by Harriet Rosen, co- author of Becoming a Kehillat Chesed
name, synagogues with strong, vibrant Caring Committees prosper. Members reach out to congregants to rejoice,
support, and mourn life's major milestones and its smaller ones. These committees are membership retention
centers. It's hard to leave the warm,
caring embrace of a community that celebrated and acknowledged your new child
or new job and mourned the loss of your health, or your child's divorce. So whether the committee's name is Mitzvah
Corp, or Beth Tikvah Caring, or Helping Hands, its existence is an asset that supports synagogue involvement.
Steps to building a
Partnering-Building a community and not
just a committee
The goal is not just a committee but
to engage the whole congregation in this mitzvah of reaching out to
others. There are many ways to engage
and enlarge the participation from simple acts of kindness to larger projects.
congregation, it is critical for a committee's success to engage professional
staff. The active support of the rabbi(s),
cantor, executive director, religious school director and any other individuals who are or are filling the role
of professional leadership within a congregation all need to agree that this
goal and role are important.
professional staff is clear about the responsibilities and time it can provide,
the next step is to find lay leadership and engage existing synagogue
committees. Turf wars are a reality and
if this is a synagogue-wide endeavor across "party" lines, with real
and open discussion in the establishment of objectives and the sharing of
responsibilities and credit, those boundaries can be breached. Modeling
cooperation promotes it.
Once there is
an established committee, drawing from the larger community (both Jewish and
secular) for resources, for partnering and for cooperation help to make the
synagogue a positive, contributing and collaborative member of the larger
Identify an initial committee chair or co-chairs:
a job and ideal personality traits for
the person/people who will fill that role;
The ideal is someone who is flexible, able to delegate, works to bring
in new people, " non-turf" person-passionate about this mission and also
responsible-somone who thinks this is important enough to give his or her time
to creating a viable committee. Think carefully about who can fill a
role best filled by someone fit for sainthood and who will ask that person
to accept the position. Try not to go to the same three people in the
congregation who are asked to do
everything. Best is to ask them to be part of the search.
Divide up leadership roles to spread
The new chair should
acknowledge the importance of sub-committees and give autonomy to each leader.
Find and train new
leadership-succession planning is critical.
Encourage changing leadership
Create an evaluation system-what
works, what's needed, tools to reflect
on changing needs and addressing them.
Committees should examine the goals established on a regularly basis
Recruit, Train and Honor Volunteers
for appropriate involvement-not everyone is good for every role. Certain programs need training and screening
to protect the volunteer and the recipient. Confidentiality
is critical. Most congregations have a
volunteer sign an agreement with specific do/don'ts for any program that
involves personal information. Clarify
role and limitations of volunteers.
There are lines drawn between professional training and lay involvement
and they need to be clear.
Spread out and limit tasks for
Develop a solid training system
Communicate limitations by helping
volunteers evaluate situations
Create a support system for
volunteers: buddy system, debriefing process, opportunities for additional
Create an effective communication
system-among professionals, organizer/chair and volunteers.
Find ways to honor volunteers: communicate pride in what they're doing and the ways they and the community
Who makes up your congregation's
membership? Don't decide what your
congregation "needs" or "wants" without asking the
professional staff members what they've observed and encountered. Another way to find information is by asking:
Surveys -work if there's a "carrot" for getting responses
realities - find out about who really makes up your synagogue's population
Networks - talk to the formal and informal groups
Set realistic goals-the problems will
always be more than the ability to solve them.
Start small and build on your success.
Plan for a successful project - think
about goals, costs, time, people and need
Accepting Help Many people
are embarrassed, reluctant, or fear public exposure if they ask for help. By establishing a culture of helping and
accepting help, the committee creates an environment of caring. To help initiate and support this level of
acceptance you need everyone's commitment.
Role of religious professionals-from
the bima, in newsletters, in interactions-they can reduce stigma and encourage
Create a Caring synagogue community by
asking for wide participation
Role of this committee and other
congregational committees in bringing their skills and members into projects
Encourage all congregants to be
involved in encouraging, celebrating and consoling one another as situations
warrant these responses
Use congregational PR to offer help
and to make helping and accepting help visible and make clear that each act of loving kindness clearly an
expression of core Jewish value
congregations across North America, in Israel and in South America have
initiated and maintained successful Caring Communities with limited resources
and with time-challenged volunteers. The benefits are visible. When you walk into a congregation with a warm
feel, read its newsletter celebrating its congregants and it feels as Rabbi
Lawrence Hoffman says, "like you've come home," chances are excellent
that this congregation has some form of a Caring Committee.
information about starting or expanding
the Caring Committee of yur congregation please contact Rabbi Edythe Held
Mencher, LCSW Specialist on Caring Community and Jewish Family Concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org or 212 650 4296
more about starting and building a caring committee and congregation:
KehillatChesed: Creating and Sustaining a Caring Congregation (Revised Edition) ByHarriet Rosen with Rabbi Richard Address,
Marcia Hochman and Rabbi Lisa Izes
available from the URJ Press