Saturday, July 17, 2010

Community Development and Change

This weekend the Beth Jacob Synagogue has invited its members and other Jewish community members to a weekend of contemplation and discussion concerning the future of the both the synagogue and the Jewish community at large.

This is the first year in the 32 years of living in Regina that we have not been members of the Beth Jacob Synagogue. The reasons for that could be the topic of another post if I ever decided that the reasons needed a public airing but I will leave the following comment as a hint. When we informed the office person that we wouldn't be renewing our membership for the 2009/2010 year no one ever called or asked why we had made that decision.

But we were invited to this weekend's activities which were being facilitated by Rabbi Shawn Zevit. Although we were not interested in participating in the discussions we did decide to attend the Friday evening services.

The service was interesting to say the least - a combination of camp songs, neat tricks to bring people to focus (shhhhhhh, mmmmmmm, aaaahhhh), insightful stories and explanations and traditional prayers. I am always interested, professionally, in how to get audiences involved in the processes of learning in a group setting. Rabbi Zevit certainly seemed to have control of the techniques as he encouraged, stimulated and cajoled participation.

It's a small world. It turns out that Rabbi Zevit, who now works for the Jewish Reconstruction Federation, spent the first ten years of his life in Winnipeg. He lived in Garden City, very close to my childhood home, and attended the Talmud Torah, as I did. Although he is considerably younger than me we did share the same Rabbi in Winnipeg and I think if we would have had more time to talk would have found a number of other overlapping relationships.

Since I have been living in Regina I have been active in the local, national and international Jewish Community - I have served in many positions ranging from being the co-chair of the national BBYO Board, to being the Chair of Small Communities for the Canadian Jewish Congress to being involved with Saskatchewan Jewish Council South. So as someone who has participated in Jewish communal life for many years and as a professional who has worked to rejuvenate school communities and the larger community associated with the school I am interested in where these activities will lead. I certainly hope they will lead to positive, nurturing places.

But looking around the sanctuary last night gave me cause for concern. Not so much in terms of who was there and what they were saying but in terms of who wasn't there.

The audience was basically composed of the people who have brought the community to where it is now.

I am aware of a significant (everything is relative the Regina Jewish Community is not large) number of 20 and 30 somethings who, in my mind, are the future of the community. This group was basically absent.

I am aware of a group of 50 somethings that should be/could be the backbone of the community now but have not been active or involved to any great extent in the last few years. This group was basically absent.

It seems to me that a lot of groundwork could have been done before this weekend of discussion and planning took place. Groundwork which identified individuals within the groups I've just mentioned and found ways to have them become involved with this planning process.

Further involvement of these demographic groups and others, some kind of succession planning for leadership positions which includes mentoring and a commitment to step aside after a reasonable time and a deep consideration of the potential futures of the community should have been part of the preparations for this weekend.

I wish the Beth Jacob Synagogue well. It is important for the Jewish Community in a city as small as Regina to have a strong organization as part of its public face.

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