains). I experience up close and personal the unchecked power and grandeur of God's earthly forces. But the question arises: would I return time and again, as I have for over 40 years, if these were solo trips? Would I go if accompanied only by a faithful pet or with an off-road vehicle? The answer is "no" because of what is gained when human interaction is present: the sense of connection, of sharing such wonder at the awesome beauty and power of Nature, someone to "have my back" if I got into trouble.
Physically we are alone, our bodies are nothing more than animated dust, subject to the shifting winds of time, and to dust our bodies return. However, this dust is animated with God's spirit, granted life and the gift of free-will that makes us god-like. So in fact, we are never alone spiritually, but real world physical concerns isolate us. Thus, when we connect with each other through worship (and other intentional meditations), we become more aware of the life-force and Universal Spirit of which we are truly a part. Promoting these spiritual connections reminds us we are part of the One. This gives us insight that there is more to being than survival; that a higher purpose is served through living our lives, making the choices we make, bearing, raising and teaching our children to make this world of ours a better place. Even if only a little bit each generation, this awareness eventually adds up to a monumental achievement: the time will come when the lion lays down with the lamb and we beat our swords into ploughshares, when we never again make war on each other. Then will humankind be spiritually ready for the paradise God showed us in Eden.
Synagogue Activities – Where are We Going and How to Make Sure We Get There
Many of the questions in the focus groups we had in the summer were designed to elicit information on what draws people to congregational life. Questions such as “What was your fondest memory of participating in a religious community” and “What is your concept of an ideal congregation?” as examples.
Many of the responses were around activities, such as adult weekend retreats, the challah bake, lifecycle events that were community-oriented (i.e. not private events), Israeli dancing, a Chesed group that provided meals for members in time of crisis or simcha / joy, outdoor services, bonfires, and other fun activities.
Some members noted the absence of an active youth group, and lack of activities for youth and families with kids. This is something that has changed, as Ahavas at one time did have an active youth group.
How did this happen? Why are we not attracting many families with kids (i.e. “our future”)? Well, I have a theory about that that I think is pretty solid in its reasoning. First, some background:
•Leading Indicator - An indicator that predicts future events and tend to change ahead of that event. Sometimes used as a predictor.
•Lagging Indicator - An indicator that follows an event.
In performance management we often talk about “lagging” and “leading” indicators. What are those? Simply put, its cause and effect. Leading indicators are the “inputs” or what you do to (hopefully) achieve a certain result, or “outputs.” These can be a little tricky as inputs can be variable. An example would be if I wanted to lose weight. Leading indicators would be what I eat and how much I exercise. If I eat healthy, lower calorie foods and exercise more than I do now I am very likely to lose weight. If I eat pizza, ice cream, and have too many “drinky poos” I am likely to gain weight. The inputs influence the results. Another example would be the link between the rate of hand washing (leading) and infections (lagging).
Lagging indicators are the outputs, and are generally easy to measure. For this example, I would step on a scale and/or take my measurements. Is my weight going up or down? Is my volume larger or smaller? If I don’t like my outputs, I have to adjust my inputs. Another example would be financial statements. They are lagging indicators that show the result of spending.
Now let’s translate this to a synagogue environment.
First: What is the desired outcome?
•More families with kids as members.
•An active Youth group.
•Just more fun, period.
Then: What are the activities you must undertake to achieve the desired outcome?
•More activities and programs for families and kids that they’re interested in.
• More activities and programs for youth that they’re interested in.
• Fun activities for all ages, and lots of them.
The key here is something they’re interested in.” There is the popular saying, “If you build it, they will come.” The caveat is that the statement has to be taken in context. It’s from the film “A Field of Dreams” starring Kevin Costner, and referred to building a baseball field for baseball players. They didn’t build a hockey rink for baseball players. This is a critical distinction, and would be the tricky leading indicator.
My theory is that we do not have many families with kids or youth groups because there are not enough planned activities or programs for these groups, and/or the activities/programs do not have a wide enough appeal. There could be many reasons for lack of appeal, and one that has been stated in focus groups is in regards to timing. They want earlier activities so the kids aren’t up too late and have a chance to wind down before bedtime. Some of our family-oriented activities are generally held a bit too late for them.
Therefore, if we want more families with kids and an active youth group then we need to come up with the things that will attract them, and at the right time. Yes, it’s just that simple. If we get a good response –our lagging indicator – then we know we were successful in our choice of leading indicator. If we don’t, then we just adjust our leading indicator and see what happens. It may take a few tries to get it right, and that is okay. We learn from failure.
Just to point out, there is no official Ahavas Rule Book that says you have to be on a committee to organize a fun activity. You can do that all by yourselves. You will not automatically be put on any list as a Chairperson if you step up. I promise. You are also allowed to publicize your event on our Facebook page, and in the weekly email blast. You will have to coordinate the email blast and any Voice articles with our office manager ahead of time, and that includes room use and timing. You also might want to check the calendar to make sure it doesn’t conflict with another activity. Please give her plenty of notice, especially for Voice articles (one month ahead of time.) We do now have a potluck policy for bringing non-hekshered or homemade food into the shul. If you’re interested then you can contact Rabbi Krishef for the details. It’s not difficult.
Last, and certainly not least, our own Ken Strauss has stepped up and started organizing activities for the year (a leading indicator) with many Board members participating. So far, we have something scheduled for each month and they look like loads of fun! If you’re willing to help out in any way, please contact Ken. Let’s see how it turns out. Let’s get this party started!!
Future Ahavas Youth Group meme !!
Congregation Ahavas Israel welcomes all persons who wish to explore a spiritual path using Traditional Jewish practice in an egalitarian Jewish setting.
Over a century of traditional Judaism in Grand Rapids
Mission Statement of Congregation Ahavas Israel:
We create a welcoming, inclusive, and engaging sacred community, helping individuals follow their spiritual paths using traditional Jewish practices.
To create connections between individuals in our Jewish community through religious, educational, and social programs that attract participation of all our members.
Congregation Ahavas Israel
2727 Michigan NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49506
Phone: (616) 949-2840
Fax: (616) 949-6929
Ahavas Israel is an Energy Star certified building, one of only 100 religious institutions in the country to have been so rated.