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September 3, 2015 | 19th Elul 5775

A Comprehensive, Congregation-Wide Plan:
Temple "Oy Vey" Considers Mishkan T'filah
(A Fanciful But Instructive Tale)

by Rabbi Kim S. Geringer

Members of Temple Oy Vey, a medium-sized Reform congregation in a medium-sized North American city, had been faithfully praying from Gates of Prayer (GOP) since 1975. In 1994, in response to some congregants’ complaints about GOP’s gendered references to God (”He,” “His,” “Him”), Oy Vey purchased the thin, gray, non-gendered version of GOP when it became available. They understood that this version had been published as a temporary and transitional measure in anticipation of a new siddur’s appearance within the next decade or so. In the late 1990’s, Oy Vey’s professional staff and some of its members learned that the move was underway to create the next generation Reform Movement prayer book. Over the next few years, some of them got early glimpses of it at regional, national and professional meetings sponsored by the Movement. They were intrigued by what they saw. The layout was unlike anything any of them had ever seen, and there were enough wording changes in Hebrew and English to make them sit up and take notice.

By 2005, the professional and lay leaders knew that the time was approaching to make a decision about replacing GOP with Mishkan T’filah. They felt that the gray GOP had outgrown its usefulness, and they understood that they would no longer be able to purchase replacements for books that had worn out or been damaged. They also wanted to be in sync with the Movement; to be able to pray comfortably in any Reform congregation; and to feel liturgically connected with their fellow Reform Jews across many settings. Yet they also wondered how easily their members would take to a new prayer book, remembering resistance to other changes that had been implemented in the congregation over the years. The classical leanings of a sizeable contingent of senior members concerned Oy Vey’s leadership. And, they confided to one another, even if they decided to make the change to MT, how would they actually go about the process of introducing and integrating it? Sometimes the task seemed almost too big for them to manage. Excited and energized as they were by the possibilities for learning and reinvigorated worship, thinking about everything that would need to be done also gave them a headache. But undeterred they pushed forward. Here is what Temple Oy Vey did. Their plan can be tailored by any congregation to meet its own specific needs and interests.

Stage 1: Making the Decision

The Rabbi and Cantor…

  • Met with members of the Executive Board and committee chairs to apprise them about the upcoming publication of Mishkan T’filah, including background and history of previous “official” Reform Movement prayer books.

  • Asked committee chairs and Board members to choose sections of MT liturgy to be read at the beginning and ending of committee and Board meetings during the decision-making process.

The Bulletin Editor…

  • Placed a “Dear Congregant” letter in the bulletin, signed by the clergy and President. The letter informed the congregation that the Movement was producing a new prayer book and that Temple Oy Vey would soon be making a decision regarding purchase. The letter invited members to attend a specially convened meeting to review, study and discuss Mishkan T’filah.

The Board of Trustees…

  • Spent two meetings considering the attached questions.
  • Charged the Budget Committee with responsibility for determining the source(s) of funding for the new prayer book.
  • Along with the clergy, organized and led the congregational meeting to review, study and discuss Mishkan T’filah.
  • Responded promptly to congregants’ questions and concerns about a new prayer book.
  • Decided that the decision to purchase Mishkan T’filah would be made after a three-month “trial run” using Mishkan T’filah at erev Shabbat worship only.
  • Determined that the decision to purchase Mishkan T’filah would be made by a vote of the Board of Trustees following a formal recommendation by the clergy and taking into account concerns and opinions raised by congregants.
  • After three months voted unanimously to approve the purchase of Mishkan T’filah.

Stage 2: Implementing the Change

The Rabbi…

The Rabbi and Cantor…

  • Created guidelines for adapting MT for use by b’nei mitzvah students at Shabbat morning worship.
  • Held a meeting for parents of the next year’s b’nei mitzvah to explain how MT would be integrated into Oy Vey’s Shabbat morning worship.
  • For the first six months, offered a once-a-month, “Discovering Mishkan T’filah” learning opportunity ten minutes prior to the beginning of every worship service at Temple Oy Vey.
  • Taught a three-session Sunday morning program, “Our Reform Liturgy: Mishkan T’filah and Everything That Led to It.”

The Cantor…

The Board of Trustees…

The Chairs of the Adult Education Committee, Religious School Committee and Ritual Committee…

The Rabbi, The Cantor, The Board and Committee Chairs…

  • Monitored the transition with regular “check-in” and “How’s it going?” discussions at monthly Board meetings throughout the first year of implementation.

Rabbi Kim S. Geringer, Program Specialist, Department of Worship, Music and Religious Living

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