Our policy is that all board members and officers who want to can participate in HHD services. We have several readers for each service, and of course there are also the aliyot. (We have double services for everything except Yom Kippur day, so there are plenty of slots to plug people into.) In late summer we ask board members who want to participate to tell us whether they're comfortable with Hebrew and whether they're attending early or late services, and then all the information goes to a subset of the worship committee (the chair and a couple of others) for specific assignment.
If we run out of board members the group assigning parts is free to choose other people, who often end up being members of the worship committee. I think this year we had to fill in three or four extra people--not a lot. I don't think financial contributions figure into it, but I've only been involved in the process for a couple years and I don't know all the history.
Monica 850 families
At our congregation, the rabbi consults with the pesident of the board and the chair of the Ritual Committee before choosing pulpit honors for the High Holy Days. The people chosen are the leadership of the congregation, members of our congregation active in the Jewish community, committee chairs and others who have been active throughout the year in various activities. We also chose a few new members to the congregation to represent other new members--that was a nice touch this past year.
David 1250 families
We work the High Holiday parts in the following way. I, as worship committee chair, sit down with the president of the congregation and decide who should be offered parts. Parts go to those who contribute a great deal to the congregation either in time or money. All temple board members, Sisterhood officers, and Brotherhood officers are offered parts, as is the youth group president. Committee members then split up the list of people to be offered parts (including all of the committee members) and call those people. The people are asked if they would like a part, if it should be in English, Hebrew, or non-speaking (holding or dressing the Torah, opening the ark) and which services they plan to attend. If a person doesn't want a part, we ask if they would like to be asked in the future. If not, I keep a list and that saves us a few calls each year. We have two eve services and two morning services for both holidays.
I get back the calling sheets and then with that information arrange who will have which part. I show it to the rabbi before sending it out to make sure it's ok.
We use mostly teenagers to read the Torah at the services. The woman who tutors our bar and bat mitzvah students coordinates the Torah reading.
Sally 350+ members
One of the nicest things that happened at my former congregation was the way they picked the Holiday honors. No one on the board was allowed to have one. Anyone leaving the board that year was asked, and no one could do it two years in a row. The rest of the spots were filled by "regular" congregants?chosen for special reasons: anyone who had had a loss that year (death of a family member, business downturn, job loss, etc.); anyone who had had a really good year (birth of grandchildren, new house, graduation, etc.); anyone who had done something significant for the temple community. In this way, we reached out to some fringe people, and it encouraged the committee to get to know the about the lives of the rest of the congregation. Some people were really touched by the invitation, and it contributed to further participation on their part. The choices were made by a committee, headed by the Religious Practices VP, with input from the entire board. Debbi
I have always thought that a great way to deal with HH honors fairly and efficiently would be to select the honors parts (reading, carrying, etc.) and to create a list (one time effort) in order of the most prestigious to the least (maybe done by a one time panel). Put the list in a program like MSACCESS (preferred) or even MSWORD so it can be reused every year to generate the letters to the selected honored individuals. Each year, using a panel from the members of the board or the Worship Committee, a list of people is also prepared, in the same order. Have the computer make the match and produce the letters. The result would be a highly automated, fair and equitable process that would be reexamined annually by a changing group of temple leaders. Barry
In our congregation of 1300 family units this is a major project for Religious Practices and officers and staff. We have a database that covers the past three or four years with the honors offered and accepted for each service during the HHD period. We attempt to not have people come up two years in a row.
The basic list is new members, new board members, people who have taken on new responsibilities in the congregation and in the general community (Federation leadership, other agency leadership) people who have done something that deserves recognition. New members and new board members are asked to take an aliyah or other Torah honor. In recent years all of the past presidents have been asked to hold Torahs for Kol Nidrei (we have excess past presidents so the Torahs get handed off during the chanting). For the first aliyah on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur we have a community aliyah and the rabbis invite a particular group to participate, Jews by Choice, New Grandparents, those who have recovered from illness during the year, etc.
We assign four "captains", one for each of the major services to follow up the invitation letters with phone calls to be sure all the slots are filled. They also arrange to contact each participant just before the service to be sure they are there. They keep a small list of instant substitutes (committee and board members) handy to fill any gaps. They also remind about cues and stay alert to be sure people are moving on their cue. Since we have one very large service, it is important that we not have long waits while the rabbis search the congregation for a sign that someone is moving, and coming form the back of the sanctuary (the far end of our social hall) can take a very long time.
This has resulted in a smooth flowing service without its feeling overly formal. The captains serve a very important role in making it appear seamless without being overly orchestrated.
We like to honor those who work on behalf of the congregation, but sometimes find that not everyone we want is willing to participate. We have always had a lot of congregational participation with readings, aliyot, and Torah and haftarah readings. Something which we have been doing for many years is to invite anyone interested in participation to let us know when and how. This includes anyone, active or not. People are pleased to be included and it gives us a pool to draw on. Of course, our preference is to "honor" appropriate members when we can, but we feel that all members are deserving of the honor or participation. Rene 250 members
In the discussion of High Holy Day honors, there have been several references to turn-downs. I wonder if the congregations who experience the turn-downs have accumulated any data as to why people say No, and also if they (or others) have undertaken any activities to foster Yeses.
I can think of several reasons why someone might say No:
Not planning to be at services, at least at the time of the projected honor. If the prospective honoree can't light candles Erev Rosh HaShanah because she's going to be at her kids, or her parents, is the asker flexible enough to offer another slot?
Doesn't like the particular slot being offered. Again, is there another option? I never turn down an aliyah to read Torah, and almost never accept anything else.
Feels under-qualified, afraid of making a mistake, etc. A rehearsal time, at the congregant's convenience, might help deal with this.
Self-conscious, doesn't like being in the limelight. Probably not much you can do about that one.
Doesn't recognize the invitation as an honor, or does so recognize and doesn't feel worthy of it. The Board, or the Worship Committee, may have a handle on why/how people are chosen, but often the congregation doesn't have a clue. Moreover, in a large congregation, the congregation may not have the foggiest notion of who's up there or why. On the High Holy Days, our Torah readers are usually acknowledged by name, but none of the other honorees are introduced. Printing names in the Bulletin, and/or posting them on the Web site, might be a way to deal with this.
The other side of the coin is the people who are miffed because they are not asked--and part of their being miffed is because they don't know the criteria. I used to usher at the main door to the sanctuary, and my "partner" had had that door from time immemorial. He expressed his resentment one year that in 30+ years, he had never been invited to do anything on the bimah. Well, in those 30+ years, he had never participated in anything in the congregation except ushering on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur--and even if you were to say that thirty years of ushering warranted an HHD honor, the nature of what he was doing made him invisible to the rabbi who (in consultation) offered the honors.
Ain't synagogue leadership fun?
Larry 1300 units
We assign HHD honors to officers and members of the board, and before assignments are made we circulate a list at a board meeting and ask people to indicate which services they'll be attending and whether they are comfortable with Hebrew. This is also a chance to pre-emptively turn down the honor; very few do at that point. We get some turn-downs later; if it's because their plans for which services to attend have changed we try to swap them with someone else, but that doesn't always work. I think some people are intimidated by public speaking, and as Larry said, there's not much that can be done about that. We have a rehearsal every year so that people can try out their parts with the microphones, see how traffic will flow, and so on, and that helps a lot.
It's possible that some of our turn-downs are because of the specific assignment (someone really wanted an aliyah and won't settle for reading something else), but I don't think it's common. We do honor specific requests as best we can, but I'm reluctant to open the floodgates and let everyone pick out his favorite part. (Conflict resolution with thirty board members and about ten other people could get tricky.) Also, at least when I assign the parts (I'm the current worship chair), I try to place people in ways that make the best overall service, because the service belongs to the 1500 attendees more than the forty participants.
For example, I won't give a quiet, timid reader a long stretch for Yom Kippur Minchah, and if someone I know to have difficulty with Hebrew requests a Hebrew part anyway, I'll assign an English part instead. (Lest someone get offended by that, let me point out that there are other opportunities throughout the year for people to participate under less stressful circumstances.)