by Rachel Lefkowitz, Synagogue Administrator
In early December, I was able to attend the online conference of the National Association of Temple Administrators (NATA). I am really grateful to Bet Ha’am for giving me this opportunity to learn from and with synagogue administrators from all over the United States. I am sure that I missed going to an in-person event in Arizona in December—but not really. It was great to be at work in the morning and learning in the afternoon, all without leaving my office.
The best session of the conference was taught by a business school professor who tailored her talk to the problems and opportunities unique to synagogues—first among them that synagogues are volunteer-driven organizations. The speaker pointed out that often administrators and boards are quick to tell people what we’d like them to do (like donate or come to services), hoping to further specific goals. Instead, the speaker said, we should ask questions about things like motivation and life-style–what do people do when they are not at the synagogue? why do they come to services and programs when they come? The speaker emphasized that these questions may lead us to create a plan that serves us better than a goal-driven one.
Many of my colleagues thought the process sounded much too time intensive. How do we do all that listening? It does take time, but when we approach people with questions—why are you interested in this thing? what makes this other thing hard for you?–we are showing respect for experiences and opinions. What we learn might also surprise us: what we thought was neglect might be a mistake or incapacity; what we thought was important might not be relevant at all. I agree with my colleagues that it will take time to ask questions, but I can see that being curious will lead to a stronger community.