June 9, 2012
Today we read of God’s final instructions to B’nei Yisrael regarding use of the Tabernacle. We learn of the “Annan” –the fire-cloud which descended upon the Mishkan when the Israelites were to be stationary, and which lifted from the Mishkan when it was time for the Israelites to journey onwards. We also learn of the “Chatzotzrot Kesef” – two silver trumpets made to signal the Israelites. Long blasts were to signal that the Israelites should assemble, and short blasts were to signal a time to march forth. To me, these two culminating details set a framework for preserving the sanctity of a space even among a people constantly on the move.
Six years ago, a group of friends decided that their Brooklyn neighborhood was missing the davening community it desired. So they built that community. A few of them took the lead in organizing davening each week, and called themselves “shammashim.” In 2006 Rabbi Bachman and CBE opened their doors to Altshul, creating the first davening space in the history of the Jewish people with both a medicine ball and a ping pong table. In 2010 the Steering Committee was established – a second leadership team focused on setting the vision and direction for the Altshul community in conjunction with the Shammashim.
Since that time, I think two big things have happened to Altshul. First, I think it is fair to say that the community has voiced a clear “wish-list” of things they’d like to see.
- Let’s meet more
- Let’s have more picnics, parties, and potlucks
- Let’s do more social justice work
- Let’s have more educational events
Some of these dreams have come to fruition, and some have not, which brings me to the second major development that has occurred over the past two years—the Altshul community has grown. We moved out of the Rabbi’s study because we outgrew it. We purchased 90 more siddurim and chummashim, because we were running out. Our list serve grew to over 750. This growth meant more responsibility on the shoulders of Altshul’s leadership, which in turn meant the leadership was spending more time on the day-to-day logistics of organizing a minyan, at a time when it was particularly important to be working towards the dreams being voiced by the community.
Recently the Altshul leadership got together to brainstorm two questions:
1) How can we transform our leadership structure such that the logistical requirements of facilitating a minyan are more manageable
2) How can we ensure that conversations about the future of Altshul are constantly taking place, and how can we involve more people in those conversations.
Today I want to present a new Altshul leadership structure that I believe achieves both of these goals.
First, Altshul is switching from a model where five people take turns setting up and cleaning up shul to a co-op like model in which everyone volunteers to set up and clean up just one Shabbat a year. This change will mean that Altshul will no longer have shammashim, instead relying on the work of each and every one of us. Volunteers will be supported with detailed, easy-to-follow instructions, a teammate, and the opportunity to select their volunteer date. Elana Glasner has volunteered to coordinate this effort.
The second big change is to replace the Steering Committee and the Shammash Committee with a series of teams. Some teams won’t be new, like the Ritual team of which I am a part. But several teams will be new. For example, every week we say that Altshul strives to be a warm and welcoming community. But who is figuring out what it really takes to make new people feel welcome? And what about people who aren’t so new? The Community Building team, under the leadership of Malya Levin, will aim to answer these questions.
At Kiddush today, we will be handing out a sheet with a more complete breakdown of the new leadership structure, including the names of all team leaders. If you want to be part of Altshul’s leadership, help plan what programming we offer, and help us grow and thrive, we welcome you to join a team. Or, if you prefer, you can always help out in the usual ways, like sponsoring Kiddush, serving as a lifecycle meal provider, or participating in services.
Finally, we’ll have an executive team that will be in charge both of long-term planning and general coordination. The team will be comprised of Leah Koenig, Jacob Baskin, Miriam Zahavy, David Firestone, Elana Glasner, Charlie Paradise, Rachel Geballe, Amanda Pogany, and myself.
So in summary, we started with two questions, we ended up with two big ideas, and now I am asking all of you for two things:
1) When Elana reaches out to you with a date to help with set-up and clean-up, please be responsive to her
2) Please review the list of committees, and think seriously about joining one
The Altshul community is evolving, and so is our leadership structure. The “Annan” and “Chatzotzrot Kesef” provided guidance for B’nei Yisrael in the Wilderness. Although I wouldn’t call us a wandering people, I would say that we are a community on the move. I hope that our new leadership structure will provide the right framework for all of us to work towards Altshul’s full potential, and I look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead.