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  • Catherine Fischer

Steps to Creating a Sacred Practice Culture in a Synagogue

BY CATHERINE FISCHER


Consider this definition of the 21st-century synagogue by Dr. Ron Wolfson:

“The new synagogue we envision is a spiritual center for all those who set foot in it. It is a kehillah kedosha, a “sacred community,” where relationships are paramount, where worship is engaging, where everyone is learning, where repair of the world is a moral imperative, where healing is offered, and where personal and institutional transformation are embraced.”*

In order for us to begin to see glimpses of this, synagogues must utilize Sacred Practice with everyone working toward the same vision. When each person employed in any capacity and each congregant and lay leader embraces this approach, the congregation will begin to realize its potential. While this is a practice and thus never perfected, it requires a culture in which everyone is empowered to uphold the vision, have autonomy on seeking creative and aligned solutions, and take risks — all in the name of actualizing vision.


Consider these four consecutive steps to achieving a congregation exercising Sacred Practice:


  1. Articulate a vision for the organization: Creating a vision is an opportunity to dream what a congregation imagines itself to be. Crafting language for this purpose can provide precious time and plenty of breathing room so that ideas can marinate and diverse perspectives can expand thinking. A vision statement should be concise, relevant, and accessible to people within and outside the organization. The vision should strive to inspire a conversation that makes one pause and consider deeper existential issues consistent with the purpose of the congregation.

  2. Empower everyone dedicated to the enterprise with an understanding of the congregation's vision. Each person who has any role within a synagogue — professionals, employees, lay leaders, and congregants — serves a sacred and enduring function. Sacred Practice will work to raise the consciousness of every individual to their role in actualizing the vision.

  3. Hiring staff and professionals: Sacred Practice enters the conversation in the hiring process. During the interview, time should be spent discussing the vision and how the interviewee would begin to think about implementing it in their area of expertise and potential position.

  4. Implementation: Sacred Practice encourages the creation of safe spaces for everyone to concretize the vision into their area of expertise and responsibility so that bold ideas can emerge. Flowing from this will come a sense of creative playfulness in applying interpretations to specific endeavors and space for people to share their work and results from these efforts. (Yochanan ben Bag Bag is quoted at the end of Mishna Avot [Pirkei Avot, chapter 5]: “Turn it, and turn it, for everything is in it. Reflect on it and grow old and gray with it. Don’t turn from it, for nothing is better than it.”) In doing this we can begin to create a culture in which things that no longer work can be rethought or disbanded, and risks can be taken.

  5. Provide regular time and space for each person to consider, individually and collectively, the meaning of the vision within one’s self (no matter how they identify religiously/spiritually) and with regard to their role and responsibilities within the organization. Imagine an annual job review in which not only job-related issues are discussed but spiritual goals are nurtured and supported.

  6. Reflection: Opportunities for individual and group reflection are essential for work to grow and mature.

  7. Changing the conversations: Conversations — everything from casual encounters to formal meetings — will organically shift from purely tactical to inspired among members of the community who are working to realize the vision.

  8. Take a holistic approach: Since vision infuses every aspect of the congregation, all lay and professional roles and responsibilities work cohesively together and face the same North Star. Silos dissolve, and a shared respect for what each person brings to creating a visionary congregation is acknowledged and celebrated.

Repeat Steps 1–3: The vision statement should be reviewed regularly. After a period of time, it will most likely need to be refreshed to reflect demographic changes as well as the evolving needs and interests of the Jewish community. This is a practice that, despite our best efforts, is ongoing and never perfected.



* In The Spirituality of Welcoming (Jewish Lights, 2006).