Homepage Logo


"Join a Synagogue for the 'Fringe' Benefits"

Shalom Boston recently asked our Executive Director, Alan Teperow, to share some thoughts on Synagogue Affliation and the positive consequences of "belonging". His personal reflections on this critical topic are provided here.
Forum Newsletters!

- Fall 2009
- Winter 2009
- Winter 2008
- Winter 2007
- Fall 2006
- Winter 2005
- Fall 2005

13th Annual Klal Yisrael Shabbaton Enjoyed By All

Courtesy of Shalom Magazine, September 2010

Synagogue attendence reflects modern dynamics
By Susie Davidson
Special to Shalom Magazine, September 2010

When it comes to quantifying Jewish social movements and trends, nothing is ever simple to summarize or pigeonhole. Examining the current state of synagogue attendance is no different. Some people cite their unique backgrounds as a contributing or a divisive factor. Some point to exorbitant membership costs, and others say it’s well worth the money. Some just have no time, others make the time. For some, synagogues are cliquey and insular. Others find them warm and welcoming. Some say synagogue attendance is simply not important to their Jewish identity; others find, in a prayerful community, the meaning and connection that they can’t find anywhere else. But even those who say they are irreligious make some sort of an effort. Is it Jewish guilt? Deeply-ingrained historical sensibility? DNA? Clearly, being Jewish still matters, very much. (That in itself counts for a lot.)

Discussion or focus groups thrive on this type of dissimilitude. An analysis, however, looks at overall trends and examines statistics in an attempt to isolate common linkages, make appropriate observations, and create suggestions for future policy. The “Affiliation and Engagement” Report recently released by the Task Force of the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts has done just that, reporting on the current state of local synagogue involvement and attendance, and making recommendations to both the Council and its synagogues.

SCM Executive Director Alan Teperow feels the issue at stake is not so much attendance, but rather, new and innovative involvement. “First and foremost, I don’t agree that people are no longer coming to synagogue,” he told Shalom. “In some congregations and communities the numbers are significantly up; in others, the numbers are down.” But the underlying, albeit possibly unfulfilled motivation is there, he says. “On balance, statistics show that there is enhanced interest in meaning and spirituality while synagogue attendance is slightly down, as compared to a decade ago.” That, says Teperow, is the reason that the Task Force, in its advice to both synagogues and the Synagogue Council, recommends experimenting with new models. He names a few: “adding musical instrumentation where appropriate, encouraging synagogues to provide multiple offerings on Shabbat, and bringing greater meaning to the prayer experience with meditation and other contemplative practices.”

The study was conducted over a year of intense analysis by the 13 devoted members of the SCM’s Task Force on Affiliation and Engagement. They were lay leaders and professionals of varying ages and synagogue commitment. The final report, not meant to be definitive, but more an open investigation, looked at the needs of individuals and families, and current challenges facing synagogues and the community. Divided by topic, it includes underlined suggestions, points and recommendations.

Their methodology of extensive research, interviewing, memory-searching, and deep thought followed a presentation by Karyn Cohen, director of Strategy Implementation at Combined Jewish Philanthropies. Cohen discussed the CJP’s own “Participation and Engagement” subcommittee’s findings: those closer to Boston had many options for Jewish life that might not include synagogues, while most young families lived in outer areas with fewer Jewish institutions. New parents appeared to be seeking connection, and life-cycle events often spurred joining synagogues. Yet, smaller and more independent social units such as play groups, classes and minyanim seemed to be filling peoples’ communal and educational needs.

Young adults reported interests in arts and culture, social justice, Shabbat gatherings and connecting through technology. In the Task Force’s report, however, young adults and families said that they often did not feel welcomed at synagogues. The report pointed to their possible wariness of all institutions due to the decreased value of workplace loyalty in a challenging economy, as well as their mobility and transience, and ultra-fast, digitally-connected lives. (But maybe, it noted, they also need community more than ever.) Aside from local variables, should area synagogue attendance be viewed in context to other religions, or even geographically? According to a 2006 Gallup poll of over 68,000 Americans conducted over the preceding two years, 42 percent attend church or synagogue once a week, or nearly every week. Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina had the highest percentages of 58 percent, New Hampshire and Vermont were the lowest, at 24 percent, and Massachusetts was fifth from the bottom at 31 percent. In fact, New England as a whole was the lowest-percentage region, with Maine 31 percent, Rhode Island 28 percent, and Connecticut the highest at 37 percent (Nevada was down there, too). Therefore, a comparative overview of synagogue attendance by state could be applicable to Massachusetts Jews.

The Gallup poll showed that church attendance was greater among women, as well as older individuals, and also in black Americans. These trends may or may not be of relevance within the Jewish community (although a quick look around in shul, and at synagogue official rosters will certainly often reveal significant numbers, if not majorities, of females). As for age, young and old were relevant to the Task Force. “The Task Force [recognized] two important constituencies on opposite ends of the spectrum,” said Alan Teperow, Executive Director of the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts “We decided to focus much of our efforts on young individuals and families on the one hand, and on retirees and empty nesters on the other. Both represent significant challenges as well as important opportunities for the Jewish community and, in particular, the synagogue.”

The Task Force’s findings observe demographic groups as they are today. Empty nesters can contribute much to congregations. Boomers often still have adult children at home, may be facing unemployment, or have other issues. Nests aren’t always empty, and synagogues were urged to be cognizant of the potential contributions of all types of personal and familial units, which today include “divorced households, blended families, single parent families, same-sex families, single adults, interfaith households, families of adopted children, special-needs children and adults, empty nesters, senior adults, [and] multi-generational families living in one home.”

We can read about figures and projections, but what exactly was it that made Gloria decide to try to light candles at home instead, and say her own prayers? What is it that keeps Rona and Dick in the third row at shul each Shabbat, occasionally ascending to the bima, sometimes staying beyond the Kiddush to chat with two people at their table? We are all busy. But each of us chooses where to spend our precious minutes. And first impressions are important. “I left the temple after returning from living in an Israeli kibbutz in 1982 with my first husband,” said Allison of the North Shore. “I could not afford dues, and the price of tickets to High Holy Days services turned me right off.” But cost wasn’t the only problem: “There was no one to talk to about this. The secretary at my ‘home synagogue’ was rude and condescending, and basically told me to write a letter and maybe someone would help. This was a very difficult time in my life,” she said, “and the wealthy Jewish community that I had grown up in seemed to shut me out. Maybe my kibbutznik values frightened them.”

“My family was traditionally observant with some religion,” said Deb Goldstein of Newton, Communications Manager for the Payomet Performing Arts Center in Truro. “I completed Hebrew school, and always went to synagogue. However, I have never belonged to a Temple. I’d have to say that I do find it very expensive, and I was very busy in my career to participate in the community from that perspective. If I could afford it now, though, I probably would.” Reticence in joining up is not for lack of desire in many of those interviewed for this article. Allison had brought her children to services over the years. ”My second husband, a renounced Catholic, was open to embracing both religions, neither, or none, as I saw fit,” she said. “I have celebrated the holidays at home with light and love for ancestry, tradition, history and values. I have brought my non-Jewish family and friends into the fold with food, music and stories. My children see themselves as Jews, without the guilt!”

For some, synagogue just doesn’t answer their questions. “I am an aware and proud, nationalistic Jew,” said Edward, a Holocaust survivor from Boston. “I feel better in Jewish company, am happy that our grandchildren are participating in religious services, and that two are teacher’s helpers in Hebrew school.” Edward said he goes to synagogue when the family has something to celebrate, and they gather for every holiday. “But being a logical person, I am still looking for the answer to where G-d was between 1939 and 1945,” he said. “But it is not just my fate. It is also why we celebrate the exit from Egypt: because if we are the chosen nation, why did the Jews have to suffer there so long?” Another question: “We thank G-d when someone recovers from an illness – but why did they have to become ill in the first place?”

For others, the wish to continue just isn’t there. “We don’t go to synagogue any more ever since my kids got bar mitzvahed,” said Molly of the MetroWest area. “It costs too much, plus we are just not interested.” Her sons still go on high holidays, but with her inlaws. “We enjoyed the Rabbi at our first synagogue, but we didn’t like the educational director and some of the other congregants,” she said. “With the second one, the Rabbi was uninspiring, and the congregants were of a different type. We just are not very religious, but definitely believe in our Jewish heritage,” she said.

Like our interviewees, the members of the Task Force may have had differing standpoints, approaches and questions, but it was clear to them that given the changing times, and shifting individual goals and perspectives, the need for the study was critical. “One comment that resonated the most for me was that the formal Jewish institutions were created at a different time for different reasons, and that they are not as relevant in today’s world,” said Steven Greenberg, Past President of Temple Beth Abraham in Canton, and Executive Director of the Vilna Shul in Boston. “[The commenter said that] organizations need to change to keep up with the changes in the demographics of our people,” he said.

“I stopped going to my synagogue because the membership is just too much to bear in these times,” said Jim of Longmeadow, though he expressed remorse. “We love and miss our Rabbi,” he said, “but lots of people around here dropped out for the same reason. They offered reduced membership, but it was still prohibitive.” His two sons, he explained, are adults now, and would need to have their own memberships. Cost was also cited by young adults in the CJP findings, which noted that the young already often tend to shun long-term commitments to other memberships such as fitness clubs and phone carriers. The Task Force’s report suggested that dues structures be revisited, and that alternative sources like endowment funds and annual campaigns be explored, as well as congregant decisionmaking regarding dues and fees for services.

Cost matters to older Jews as well. “When we retired, and could not afford a shul membership, we went to Ahavath Torah in Stoughton for Yizkor and stayed for the rest of the day,” said Peter of Middleboro. “Recently, we found an affordable solution in a reform group from Sharon run by women, called Hayom,” he said.

“Hayom was founded 35 years ago to serve the needs of unaffiliiated Jews who were looking for a place to pray for the High Holy Days,” said founder Iris Jacobs. “Since then, many have stayed with us to form a ‘once a year’ congregation of about 300.” Jacobs also runs a “minyan” of 15 families, which meets for a Conservative service on the first Shabbat of the month in members’ homes. “All members take turns in leading all parts of the service,” said Jacobs, who was a founding member of the Sharon Family Chavurah, which educated children in their own religious school and celebrated holidays together. There is a dues structure for each, due to the Chavurah’s school. Participation does seem to spur participation. For Dan Kimmel, the Jewish Advocate’s Movie Maven, attending Shabbat mornings and Tuesday mornings at Mishkan Tefila took on new meaning when he led it himself. “Ritual director (and now Cantor sheini) Dr. Davin Wolok taught me to lead various parts of the services, which has helped me to understand and connect with the proceedings,” he said. He also attends Temple B’nai B’rith in Somerville on Friday evenings. “I had a Hebrew School education and continued a few years after my Bar Mitzvah, but was not a regular shul attendee,” he said. “My big influence was my grandfather who used to take me to HIS shul for Simchat Torah to show off his oldest grandchild,” he chuckled. “As my childhood shul had no cantor, he led the service at my bar mitzvah, and that inspired me to learn Shabbat Shacharit for my daughter’s bat mitzvah last year,” he said. “After I joined Mishkan Tefila, I found growing connections with the services themselves by learning how to do them.”

Stacy Seltzer of Brookline, a law student who heads Boston 3G, a group for grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, is a member of the Washington Square Minyan. “My husband and I attend occasional Friday night services, but are mostly there for major holidays,” she said, adding that they also attend other synagogues and minyans throughout the year with friends. “I go to a minyan because I appreciate the relaxed atmosphere and lay-led aspects. It makes me feel like everyone is there because they want to be,” she said.

“I go at all because it is a chance to reflect, to thank G-d for all of the wonderful things in my life and to pray for change in the aspects of life that are not so good,” she added, citing the familiarity of the prayers. “No matter where I go in my life, this has been a constant. It is unchanging,” she said.

“I greatly cherish taking an active role in the services, usually serving as one of the cantors, and sometimes I read the Haftarah, or from the Torah,” said Dan Marshall of Brookline, who directs the Greater Boston Community Center for the Arts. Marshall said he prays and recites blessings throughout each day.

“Spiritual activity and thoughtfulness make me contemplate my being on a regular basis, improve me as a person, and in turns blesses those around me,” he said. A few years after arriving from Israel to the U.S., he began wearing a yarmulke almost all the time. “I found that it made me rise to the occasion of being a better person, and a good example of a kind, open Jew, who is willing to share of our traditions and learning, and learn from others and their traditions as well,” he said. “Though I am a very modern Jew, my roots are a constant source of strength, and a reminder of those who came before me to grant me the place I am at today and will be at in years to come.”

Participation extends to synagogue administration as well, according to the Task Force, which recommended a “cluster model” of governance where each small group is represented, with leadership training and opportunities for all. As for new members, the report suggested initiatives such as “adopting a new individual or family,” Shabbat hospitality programming, and chavurot with monthly activities. Collaboration between synagogues, some of whom in a given area might possess expertise in complementary arenas, was also encouraged.

The Task Force report, which highly recommended the book “The Spirituality of Welcoming” by Dr. Ron Wolfson, suggested meeting off-site at coffee shops and other gathering points, offering deep discounts and free seats during the High Holiday month of Tishrei, instituting regular musical services, using top-notch and cutting-edge materials, and developing more tikkun olam-focused programs, perhaps in collaborations.

Other topics include ambiance, or how a congregation is viewed. The Task Force pointed to the need to identify the synagogue as a place of welcoming. Despite the realities of rapid turnover among staff, they should notice visitors, introduce them, invite them to meals and events, and follow up. Some synagogues were cited for their attractive options such as dinner clubs, regular events and seminars, and all were urged to explore models such as the “Synaplex” concept, where a variety of simultaneous offerings has been shown to increase involvement. All aspects of services, such as length, seating, lay involvement, musical and prayer styles and other factors, should be reviewed. The report stressed the benefits of adhering to Hebrew, and encouraging and aiding those requiring assistance in the holy language of Jewish prayer. And all should be invited to worship, be they members or not.

The Task Force also recommended that the Synagogue Council partner with New England groups such as Nishmat Hayyim: The Breath of Life Jewish Meditation collaborative of New England, which engage participants in soulfeeding, stress-reducing practices that encourage mindfulness and sustenance of inner lives.

Food is also a major part of the experience. “Although it appears nowhere in the foregoing study, food is a basic ingredient of community-building in synagogues,” begins the section “Food, The Way to a Jew’s Heart” in the American Jewish Yearbook’s 2005 “The American Synagogue: Recent Issues and Trends” report published by the American Jewish Committee. “Late Friday evening services routinely include a ‘collation’ of coffee (always decaf) and pastries….On Shabbat mornings, study groups in Reform temples begin over bagels and lox. And in most synagogues, there is a kiddush after Sabbath and festival morning services, as well as seudah shlishit (“third meal”) on late Sabbath afternoon,” the report cites.

Hayom concurs. “Food? We’re Jewish aren’t we?” says Jacobs. “For our monthly Minyan Shabbat service there is always a Kosher dairy, vegetarian pot luck,” she said, adding that most members are Shomrei Shabbat.

The social factor, indeed, is one of many missed by our nonattending interviewees. “We VERY much miss going on the High Holidays,” said Jim. “I fast on Yom Kippur, eat sweet on Rosh HaShanah, keep Kosher for Passover for the eight days.” Those are the times he also most misses being with the congregation. “I liked to see people that I might have not seen all year,” he said. “There is Facebook, but it’s really not the same.”

“I believe very strongly, from both a religious and spiritual perspective, that Yom Kippur is a very sacred time for Jews collectively and myself individually,” said Goldstein. “It is a time of reflection and renewal. “When I go to Kol Nidre, the ushering in of this very essential holiday is palpable to me. That is why I go with my friend every year to Beth El Temple Center. I find their service so beautiful and clear in its message. I feel transformed.” She spends the next day with her mother at the Satter House in Revere, fasts, and attends the service there with her two brothers as well. “I take the writing in the Book of Life both spiritually and literally,” she said. “It is not just about a mitzvah to spend with my Mother, but a day spent in observance.”

Bob of Needham said Kaddish for his father, and continues to honor them on their yahrzeits. “I have abject indifference about practicing religion,” he said. “It’s just not paramount to me.” But if he really felt the need, “I’d go with my ethnicity and allegiance - I steadfastly refuse to even consider aligning myself with an alternate religion.”

This loyalty is the crux, something that must be nurtured and cherished, no matter what it takes. “If some of the Task Force’s recommendations can be successfully implemented,” said Teperow, “wouldn’t it be wonderful if, as a result, congregations are able to attract more young singles, couples or families, or retain older adults who have been part of synagogue life for decades?”

"Why does it cost so much to be Jewish"

In Shul, Cost Hasn't Been a Barrier
By Linda K. Wertheimer

Published July 28, 2010, issue of August 06, 2010.

There had to be a catch - and a price tag. A rabbi left a message on my home answering machine inviting me to join an adult bat mitzvah class. But I was not a member of this rabbi's suburban Boston synagogue. Intrigued, I returned the call. At 40, after spending the majority of my life disconnected from Judaism, I wanted to learn more about my faith. But I was tentative about steps like synagogue membership. The rabbi said there was no need to join the congregation. The fee was zero.

"Why does it cost so much to be Jewish?" asked Newsweek's religion editor, Lisa Miller, in a much-discussed recent article. Citing, among other things, the high cost of synagogue dues, she wrote: "Costly barriers to entry need to be taken away, or, at least, reimagined."

Yes, some Jewish organizations, particularly those that are primarily devoted to fundraising for various causes, act hungrier for our financial support than for our presence. But that, based on my experience, is not the way synagogues behave.

An Orlando synagogue offered free Hebrew classes when I lived in Central Florida in the mid- to late-1990s. I took the classes, but never joined. I paid a $75 non-member fee to attend High Holy Day services and did not object to having to pay to pray. Clergy, after all, are professional staff with salaries that require money. Prayer books cost money. Air conditioning costs money. Torahs cost money. Still, at regular Shabbat services, no one checked for a membership card. I was not ready to join a synagogue at the time, and no one seemed to mind.

Moving to Dallas in late 1997, I joined a choir at Temple Emanu-El, the city's largest Reform congregation. I sang in the chorus for more than a year, then debated whether to join the synagogue. Single and in my late 30s, I was saving money for a house. The dues, at well over $1,000, seemed prohibitive. I felt awkward, but asked for a price break and received it.

Joining a synagogue was low on my priority list when I moved to Boston, though I wanted to connect to the Jewish community. The rabbi's invitation to enroll in the adult bat mitzvah class at Temple Shir Tikvah in Winchester, Mass., was the perfect solution. I knew and liked the rabbi, who had officiated at my grandmother's funeral in the winter of 2004, less than a year after I moved to Boston. For nearly two years, I studied for my adult bat mitzvah with seven other women. It was a deeply spiritual and personal journey that cost me little other than time.

In the spring of 2006, I chanted from the Torah for the first time at age 41 - rather than the usual age of 12 or 13. The Torah passage outlined who belonged in the circle of mourners - parents, siblings and spouses. Each was entitled and obligated to observe Jewish mourning rituals.

This passage had special personal meaning: My middle brother died in a car accident when he was 23, and I was 21. For two decades, I viewed myself as the stepchild in the ranks of mourners. I saw my role as comforter for my parents - not as one who should be consoled. In my speech about my Torah portion, I talked about Judaism's wise decision not to establish hierarchy among mourners. Each mourner in the immediate family deserves comfort from the community at large.

No one asked me to join Shir Tikvah, but I became a member. It was a way to give something back in exchange for a priceless gift - a fuller understanding of my faith and myself.

Now married, I belong to a synagogue in Lexington, Mass., where I live. My husband and I sang with the synagogue's chorus for a year before becoming members. Temple Isaiah, like other synagogues I joined during the last decade, never pushed membership.

Synagogues want and need paying members to survive. But their leaders also want to help keep Judaism flourishing in a nation where more Jews are intermarrying and making choices about whether to have a connection to any religious institution.

Our synagogue, like so many others, offers reduced dues to those who cannot afford to pay the full amount. Yes, the roughly $3,000 a year my family now pays for dues is high, but it is not too steep a price. Our synagogue, like other houses of worship, surrounds members with community in times of sorrow and joy. Barriers to entry - and ultimately membership - in Jewish institutions are often those we create ourselves.

Linda K. Wertheimer, a former education editor for The Boston Globe, is writing a memoir about finding her way deeper into Judaism after the loss of her brother. She blogs at jewishmuse.com.

2010 Annual Meeting Memorable

At the Synagogue Council's May 17, 2010 Annual Meeting, over 200 attendees were excited by the surprise appearance of Governor Deval Patrick. In his remarks, the governor thanked the Synagogue Council for its unique work bridging the gap between people of different backgrounds and promoting Jewish religious pluralism. Leaders of Boston's Jewish community came together at Temple Shalom of Newton to thank three innovators of creative, pluralistic Jewish educational endeavors for their unique accomplishments: Arlene Remz, Aliza Kline & Rabbi Bradley Solmsen.

In addition to learning about three cutting-edge Jewish education initiatives and meeting the dynamic and talented leaders who have built them, a large and grateful audience experienced a wonderful evening of celebration, Jewish music, and unity…not to mention great desserts!

Rabbi Baruch HaLevi of Congregation Shirat Hayam of the North Shore writes about about diversity and distinctiveness in the synagogue.

The Story of a Kippah (yarmulke)

So, I'm standing in the back of the chapel during a Friday night service. While the Cantor was busy leading the davening and the others around me were all quietly focused upon their siddurim, I was less than engaged. It wasn't because of the cantor - his spirit never fails to captivate me and to this day when I hear him sing, I'm transported back in time over twenty years. It wasn't just because I have an adverse reaction to using our Friday night siddur which I edited as part of my Doctoral dissertation (and having spent countless hours scouring it for typos which I still find to this day it's enough to drive me to distraction and at times even meshuga) .

No, this time I was distracted from the prayers because of a turquoise suede kippah (yarmulke) that was sitting at the top of the kippah bin. And below that one was a pink kippah and next to that a tye dye, and a homemade knit kippah and the old standard cheap black ones and on and on. How many times had I seen this bin before and simply not noticed what a complete and utter hodgepodge, and frankly, disaster it had become. It stands out so clearly as such disorder in a pretty well ordered room, and synagogue for that matter, thanks to some heroic efforts by volunteers and staff over these past few years. But that basket of kippot, now there was a mess and something I'd need to report to Barri to have cleaned out, restocked with fresh, new, uniform kippot - or so it seemed.

And as the Cantor was at the height of the Kabbalat Shabbat service, as the congregation turned to greet the Shabbat bride as we symbolically welcomed her through the front door it hit me. As we were chanting "boi kallah - come my bride" I realized that that turquoise kippah was from someone's wedding. It was picked out, probably by the bride, who wanted it to match her color pattern for the floral arrangement. To me it was turquoise but to her it was something so much more, the perfection of their wedding day, and the uniqueness of their love. And that kippah - that wasn't just pink but the pink of a little girl who probably always loved pink and imagined some day having a pink Bat Mitzvah theme. The tye dye was a Bar Mitzvah boy's way to say he may have been tamed enough to have a Bar Mitzvah but he wasn't completely bridled and would always run just a little wild.

To the unassuming passers by, that bin of kippot was just a random, chaotic mess. However, printed on the inside of every one of them was not just the date of the event, not just a description of the simcha, but the hopes and dreams of parents raising that child, lovers reuniting with their beshert and dozens upon dozens of stories, each one monumental, each one precious, each one unique. Yes, we are a large, flourishing synagogue with thousands of attendees on the High Holy Days, hundreds on Shabbat and even a growing congregation of viewers out in cyberspace. But as I look around the sanctuary on any given Shabbat I see a sea of faces as varied as those kippot in the bin.

We have new Jews and born Jews and semi-Jews and gentile spiritual friends of CSH who are frankly better "Jews" than most Jews I know. We have gay Jews and straight Jews and Interfaith families and singles. We have youth and seniors and way out spiritual seekers and Jews of a way more traditional bent. We have liberal Jews and conservative Jews and religious and white collar Jews and blue collar Jews and frankly, with our loose dress code many of our Jews are now no collar Jews - a welcome change on many levels indeed. We have religious Jews and secular Jews and sephardic Jews and those of Philippine, African, French, Israeli and even, dare I say it, Nebraskan descent.

Yeah, we are a big bin of walking kippot and the bin is growing larger all the time. However, gone are the days of the standard, one size fits all, one color suits everyone kippah from our youth (you know, the ones you have at home spilling out of your sock drawer). I, for one have come to love the growing diversity, the dissolving of stereotypes and the shattering of arbitrary, negative and frankly un-Jewish boundaries which once existed in these parts and still exist in too many others places to be sure.

Each of us has a soul-print as unique as our fingerprint or, as unique as those kippot in that crazy bin. Some of us are turquoise suede and others are pink satin; some are a crazy tye dye and others are an old fashion knit. We each are an "olam katan" a small world unto ourselves, say the rabbis, and when we merge our lives in community, intertwine our souls in this sacred synagogue, our individual worlds come together and our collective world expands. My hope is that this magnificent world of CSH and the Jewish North Shore will not only continue to grow in size but grow in diversity, in intricacy and intimacy as well.

So the next time you pick up a kippah take a closer look. Pay attention to the color, to the texture and most of all take a peek under the lid. There you will find not just a name, not just a date, but a reminder that each of us has a story, every Bat Mitzvah girl is a miracle, and every couple underneath the chuppa is a union of the Divine Herself. Those kippot fill that bin and sit perched upon our heads as a reminder that we are a people and a community and yet one made up of precious, distinct, irreplaceable individuals and souls. Shalom - Peace

Rabbi B
Rabbi Dr. Baruch HaLevi

Maharat Sara Hurwitz Visits SCM

On March 3rd, more than 20 people were privileged to meet with, and learn from Sara Hurwitz, the first female Orthodox rabbi in North America, at the headquarters of the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts. Embroiled in controversy, Hurwitz's title of Rabba has been challenged by Orthodox authorities and, as of mid-March, is being changed back to Maharat (Leader in Halacha, Spirituality and Torah), according to Rabbi Avi Weiss, Hurwitz's teacher and mentor. SCM has watched Maharat Hurwitz's growth for several years during visits to the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, as part of the Annual Unity Mission to New York. Hurwitz and Weiss have always been gracious hosts and teachers, and we continue to follow Sara's spiritual path with great interest. Hear Maharat Hurwitz's teaching on "Can Orthodox Women Be Rabbis?".


Sofrut Class Success!

Fourteen enthusiastic students came together this winter 2010 to learn the ancient Jewish art of Sofrut - Jewish Scribal Art - the sacred calligraphy that is used to write Torah, mezuzah and tefillin. After being introduced to the traditional materials, students enjoyed the unusual opportunity to write their own Mezuzot. The 5-week session provided information about the traditions and materials used in sacred Jewish calligraphy as well as a hands-on opportunity to create a ritual object for home, or loved ones.

The Sofrut class was taught by Rabbi Rachel Schoenfeld (above, center) of Congregation Shirat Hayam, a Reconstructionist congregation in Marshfield, MA. One of the few female aspiring soferets, Rabbi Schoenfeld has a degree in Jewish education, and has taught children and adults of all ages. Because of the success of this first-time SCM experiment, another class will be offered after Passover, beginning mid-April.

Time Travel: Touring Boston's Historic Synagogues

On a crisp New England Fall day, more than 30 people attended SCM's annual Historic Bus Tour as we traveled through Boston's Jewish history by exploring its past and present synagogues. "Time Travel" was led by Ellen Smith on Sunday, September 13th, a day which -- according to many of the grateful attendees -- provided 4 hours of lectures amidst the neighborhoods of Boston exploring magnificent sites of Jewish interest. A distinguished scholar, author and faculty member at Brandeis University, Ellen Smith is co-editor of "The Jews of Boston" and the curator of three award-winning exhibitions on Jewish Boston.

The tour featured four present and former Boston synagogues from the Eastern European immigrant era, from Roxbury, and from the modern era. Our thanks to the following religious communities for welcoming us with open hearts and interesting anecdotes:

  • Adams Street Shul (Congregation Agudas Achim-Anshe Sfard, Newton)
  • Adath Jeshurun (now a Haitian Baptist Church) on Blue Hill Avenue in Roxbury
  • Temple Israel of Boston
  • Bostoner Rebbe Chassidic Center (Congregation Beth Pinchas, Brookline)

Despite the hubbub of pre-High Holy Day preparations, all who attended "Time Travel" would agree that this year's trip was a particularly moving experience.

Pictured above are Ellen Smith (left) along with two wonderful and gracious staff members of the First Haitian Baptist Church of Boston, formerly the Blue Hill Avenue Shul (Adath Jerushun). This photo was taken in the church's sanctuary, which still displays the 10 commandments in Hebrew above the altar and continues to maintain many of the shul's original architectural features.

Fantastic Annual Meeting & Installation Held on May 14, 2009

In these troubled times, coming together as a community feels more important than ever. The overflow crowd that participated in SCM's Annual Meeting & Installation on Thursday, May 14 at Temple Shir Tikva in Wayland certainly demonstrated that feeling. The synagogue, whose name means "song of hope," was the perfect setting for this event of music, dessert, learning, and unity. The evening served as a way of honoring several special people who epitomize our hope for, and confidence in, a better future.

The K’lal Yisrael award was presented to Lauren & Bill Gabovitch. It is presented to individuals who exemplify the spirit of K’lal Yisrael and help strengthen our Jewish community; this award promotes an appreciation for religious diversity. Bill and Lauren, members of a Reconstructionist synagogue and active in CJP and the broader community, exemplify all that the K'lal Yisrael award represents.

The Founders Award was presented to Dr. Jesse Hefter, immediate past president of the Synagogue Council, and teacher of Daf Yomi - our early morning Talmud class. Jesse, a member of an Orthodox synagogue, is well known for his commitment to myriad Jewish causes and, perhaps most importantly, his love for Jewish learning, and his leadership in the development and building of the Greater Boston Eruv.

We were also proud to present the Community Service Award to Marjorie Berkowitz. This award is presented annually to an individual for outstanding leadership in strengthening our Jewish community. We cannot begin to list all that Margie has done to educate our youngsters, but her current role as Director of Prozdor has led Hebrew College’s high school program for Jewish teens to its status as a model across the United States and beyond.

Thanks were given to Anita Zetlan Redner for her service as outgoing president of the Synagogue Council, and we installed Richard Shulman, our incoming president. This is a first for the Synagogue Council – a son ascending to the presidency in the footsteps of his mother. Lillian Shulman, Richard's mother, began her presidency in 1991. Now, eighteen years later, we shared her pride in seeing her son inaugurated.

Our Annual Meeting Tribute Book includes a listing of supporters by category. To see the list of our Host Committee, please click here.

Click here and visit the Annual Meeting Guest Book to see what others wrote about this years honorees!

A Special Opportunity! 6th Annual Connie Spear Birnbaum Memorial Lecture - Rabbi Joseph Telushkin Spoke on Sunday, March 22, 2009

We were greatly honored that Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, best-selling author and nationally acclaimed speaker, delivered the 6th annual Connie Spear Birnbaum Memorial Lecture. Rabbi Telushkin's talk, entitled "Love Your Neighbor as Yourself: A Code of Jewish Ethics," was presented before a capacity crowd on Sunday, March 22 at Temple Aliyah of Needham.

The annual Birnbaum Lecture brings together people from across the Jewish community for an evening of learning and unity. The lecture is named in memory of Connie Spear Birnbaum, who worked at the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts for many years towards an ideal of uniting the entire Jewish people - K'lal Yisrael.

The program, which marked the first Yahrzeit of Mira Birnbaum (Connie's mother-in-law), included a stirring musical tribute to her by the Zachor Choral Ensemble. The evening also honored the memory of Larry Nelson, who conducted Zachor since its inception in 1977 and passed away unexpectedly a short time ago.

Responding to Basic Needs in a Time of Recession

At the annual President's Council meeting in January 2009, bringing together presidents and vice presidents of SCM-member congregations, an informative session was held addressing the timely topic, "Responding to Basic Needs in a Time of Recession"

Facilitated by Jerry Rubin (President & CEO) and Judy Sacks (Director of "Career Moves") of Jewish Vocational Service, the seminar explored how congregations can provide support and resources for their members and the community in the face of the economic crisis, with an emphasis on employment. To listen to the animated discussion, click the play button below...

(We are most grateful to the digital audio support provided here by Our Learning Company LLC)

Hundreds of Jewish Volunteers Staff Shelters and Feeding Programs on Christmas Day in SCM's Project Ezra

This year, as in years past, Christian volunteers and staff have been able to celebrate Christmas with family and friends because of a unique project sponsored by the Synagogue Council. Project Ezra, celebrating its 22nd successful year, gathers Jewish volunteers from across denominational lines to assist in local feeding programs and shelters, hospitals and nursing homes, enabling Christian staff members and volunteers to spend more holiday time with their families. Our thanks and gratitude to the close to 1000 volunteers who participated this year in Project Ezra!

Volunteers from Temple Beth Am, Framingham serving Christmas dinner at the Salvation Army in Framingham


More than 70 women from across the spectrum of Jewish religious belief and practice came together on November 23rd to hear from Rabbi Andrea Weiss, co-editor of The Torah: A Women's Commentary. An afternoon of dialogue, connection and study, this unique program was graciously hosted by Temple Israel of Boston, with Rabbis Elaine Zecher and Stephanie Kolin of Temple Israel in attendance and warmly greeting the attendees. Rabbi Weiss is Assistant Professor of Bible at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. The Commentary is a groundbreaking, highly acclaimed volume of Torah analysis and contemporary expressessions, published by the Women of Reform Judaism and the Union of Reform Judaism Press.

A true reflection of the mission of the Synagogue Council, the Commentary's contributions come from female scholars across the Jewish religious and cultural spectrum. SCM is proud to have offered this unusual opportunity for women to learn and grow together, while enjoying a delicious Kosher lunch. For details about upcoming women's learning offerings, contact Marilin Lipman at 617-244-6506, ext. 10 or [email protected].

Unity Mission 2008

Synagogue and community leaders from across the spectrum of Jewish belief and practice attended the Synagogue Council's 22nd annual Unity Mission to NYC on November 9 & 10. The participants, who come from area synagogues, agencies and schools, met with senior officials and rabbinical students at many of the centers of Jewish learning of the major denominations of Judaism in New York. Pictured below are group members at the Jewish Theological Seminary with Executive Director Alan Teperow (front row, center), Marilin Lipman, Assistant Director (to his right) and Ellen Michelson, Mission coordinator (to his left).

Read more about the mission under the Unity Programs unde the "Initiatives" Menu.

11th Annual Unity Shabbaton a Hit!

The Synagogue Council of Massachusetts' Eleventh Annual Unity Shabbaton: An Adult Weekend of Study & Prayer was held Friday, July 25 - Sunday, July 27, 2008 at the Holiday Inn, Peabody, MA. This rich and unique Shabbat experience, which brings together Jews from various streams of Judaism in an atmosphere of respect and understanding, featured a diverse faculty of noted rabbis for high-level Judaic study, inspirational services (with mechitza and egalitarian davening options), delicious Kosher, ruach-filled meals from Provender Kosher Catering, and entertainment, as well as outstanding accomodations and air-conditioned facilities.

This year our esteemed faculty included Rabbis Fred Hyman, Shira Joseph and David Paskin. Plan to join us next year in this extraordinary opportunity for learning and growth! Contact the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts at 617-244-6506, ext. 10 to request the 2008 brochure or get it here.

Annual Meeting Honors Children of Morton & Sylvia Grossman and Dr. Sidney Kadish

SCM's Annual Meeting was held on Thursday, June 5, 2008 at Temple Emanuel of Newton, featuring a dinner buffet, silent auction, and a musical performance in honor of Israel’s 60th. The event was a wonderful gathering that supports the ground-breaking work of the Synagogue Council and recognizes the accomplishments of some outstanding individuals.

We were delighted to honor the CHILDREN OF MORTON & SYLVIA GROSSMAN AND THEIR SPOUSES (Patti & Louis Grossman, Amy & Rick Sands, Linda & Ken Polivy, and Rachel & Bryan Koplow) with the Synagogue Council’s K’lal Yisrael Award. This honor acknowledges the magnificent contributions of the Grossman family to support Jewish education, camping, the synagogue and many other significant causes in Jewish life. As an organization that promotes an appreciation for religious diversity and pluralism within the Jewish community, this award uniquely recognizes the Grossman, Sands, Polivy and Koplow families who -- through their involvement in area congregations -- are a reflection of that diversity.

Also that evening was a presentation of the Community Service Award to DR. SIDNEY P. KADISH. The Community Service Award recognizes outstanding leadership in strengthening our Jewish community, supporting Jewish education, and enhancing relations across the spectrum of Jewish belief and practice. In addition to his many contributions to the synagogue and the Jewish community, Dr. Kadish is being honored for his six years of inspired leadership as Chair of the Jewish Chaplaincy Council of Massachusetts.

2008 Annual President's Council Meeting - Congregational Inclusivity

The annual President's Council meeting of the Synagogue Council brought together close to 40 synagogue presidents from across the geographic and ideological spectrum on January 27, 2008 for a morning of sharing and learning. The highlight of the program was a presentation entitled, Creating Inclusive Congregations: How Open are Our Doors? featuring Dr. Harvey Lowell (Jewish Big Brother-Big Sister), Shalom Lowell (resident of CHAI at Avalon), Mindee Meltzer (JFS Metrowest) and Sherry Grossman (BJE), flanked here by SCM leaders Alan Teperow (far left) and Anita Redner (far right).

Synagogue Management Symposium March 5, 2008

Officers, Board members, rabbis and administrators joined together for SCM's biennial symposium featuring David Trietsch from the Leadership Development Institute of CJP who discussed the important topic of "Creating Strategic Partnerships Between Volunteer and Professional Leadership". While each of our synagogues has a different "personality" with regard to leadership style, it is critically important that the relationship between the leaders from both the professional and non-professional arenas is an effective partnership focused on common goals and objectives.

The group reviewed some theory about building relationships, including listening, dealing with conflict, and exploring some practices for ensuring that agreements are implemented. They took a quick look at the barriers that might impede creating these strategic partnerships and talked together about how to remove or minimize those obstacles. Finally, they talked about strategies to start creating these critical relationships before the gavel is passed or the installation service is over. This symposium was a mix of learning about the application of some relevant theories and models and participating in creating the answers to partnership dilemmas.

Participants left the Symposium with new skills, insights and materials that nclude: "Key Challenges/Obstacles in Creating a Strategic Partnership"; "Tools and Techniques for Overcoming Obstacles"; "Understanding Conflict as a Natural Component of Strategic Partnerships"; and "A List of Best Practices for Developing Strategic Partnerships". For more information, contact the SCM office.

Shalom from Jerusalem!

During our Exec's three-month summer Sabbatical, Alan Teperow spent close to a month in Jerusalem studying at the Conservative Yeshiva at the Fuchsberg Center for Conservative Judaism.? In addition to Ulpan (Hebrew language immersion), Tanach (bible), Tehillim (Psalms) and a course on "Evil in Jewish Thought", he and his wife, Suzanne, pictured here (center) were involved in a weekly chesed project to help a local community build a garden in a garbage-strewn area behind their building.

In this photo, students from the Conservative Yeshiva work with volunteers from Yotzer Or, a synagogue/community center in a lower class neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Tenth Annual Unity Shabbaton A Great Success

We are pleased to share that the Tenth Annual Unity Shabbaton, Friday, August 3 - Sunday, August 5, 2007 at the Holiday Inn, Tewsbury MA. was the wonderfully rich and unique Shabbat experience that we had hoped it would be. This unique retreat brought together Jews from various streams of Judaism and featured a diverse faculty of noted rabbis for high-level study, inspirational services (with mechitza and egalitarian davening options), delicious Kosher, ruach-filled meals from Catering by Andrew and outstanding accomodations. This year our esteemed faculty included Rabbis Avi Bossewitch, Daniel Liben and Alan Ullman who each brought his own exciting, thoughtful style of teaching to our community. We were also fortunate to have Cantor Jeff Klepper and Bonnie Greenberg with us to help celebrate this special weekend as our Musician and Storyteller-in-Residence, respectively. Kudos to the dedicated members of the Shabbaton planning committee who helped to create a wonderful 10th anniversary event!

Spring Daf Yomi Class Wraps for Summer

The Synagogue Council weekly Daf Yomi class recently completed its Spring Semester, taking place each Friday. The class of nearly ten students met from 7:30-8:30 AM at the Council's Newton office. No previous Talmud experience was required (the class is given in English), course materials are provided, and both men and women attended.

The material to be covered during the Spring segment was on the topics of holidays (Chagigah) and levirate marriage (Yevamot).

Daf Yomi class studying Megilla 7

The Daf Yomi project was initiated on Rosh Hashana 5684 (September 11, 1923) by Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the Rabbi of Pietrkov and Lublin. Rabbi Shapiro was a representative of the Jewish Community in the Polish Senate and one of the foremost leaders of world Jewry. His goal through Daf Yomi was to unite Jews from all over the world by having everyone study the same page of Talmud each day and to enable a person to complete the entire Talmud in just over seven years (2,711 pages). Daf Yomi, now in its 12th cycle, is studied all over the world today by thousands of people.

Another semester of study is slated to begin on Friday, October 12. Watch our home page for more information!


On May 15th, 2007, the Council held its Annual Meeting and Awards Ceremony at Temple Emanuel in Newton. Nearly 300 people enjoyed a delicious buffet dinner while vying for a Trip to Israel and other exciting prizes through a hotly-contested raffle. Highlights of the evening included: Israeli jazz entertainment, Installation of Officers and Board members and an Awards Ceremony where the Founder's Award was presented to Marjorie Tichnor and the Community Service Awards to Dr. Howard & Arlene Weintraub and SHIRAV (Rabbis Menachem Creditor & David Paskin). Dan Schneider, a Unity and Israel Mission alumnus, presented an emotional and powerful presentation to outgoing president Jesse Hefter related to their purchase of a set of Tefillin for Dan while on the Israel Trip. Larry Salomon was recognized as the "2007 Unsung Hero" for his years of selfless and dedicated service to the Council. Outgoing Board member, Dr. Matt Zismor was recognized for 18 years of continuous service to the Board! The evening was enriched by an outstanding installation of our new president, Anita Redner by Rabbi Wes Gardenschwartz. A delicious dessert capped off a memorable and amazing evening!

Mission Accomplished: Synagogue Council Celebrates “Unity” Milestones

Volunteers are still needed to take part in Project Ezra – a trademark program of the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts (SCM)—which turns 20 on December 25. On Christmas day, hundreds of Jews volunteer across the state in shelters, soup kitchens, nursing homes and hospitals, so staff can spend the holiday with family and friends. Participants typically come from area synagogues – 80 congregations from all the denominations are now forming teams. Indeed, a congregation often transforms a Project Ezra day of service into a long-standing social action relationship.

This year, the SCM, the nation’s only synagogue-based organization dedicated to promoting understanding within the disparate segments of Judaism, is also celebrating an anniversary, its 25th. Funded by Combined Jewish Philanthropies, private foundations and individuals, SCM is also honoring saluting the man who helped guide the organization every step of the way.

Also marking its 20th anniversary is the Synagogue Council’s Unity Mission, which is designed to increase understanding among area Jews. Over the years, more than 600 members of Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist and Reform congregations from across Greater Boston have traveled together to New York to visit the denominations’ seminaries and learn about each other’s traditions. In honor of this milestone, the Unity Mission is traveling to Israel January 3.

Shelly Greene and David Jacobson of Newton are looking forward to the trip. A veteran of two missions, Greene is anticipating an even more powerful communal experience in the Jewish State.“A Unity Mission is an amazing opportunity to learn what it means to be a Jew from every place on the continuum and develop respect for the integrity of each movement,” she says. “What we see most clearly is that our differences remind us of our commonalities. Learning about one another can only strengthen us in the face of any challenges we might face.”

Leading the way in Israel, as he has for the previous 19 Unity Missions, will be the Council’s Executive Director Alan Teperow, celebrating his own 25th anniversary with the organization.

“Alan has navigated the Synagogue Council’s unique vision in an exceptional way, quietly and without fanfare but with tremendous impact on the entire community,” says its President Jesse Hefter, who attended the very first Unity Mission in 1987. He’s proud that, over the years, the Unity Mission has become an important step in orienting new leadership for area synagogues. “After getting to know people they’d otherwise never meet and dissolving stereotypes, they can lead with respect for each part of Judaism, and remember that we are one people, one family.”

That powerful message has kept Combined Jewish Philanthropies and the rest of Jewish Boston supporting the Synagogue Council for a quarter century. Says CJP President Barry Shrage: “With his wonderful volunteer leaders, Alan has helped create an environment of collaboration and cooperation among our synagogues and the federation. This spirit has helped us to build Boston’s renaissance of Jewish life that we all treasure.”

This article originally appeared in print in the Jewish Advocate and was reprinted on the CJP web site

Unity Mission 2007... To Israel!

Every so often, an opportunity presents itself in life that is really different and really special. That time is now. In January 2007, Dr. Jesse Hefter, President and Alan Teperow, Executive Director led the Synagogue Council's 20th Annual Unity Mission, not to New York, but to Israel.

This Mission was a natural progression from twenty years of visits to the seats of Jewish higher learning in New York, honest dialogue and wonderful friendships across denominational lines, outstanding Shabbaton weekends, exquisite learning through KOLOT and LIMUD, and cutting-edge programming that makes our Jewish community the envy of North America. Now, we brought this program to an exciting new level -- visiting Israel where we hoped to learn about Jewish unity and diversity within the proven context of a Synagogue Council Mission.

Group picture at the Rimonim Hotel, Tzfat

A very unusual opportunity, this Unity Mission explored the complexities of religious life in Israel. Through a combination of visits to important sites of interest to meeting with some of Israel's most prominent rabbis and scholars, the trip provided an unusual look at religious pluralism in Israel. Entitled, "The Seventy Faces of Torah: Contemporary Judaism in the State of Israel", the 11-day trip was open to Unity participants, Amoodim and interested parties from across our community.

The program was presented under the auspices of Keshet: The Center for Educational Tourism in Israel and was facilitated by Yitzhak Sokoloff, Keshet's founder and Executive Director along with Rabbi Peretz Rodman, a Jewish educator and current President of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel as our Guest Scholar-in-Residence. Both Yitzhak and Peretz are former Bostonians now living in Israel.

Reflections of Mission participants are being collected here and our Photo Gallery is available.

Annual President's Council Meeting Draws Overflow Crowd

Close to 50 people attended the Synagogue Council's annual President's Council meeting on December 10, 2006 for a jam-packed morning of learning and sharing. Presidents and Vice-Presidents from more than 30 congregations, representing 22 communities from Worcester, the North Shore, Merrimack Valley and the Greater Boston area enjoyed breakfast and Torah study with our host rabbi, William Hamilton, from Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline, followed by a business meeting and open discussion. The agenda included dialogue on topics as varied as the JCC's decision to open on Shabbat mornings to strategies for attracting young adults to our congregations. The morning concluded with a one-hour seminar on "Planned Giving" with Tom Hofstetter, Director of Planned Giving at the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston.

SCM Holds Outstanding Tour of Jewish Boston

On Sunday, October 22, the Synagogue Council traveled by bus, filled with enthusiastic members of Boston's Jewish community, on a tour entitled "Synagogue Stories: Touring the Heart of Boston's Historic Congregations". Led by Ellen Smith, a Boston-based historian and Brandeis professor/curator, the tour visited Newton's historic Adams Street Shul, the former Mishkan Tefila in Roxbury (now a United House of Prayer for All Nations Church), Temple Ohabei Shalom in Brookline, and concluded with a visit and audience with the Bostoner Rebbe at the New England Chassidic Center in Brookline.

The group is greeted by Beryl Gilfix (right), current president of the Adams Street Shul in Newton, in front of the Aron at the historic building which serves as Newton's oldest synagogue. Ellen Smith (left) was our wonderful tour guide for the full-day trip which meandered in and out of the neighborhoods of Newton, Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan and Brookline.

Our excited and often awe-struck group members pause for a photo on the steps of the former Mishkan Tefila building in Roxbury.


At a very exciting and fun-filled evening in May 2006, the Synagogue Council was honored by Center Makor, representing Greater Boston's Russian-speaking Jewish community. The event featured Russian-style Kosher food, wonderful entertainment, and Israeli folk dancing. Vladimir Foygelman presented a lovely Community Appreciation Award to Jesse Hefter, SCM President and Alan Teperow, SCM Executive Director for "many years of building a foundation for Russian-Jewish programming in Greater Boston". The evening marked the transition of Russian programming, heretofore under the coordination of the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts, now directed by the new Center Makor as the umbrella for 20 local Russian-Jewish organizations.


On May 25th, 2006 SCM held its Annual Meeting and Awards Ceremony at Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Chestnut Hill. More than 200 people enjoyed a delicious buffet dinner while bidding on dozens of terrific items in the Synagogue Council's annual Silent Auction. The highlight of the evening was presentation of Klal Yisrael Awards to Cheryl Aronson and Arnie Zaff, and a Community Service Award to Joyce Bohnen. Others might say that the evening's highlight was Joyce's solo as part of the Zamir Chorale of Boston Chamber Chorus's celebration concert in honor of Yom Yerushalayim (or Alan Teperow's joining the bass section in a rousing rendition of Oseh Shalom). Still others would suggest that the true evening's highlight was a creative presentation by two high school Juniors, Raviva Hanser and Vivian Haime, summarizing their reactions to this past year's Unity Mission to New York. And, of course, in pluralistic SCM fashion, even others would claim that the evening's highlight was the delectable dessert buffet and capucino station. Regardless of where each individual's passions lie, everyone seems to agree that this year's Annual Meeting was the best ever!

Knocking Down Barriers to Synagogue Affiliation

March 26, 2006 was the evening of a special program for learning about how to answer these questions"

  • How successfully does your congregation reach out to target constituency groups?
  • Do your membership and program materials convey inclusion?
  • Does your congregation welcome diversity?
The evening, held at Temple Aliyah, Needham, presented a panel of individuals representing diverse constituencies, who spoke about the barriers to affiliation and suggested ways to enhance inclusiveness. The panelists consisted of (1) Young Singles, (2) Ways of Accomodating Low Income Adults, (3) A Single Parent, (4) An Interfaith Couple, and (5) A Physically Disabled Adult.

Membership Chairs & Membership Committee Members, Rabbis, Presidents, Officers and Synagogue Administrators from as far away as New Hampshire and Rhode Island attended this exciting interactive program. See the Photo Gallery!

Is Your board "On Board"?
Synagogue Management Symposium a Huge Success!

The Synagogue Council, along with URJ-Northeast Council and USCJ-New England Region, sponsored a well-attended Synagogue Management Symposium on Thursday, February 2nd at Brandeis University. The 1/2 day seminar, presented by Mersky, Jaffe, & Associates, focused on synagogue governance, Board and leadership development, and recruitment/nurturing of congregational leaders. Each attendee received a workbook and CD entitled, "Is Your Board on Board?" and left the symposium with specific strategies for strengthening their congregation's governance. Pictured below are David Mersky addressing the assemblage and Abigail Harmon facilitating a workshop on developing a Board covenant.


January 25, 2006 Update... The church/synagogue disclosure bill was defeated in the House by a vote of 147 opposed to 3 in favor. Thank you for reaching out to your Reps, helping them understand the complexities of the legislation, and defeating the bill. Thank you for your incredible efforts!

This bill, which had already passed in the Senate, would financially and administratively burden Massachusetts synagogues. Despite the fact that the underlying concern focuses solely on the institutions affiliated with one particular faith, this legislation would impact all religious institutions. In fact, the bill would have a far greater impact on Protestant, Jewish and Muslim institutions than on Catholic institutions. This is because the Archidiocese is the legal entity for the Catholic Church and therefore the only one subject to the bill's requirements, while in the other religions each separate synagogue, church, or mosque is the entity subject to the requirements. In addition to the financial and administrative burden, we believe, and the House overwhelmingly agreed, that there is a threat to the separation of church and state.

The strong showing in the House reflects the strength and resolve or our congregations and the power of building coalitions within the Jewish community and with many interfaith partners.

President's Council Meeting

The annual meeting of the President's Council brings together congregational presidents and vice-presidents from across the denominational spectrum to share ideas and concerns, and to learn about important initiatives in our community.

The 2005-2006 meeting took place on Sunday, January 8 at Congregation Kadimah-Toras Moshe in Brighton.

At the meeting, open to SCM member congregations, a number of important agenda items were addressed, including these initiatives:

  • Church Financial Scrutiny Bill
  • First-hand Report on this Year's Unity Mission to NYC
  • Synagogue Management Symposium - February 2nd
  • Connie Spear Birnbaum Memorial Lecture featuring Rabbi Irving "Yitz" Greenberg - April 2, 2006
  • Consortium Discount Purchasing
  • Featured Congregation of the Month on SCM's website
  • Minyan m'YOUchad

Following the business meeting was a lively discussion on Synagogue Engagement with Dr. Gil Preuss, CJP's director, Special Projects and incoming VP of Planning and Agency Relations. Gil has a PhD in Management from the Sloan School of Management at MIT and is the past-president of Beth El - The Heights Synagogue in Cleveland, OH.

From Consumer to Active Member: Engaging More People and Strengthening Existing Engagements

"As a congregational president, what are the key engagement issues you face? What do you need to do structurally to pull together the key players and stakeholders? What are your biggest challenges and obstacles? What have you already done to engage different constituencies within your congregation? Please bring your challenges and ideas to share. "

2005 Unity Mission a Success!

On November 6 and 7, the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts' 19th Annual Unity Mission transported a group of 25 Jewish leaders to New York City and a journey into both the differences and commonalities that strengthen the Jewish people.

This year, four individuals from Haifa joined particupants from across Jewish Boston. Together the group met with the leaders -- and rabbinical students -- of Judaism's major branches, sparking personal interaction and contacts across denominational lines, as well as an understanding of the movements' various challenges and strengths. Four local teen leaders also participated in the Mission, with the support of CJP's Noar Committee,adding a wonderful perspective to the deliberations.

Combined Jewish Philanthropies' Boston-Haifa Connection also sponsored the participation of the Haifa residents, who represented a wide span of Jewish life -- Meira Frank is from the Conservative Moriya Synagogue, Shlomit Berger is from the Reform Congregation Or Hadash, Anat Boxnboim-Blazer is from the Orthodox community in Ahuza, and and Chava Kuhnreic, a secular Jew and well-known Jewish educator.

Attendees visited Yeshiva University (Orthodox), Jewish Theological Seminary (Conservative), Hebrew Union College (Reform), as well as the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. (a Modern Orthodox synagogue). Participants worshipped together at the various seminaries, and heard from speakers from each movement.

After the trip was over, everyone agreed that -- although the Unity Mission didn't shy away from discussing differences -- it was the sense of all Jews as one people, whatever their practices and their country, that they carried home with them.

Check out the Photo Gallery!

For more information, click here or contact Linda Skolnik at (617) 244-6506 ext. 17.

Synagogue Council Honors Two Community Leaders

At the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts’ Annual Meeting, May 31, 2005, two outstanding community leaders - former President Dick Wissoker and CJP Associate Director, Community Planning Judy Krell -- were honored for their myriad contributions to Jewish Boston.

More than 200 Synagogue Council supporters and guests filled the pews of Temple Emanuel in Newton to honor the two recipients, say good-bye to outgoing Synagogue Council leaders and welcome new ones.

His Rabbi, David Lerner of Temple Emunah, described Wissoker as "a lover of the Jewish people and Jewish life," while CJP President Barry Shrage called Krell ‘a prophetic voice reminding us that every Jew is precious."

Also in the spotlight that night were outgoing Synagogue Council President Ruth Glazerman and incoming President Dr. Jesse Hefter who led the audience in a text learning session with his chavruta (learning partner) Rabbi Dr. Nehemia Polen.

The theme of the evening, in addition to well-deserved honors, was the Synagogue’s long-time goal: creating unity among Boston-area Jews. "Judy and Dick epitomize Synagogue Council’s core value," said Executive Director Alan Teperow: "bringing diverse elements of our Jewish community together."

(With permission of CJP and the United Jewish Communities)

Helping (Rabbi-President) Partnerships Grow...

Congregations are facing many forces of change. Regardless of whether these forces represent a threat or an opportunity, they create challenges for congregational leaders. It takes teamwork between the Rabbi and President to manage these changing environments.

Research conducted by the Washington DC-based Alban Institute found that most clergy and lay leaders are managerially oriented. Their skills for synagogue strategy, vision and teambuilding are usually underdeveloped.

The Synagogue Council of Massachusetts partnered with the Alban Institute to develop a series of two workshops in February, 2005 that were carefully designed to help leaders gain a vision of the potential of these partnerships and practical tools to help partners grow.

Bob Leventhal (r) reviewing a point with several seminar attendees.