Presidents Letter November 2017

Thinking about the future of Congregation Ahavas Israel, and ensuring a healthy Conservative Jewish Synagogue in Grand Rapids has been foremost on my agenda since becoming part of the Executive Committee last year. Many folks seem to think we are in bad shape and should immediately consolidate our resources and either downsize or join with other local Jewish organizations to “save ourselves.” While I completely respect these views, they may be based on fear, not fact, so I’ve done some rudimentary research in order to get the facts out there for all to examine. We can then discuss the meaning and interpretation of these facts, and certainly add more information to the mix, and make better decisions moving forward. Here is the information I’ve collected thus far:
1.The Synagogue is not only financially on solid ground, with more than 1.5 million dollars in monetary assets, not including our buildings and grounds, but also…
2.The spending down of principle on our unrestricted funds has diminished in recent years, due to favorable market conditions
3.Membership at the Synagogue has been stable over the past 5 – 10 years, and… 
4.Total member dues have been stable during the same period, as well
5.There are currently 113 member-units with approximately 173 adult individuals  
6.There are less young families with school-age children now than 10 years ago
7.The membership of Congregation Ahavas Israel is aging; in fact, based on life expectancies of 85 (women) and 80 (men), our member levels will decrease at a rate of 4 individuals per year during the next 10 years, and at a rate of 6 per year between 10 – 20 years going forward
8.According to the Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids, approximately 75% or more Jews in Grand Rapids are not affiliated with any religious institution
In my opinion, these data give our Synagogue community great potential for growth. If we can determine what the needs of these unaffiliated Jews are, and it is within our purview to effectively address them, then real growth, not just maintaining current levels is one possible outcome. I welcome different interpretations of these facts, as well as any and all thoughts on how we might approach questions of growing our membership. Moreover, I challenge current members, this board and future boards to continue thinking “outside the box” about bringing new and young Jewish families through our doors.

Presidents Letter February 2017

Volunteer Engagement – the Missing Link
Every religious organization runs on three things: Time, Talent, and Treasure.
It is no secret that Ahavas needs volunteers, i.e. your time and your talents. At the time of this writing, I have committee members, but still need someone to lead the Parking Lot project, and someone to lead the Cadillac of Raffles fundraiser. Without leaders for these projects, Ahavas will be without a much-needed parking lot, and our major fundraiser will not happen.
•For the Parking Lot project – we already have $65,000 of the $110,000 goal without even kicking off the project.
•The Cadillac of Raffles has a well-worn path. We already know what to do, and Deb does most of the day-to-day work such as mailing tickets, keeping track of them in the database, etc. Still, we’re required to have a Chairperson (Michigan lottery rules) who is responsible for the overall project, encourages the ticket sellers, and maybe even sells tickets him/herself.
What makes people want to be volunteers?
Each person has their own motivating reasons: Many are driven by a desire to assure the next generation of Jews will be stronger than the current one; others are driven by a desire to work with others; some find that serving the community is a good way to connect with other Jews. There is no one common thread.
Inspiring the right volunteers to step forward to help build our sacred community is not so easy. There are reasons why.
Why don’t people volunteer their time and talent? 
•Many congregants fear that if they volunteer at the synagogue they’ll be signing up for a life sentence. 
•They’re afraid that they will not be supported in the work they do, or they will not be appreciated. 
•They’re afraid that they will have to reinvent the wheel because their predecessor is not available and left no documentation.
•They’re asked to volunteer for something they’re not particularly interested in. 
•The committee they’re working with is not very engaging, not very active, or has no direction or goals.
Engaging congregants as volunteers is an essential community-building tool and an opportunity to build the capacity and strength of the synagogue. 
Ahavas will need volunteers for implementing our congregational strategic plans!
Volunteer engagement is much more than rounding up warm bodies, coercing reluctant congregants, and waiting for the inevitable burnout. There needs to be a sense of purpose, as well as thoughtful assessment and planning. Each goal of the congregation should be met by volunteers suited for that responsibility. The volunteer culture at Ahavas can be transformed by appreciating and developing our volunteers, clarifying expectations of volunteers, giving them appropriate access to decision making and authority, supporting them in their work, and showing appreciation.
The new culture of volunteer engagement invites each and every member to shape and nurture the synagogue and the future of the community. This is accomplished by creating a congregation in which all members are inspired to bring their skills and passions to fulfill the mission of the synagogue. When this happens, wonderful synergy will occur. Torah study; worship; and acts of kindness will thrive.
There are many volunteer levels at Ahavas based on your interests and the time you have to give: 
1.Ongoing commitments, such as what is needed for Board and committee memberships, and teaching responsibilities.
2.Project-based requirements that are time limited, such as serving on an ad hoc task force or collecting for a fund-raiser.
3.Seasonal responsibilities, such as High Holy Day needs, landscaping, or garden maintenance.
4.One-time-only needs, such as substituting for a staff member on vacation, or stepping in when someone falls ill.
Volunteers are the life blood of this community, and we cannot function without them. Monetary contributions are great, but it’s the volunteers that get things done.
What are your interests or passions? Where can they be best used at Ahavas? Do you have any ideas for things that we’re not doing, and are you willing to help fill that void? Can we count on you to help out, even if it’s for a short time?
The challenge of the Board is to be constantly aware of the diverse needs and beliefs of the members. We must create opportunities for members to explore their own beliefs, to contribute in a way that matches their personal preferences and strengths, and which allows members to use their energy and enthusiasm to assure our future is strong and bright. 
Before the end of the first quarter we plan on sending out an interest survey to all Ahavas members. Please be sure to respond and let us know how and where you would like to contribute your time and talents.

Presidents Letter December 2016

Happy 5777! As the New Year begins, we say good-bye to the past and turn our thoughts to the future. What is in store for Congregation Ahavas Israel for the upcoming year? Let’s see what is on the Presidential Plate. Hopefully, it will help inform you as to what you can do this year.

First, some background:

Ahavas sent me to SULAM for Presidents, which is a development program for upcoming and current synagogue Presidents within the USCJ. There were 30 of us. Although I had been on the Board for some time, this was an eye-opener for me. I found that most shuls were making incremental changes over time to keep up with current practices and always looking for ways to improve. They had annual reviews of the Rabbi and the Board. There was accountability. There were "consent agendas" that saved Board time, and left time for development activities and policy establishment. There was intentional planning for the future and not just letting it happen. There were goals for the Rabbi, the President, the Board, and committees/teams. These synagogues are successful and growing.

So why isn’t Ahavas doing this? In my time on the Board I have noticed that we spend a lot of time handling normal business. We hear reports, we get requests, and we take care of the business at hand. Much of it is urgent, but at a high level not all that important to our future. If you’re familiar with the four quadrants of Stephen Covey’s "Seven Habits of Highly Successful People" (below), we’ve been focusing on "Quadrant 1" activity. We need to spend more time in Quadrant 2, which is important, but not immediately urgent.





Quadrant 1

Quadrant 2



Pressing Problems

Deadline driven



Burn out

Crisis management

Always putting out fires



capability improvement

Relationship building

Recognizing new opportunities









Few crises

Not Important

Quadrant 3

Quadrant 4



Some calls

Some mail

Some reports

Some meetings

Popular activities


Short-term focus

Crisis management

See goals/plans as worthless

Shallow or broken relationships

Feel out of control


Trivia, busy work

Some email

Personal social media

Time wasters

Pleasant activities


Dependent on others or institutions for basics


Not productive

Quadrant 2 is where strategic planning happens. Ahavas has had strategic plans in the past, but no program to review it, keep us on track, and renew the strategic plan after the old one has ended.

So what’s new at Ahavas? We have already gone to a consent agenda where the Minutes and committee reports are bundled, sent out beforehand for review, and approved as a group, and we’ve started Board development activities. We’re using the USCJ guidelines to establish an annual review process for the Rabbi and the Board. These reviews shall be meaningful and respectful with mutually agreed upon goals.

We will also be laser-focusing on Membership and Fundraising. These two areas are critical to our growth and future success. We need communication and connection to our members, and a plan on what to do when members and friends have life happen to them, are sick or hospitalized, or need help in some way. We need to have activities that bind us together as a community where families with children, millennials, inter-marrieds, seniors, seekers and friends all have a place in our tent and are welcome with open arms. Our fundraisers need a review and refresh. Cadillac of Raffles has been going on for a long time. Maybe we keep it, replace it, or come up with a second FUNraiser. Personally, I think a murder mystery dinner at shul would be a lot of fun. What are your ideas? Where would you like to help out? Give us a call. 616-283-6339 (not during work hours, please), or email

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your ideas.

As I write this, I am listening to Rabbi Shefa Gold’s chant Ma nora hamakom hazeh

How Awesome Is This Place. This is the house of G-d, the gate to heaven. Yes, this is Congregation Ahavas Israel.

Blessings to you this New Year

Paula Bojsen


Presidents Letter September 2016







An old Cherokee grandfather was teaching his grandson about life.

"My son," he said to the boy, "there’s a battle going on inside all of us. It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One is evil; he is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies, and ego. The other is good; he is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, and truth.”

The grandson thought about it and asked, "Grandfather, which wolf will win?"

The old man replied, "The one you feed."





Every month has its own unique energies and spiritual opportunities. September 3rd begins the month of Elul (meaning “full circle”). In Jewish tradition, as the last month of the Jewish year, it is a time of reflection and spiritual accounting. Elul is a time of affirmation and healing, to be with oneself in introspection before the month of Tishri, the month of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the time of transformation. Elul is the month for teshuvah. Teshuvah has many facets to it, but on a deep level it is a return to who we really are, our true essence, our inner wholeness, our inner beauty and potential. Elul is on the threshold of transformation, but we can choose to not step over that threshold. We can choose to ether meet Rosh Hashanah just as we are, or we can choose to plant fresh seeds for new growth.

The month of Elul reminds us that there are endings, but endings are only the beginnings of something new. What will that “new” be for Ahavas Israel? We will certainly be somewhere in 10 years, but where will that be? Will we be a wandering generality with no focus, or will we with kavannah (sacred intention) build our community into what we need for it to be in our current time and circumstances? We’re on the threshold of a new beginning. Will you stay where you are, mourning a past that we’ll not see again; or will you step over the threshold with me to a new beginning?  Which wolf will you feed: the one that is apathetic, disconnected, jaded, or resentful, or the one that puts away old resentments and chooses to look to a common future regarding outcomes, in a positive, hands-on, and influential manner, while connected with compassion to our community?

Will you at least be open to new possibilities, or have you made up your mind that you’ll remain where you are? Which wolf will you feed?    




Paula Bojsen


Text Size

Jewish Date

Facebook Twitter RSS Feed 

Subscribe to our Newsletter
Please wait