Lead Your Board Through Self-Reflection for the High Holidays

September 6, 2022Amy Asin

On the Jewish calendar, the start of the month of Elul signifies the beginning of the High Holiday season. As individuals, it is during this time that we begin the process of cheshbon hanefesh (accounting of the soul), reflecting on the past year. So too, it is important for your leadership and community to reflect on the past year and consider how to do better moving forward. Because it's the busiest time of year for congregational leaders, the URJ has compiled resources to make it easier for your board or leadership to do this cheshbon hanefesh, this accounting, amidst the urgency of logistics and worship preparation that takes up so much of our time.

  • Board/leadership discussion exercise: This exercise, developed by Loree Farrar and Greg Marcus for Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, CA in 2017, is one that leaders have been accessing in the Tent ever since. It offers lay leadership a way to reflect on their participation in the congregation, on the board, and as a model of a holy community. There is a short preparatory exercise that participants will need to do in order to fully participate in a group discussion. Adapt the protocol for your own use and spend some time reflecting.
  • Board self assessment: If you would like to go deeper into exploring the culture of your board or leadership, consider using the URJ's board self-assessment tool. This tool asks individual board members to rate the board on a set of characteristics including mission, vision, values, governance, leadership culture, leadership development, and crisis management. Each board member fills out the tool individually as prep for a debrief meeting where the group discusses the average ratings, the level of agreement of the ratings, and where the focus should be for improvement. Of course, this tool can be useful any time of year, but starting the year off with a reflection of how the board operates can be especially meaningful and impactful. The URJ also offers trained volunteer facilitators to work with congregations to guide the group discussion and debrief the exercise. For more information, contact Gila Hadani.
  • Audacious Hospitality Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion self-assessments & DEI Working Group: This assessment is a starting point for reflection, conversation, and action within your community. It is intended to help your community identify the steps needed to become a community rooted in principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The assessment will help you build on your existing measures and aid in initiating new ones. Think of it as an idea checklist, a vision of the type of community that you strive to be. (Please note, this process does not have to be board-led, but your leaders can, in turn, inspire other community members to spearhead a working group).
  • Ethical behavior: The URJ offers a variety of resources for congregations to adopt measures to support safe, equitable, and respectful communities and workplaces. The URJ recently launched an opportunity for congregational clergy, staff, and volunteers to enroll in anti-harassment training. Learn more about this resource, plus resources on adopting an ethics code, ensuring pay equity, and more.
  • Individual reflection: The resources listed above all urge your leadership to take stock of how it is doing its work. You may also be interested in individual reflection preparation. Yolanda Savage-Narva, the URJ's Assistant Vice President for Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion has written a powerful piece about her own High Holiday reflection. Share this with your leadership and your congregants. You can also share the URJ's Reflect tool for a set of meaningful and fun activities for individuals and families.

Each of these tools offers a meaningful way to do a leadership cheshbon hanefesh for the High Holidays and beyond. Whether you choose to use one of the tools listed here or invent your own, we want to hear from you. Discuss your High Holiday reflection in the Leadership and Governance group in the Tent. If you use the DEI self-assessment, please share your experience in the Audacious Hospitality group.

I join the leadership of the Union for Reform Judaism in wishing you a shanah tovah.

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