A Short Brief by Barry


President Barry Deutsch has so much to say and not always the forum to do so. Please visit his blog from time to time and see what he has to say on a variety of topics.

Other Posts
Temple Menorah President's Weekly Message
I have a dream for Temple Menorah

Rekindling the Temple Menorah Flame 2020: Building a K'hillah K'doshah

20 years ago our congregation had over 400 members, Helen Dennis was President. I regard Helen as one of the Matriarchs of our congregation. The congregation was vibrant, dynamic, growing, energized, and financially stable. Our Tuvia pre-school program was the envy of all the other congregations in the South Bay. A large portion of our membership was in a Chavurah. 20 years later we have declined to 250 member families, we have a gap between our revenue and expenses, we lose as many members as we gain every year, we cannot meet our budget, our preschool is shrinking is size, most members refuse to refer their friends, and our congregation is slipping backwards on almost every criteria you could use to benchmark the difference between a "functional" congregation and a GREAT congregation.

When compared to over 800 other reform congregations in North America, and an equal number of conservative synagogues, we are providing the basic minimums required in a fee for service environment, where you would expect a rabbi to be on call for life cycle events, you would expect your child to receive pre-school or religious training, and you would expect your children to be prepared to become a B'nai Mitzvah. We are considered to be a functional congregation in that definition. Almost every congregation in this category is failing, losing members, slipping backwards, and in financial distress. This is obviously a generalization of our community. We have small, little pockets of innovation, creativity, and commitment. We're very proud of our Michael Mitzvah Day, the teachers in our schools, the feeding of the homeless by a small group from our social action committee, and fundraising activities like our recent Gala and Holiday Boutique. However, this pride, ruach/spirit, creativity and innovation is lacking across our entire congregation when we compare ourselves to the very best congregations in this country. We can do better = it's been proven it can be done!

I'm seeing a change occur that is my hope of a beginning of a cultural shift here at Temple Menorah. More and more congregants are calling me and asking how they can help make our Congregation great. A group put together a fabulous Holiday Boutique that attracted a large percentage of our congregation. Randi just took a huge group of RS kids to a retreat %u2013 and she created raving fans in our parents and kids with this program. Last night, the turnout for the Hanukkah celebration, the Spirit/Ruach, and the interactions among our congregants is something I hope we can amplify.

As I mentioned in my Menorah Message, every other congregation that is considered to be implementing best practices and best principles are growing, thriving, engaged, caring, compassionate, and relation-oriented %u2013 and they ALL started from the point where we are today.

It took a brave group of congregants to say "ENOUGH!" I am not willing to accept this current culture in my congregation. I raise my hand to start making a change right now.

If I could lay out some of the more important benchmark criteria and metrics that are used in comparing congregations, we are failing at almost every single one of them.

These critiera include:

  • Financial commitments and donations below the level it takes to provide basic services

  • Revolving Door on Membership %u2013 get 16 lose 17

  • No active recruitment plans and strategies for outreach in the southbay community

  • Vast majority of RS families leave the congregation after B'nai Mitzvah.

  • Low attendance at services

  • Low Ruach/Spirit %u2013 last night was a turning point for me

  • Very few families involved in small groups/Chavurahs

  • No new member on-boarding plan

  • No real action demonstrating that we are a caring and compassionate community %u2013 biggest complaint I receive calls on

  • We don't tell our stories and share those with each other

  • No current plan to guide us into the future

  • No use of values to guide our programming and decision making %u2013 that will change after last night

  • Our sisterhood has declined from the point where it was one of the most supportive elements of our congregation

  • Lack of volunteer recruitment and training

  • No understanding of our members %u2013 their passion, skills, and interests in helping

These are but a few of the benchmark criteria by which we might compare ourselves to other congregations.

Here's the vision %u2013 what does the future look like in 3-5 years? I want to be clear that this is my personal vision for Temple Menorah. I have been working on putting this vision into place for the last few months. Our Board has not formally voted on this vision or decided if they believe some of these things are important or less important. I have been working with both our senior staff and a group of leaders over the last few months %u2013 both on and off our board to fashion a vision, a dream for the future of Temple Menorah.

By the way, a number of leaders in our community have told me that I am trying to change too much, that we cannot absorb this level of change. I'll contend that if we don't start to change, we don't bring a level of urgency to our actions, then we might as well all give up right now. We either decide right now to make a stand = to make change %u2013 or we accept that we are on slow downward spiral into obscurity. The solutions are proven over and over in other congregations

We have achieved building a K'hillah K'doshah %u2013 a sacred community. Evidence that we have built a scared community is represented by:

A large percentage of our congregation is connected through small groups/Chavurah.

We are recognized as the most caring synagogue in the South Bay. Other Synagogues come to us to benchmark how we care. We engage our entire congregation around caring for each other.

We have shifted from a fees-for-service framework to fair share dues/gifts from the heart framework. 20% of budget now comes from contributions beyond a baseline dues level. The average contribution per member in our congregation has grown by20% over the last 3 years because most Temple Members now care about their community.

We have reduced our debt in half to $250,000 and built a reserve of $250,000.

Our Tuvia program has grown from 50 students to 75 students %u2013 almost entirely through referrals of existing families.

Our membership is at 300 families, and growing by 3-5% per year.

Non-quantitative measures show engagement, relationships, perceived value of membership "matter-ness", and net promoter scores (willingness to refer someone) are all up significantly.

Attendance at Religious services, and participation in Adult Learning has increased dramatically. The adults in our congregation crave Jewish learning, and the opportunity to study with each other. This was evident as one of the most important values identified last night during the Hanukkah Dinner.

Almost all students are staying past B'nai Mitzvah for Confirmation. Participation in the Madrachim program and in high school learning has increased substantially. We retain most members whose children completed their B'nai Mitzvah.

We are receiving continuous accolades and newspaper articles regarding our deep commitment and involvement in social justice programs %u2013 not only in the South Bay %u2013 but through-out Southern California. Tikkun Olam has become a very important value for our entire congregation through-out the year. Again, this value was identified last night as one of the top five values we should be focused on in congregation by those participating in the values exercise.

We have launched an outreach effort toward young adults and have large groups of young adults gathering at Temple Menorah at least twice per month. Our engagement of youth is considered a model for other congregations. Many of our young people are in regional and national roles with the reform youth movement.

We are collaborating with other synagogues in the South Bay to engage unaffiliated families, and all congregations are experiencing the benefit of additional membership through this collaboration.

Our new members feel like they have been warm and welcomed as if our entire congregation wrapped a Tallit around them. The most common refrain I hear from new members is that "you're the first person to reach out to me. I wasn't sure anyone knew we were members." It makes my stomach churn to think we not only ignore the vast majority of our current members, we turn off our new members by not being warm and welcoming.

This is the dream of where we can transform our culture. It's going to be hard work. We've already put some of the first steps in place to affect this cultural shift to a caring, compassionate, vibrant, growing, engaged, relationship based community.