Surprisingly Easy to Quit My Synagogue

This blog is crossed posted from Living Lomed.

I belonged to a synagogue for twenty years. This year we made the decision not to rejoin. The reason? I was feeling less connected to a place that was putting control over choice. Concretely: Leadership would not permit the Shabbat morning prayer class I had attended for the past eight years to continue on a weekly basis. We could hold the class twice a month, but not every week.

Leadership's reason? "The main arena of the synagogue is the sanctuary. When other things are happening that takes attention away from that (even though the class was happening prior to services starting) it is a problem.” Like the Cantor said, "I went to a basketball game and everyone was talking or buying food. They weren't watching the game. That is what it is like here on Shabbat. Instead of people focusing on the main event they are distracted."

We did the process thing. I personally met with the rabbi. I explained why the weekly rhythm of coming together in prayer, Torah study, and story sharing was so important. I tried to convey that the ritualization of every week mattered in my life. I also said that as a member of the congregation I had a responsibility to give back. If there were additional ways I could volunteer, mentor or teach to contribute, I would do that but hoped we could continue our class.

Additionally, the twenty some people who attended the weekly class at 9 am met with the rabbi. They told their stories about how the Jewish teaching and sharing deeply impacted their lives. Men and women cried equally sharing the power the regular ritual had in their lives.

If it were a matter of money…of course we'd pay the salary of the teacher.

In the end, the clergy, and I'm not sure who else, decided NO.

They wanted more people to come to the sanctuary and not have too many side services or learning.

Holding so tightly is choking, not inviting.

I left. After much thought I couldn't reconcile being a member of a community that didn't reflect a core principle: Each person finds his/her connection to God in different ways. Congregations need to find a balance between the whole and the individual. I don't, I confess, like sitting in services from 10-12:30 Honestly instead of connecting me it bores me…for the most part.
However, the 9-10 learning experience mattered. Shouldn't there be space for the guy who likes sitting 10-12:30 and the lady who gets her religious high in one hour?

When we left I called the congregation’s office to let them know we wouldn't be sending our check. Ok, you are always welcome to come back. And that was the end of that.  Really?

I was there for 20 years…at Hanukah we got a Xeroxed copy of a note from the clergy wishing us a happy Chanukah.

I wonder if there could have been another ending? What is the ritual that congregations use when folks walk? Would it make sense for someone in the congregation to come visit us? “I'd like to hear your story? We still will see you as part of the community. Are there ways that we can help you connect to other Jewish organizations? We will still send you yahrzeit info and other events. You will always be a member of our community…it will look different now but we are here for you. How can we support you on your next leg of your journey? Your story will remain with us and we are here for you” Or something right? Could they reinvent membership…like ok you don't pay 3000 dollars, but we are still connected to you.

Who is paying attention to the life stories of congregants?

What makes it hard for a congregation to allow the space for multiple entry points?

Where am I writing this blog? I'm sitting in the Apple Store in Suburban Square. Someone borrowed my power cord by accident and I have no power in my computer.

Do you think I could sit here and just charge my battery?"

The salesman said, "sit here and if you need anything just ask".

I just looked up and the lady in the blue shirt who is supposed to be selling stuff just smiled at me.

Really? Hello synagogues, what's it look like to make room for someone to sit for what they need, not just what you need.

Cyd Weissman is the Director, Innovation in Congregational Learning for Greater New York, for The Jewish Education Project where she leads a team to support the creation of Jewish learning environments that positively nurture the lives of learners. She blogs at LivingLomed.


This post is part of a blog series on Connected Congregations being curated by Darim Online in partnership with UJA Federation of New York.  Through this series, we are exploring what it means for synagogues to function as truly networked nonprofits. Connected Congregations focus on strengthening relationships, building community, and supporting self-organizing and organic leadership.  They are flatter and more nimble, measure their effectiveness in new and more nuanced ways, allocate their resources differently, and use technology in a seamless and integrated way to support their mission and goals.  We hope these posts will be the launching pad for important conversations in our community. Please comment on this post, and read and comment on others in the series to share your perspective, ideas, work and questions. Thanks to UJA Federation of New York for supporting this work.


Building and Cultivating Member Relationship

The social web is changing the way we live and work. Social networks are making dramatic changes to not only how people communicate and engage with each other, but also with companies, foundations, and other organizations. Facebook and Google are slowly replacing the corporate website. Twitter, SMS, and blogs are supplanting email as the go-to marketing channels.

Social networks, just like synagogues, are all about relationships. Your synagogue is engaging with members every day at services, Sunday school, or during young family programs. These members attend your events, support you financially, and are being the army of your cause. They have a great trust in you and in what you are doing… they are moved by you, but do you really know them? And if you do, are you taking advantage of this important information to cultivate the relationship with them?

  1. Know Your Constituents – Many synagogues often forget the importance of complete constituent information. We tend to think about our everyday tasks and less about the 360-degree view. You need to ensure your staff understands the importance of centralizing all your data.  Your constituents are more than members, event attendees or volunteers– they are all of the above and more. Your members see themselves in the totality of their relationship, why doesn’t your synagogue?
  2. Build a Relationship – Tracking relationships should be the primary reason for your synagogue management system. As mentioned above, your members don’t think about different departments and information silos. Your organization is expected to track every encounter you have ever had with the member. This could include their membership information, event attendance, newsletter open rates, and volunteer hours in one place. Additionally, your synagogue should have a deeper understanding of the relationships between your members and prospective members. Our work is becoming more social, how can your synagogue tap into this social revolution.

Step 1: Create a Member Profile
Your member profile should include much more than the basic contact information, his/her last class, or last donation. The social profile should also leverage information publically available on social media including their picture and information about their likes and dislikes, interests, hobbies, and connections.




Picture: Cloud for Synagogues demo

Step 2: Build a Member Social Graph
Understanding the relationships between your members is critical for your mission. Your member management system should allow you to build relationships between individuals, organizations or both using graphical tools that simplify tracking and foster better relationship management.  Wouldn’t it be helpful to know that if you want to solicit Sarah you should ask Jerry to do it because he knows her through Jimmy?






Picture: Cloud for Synagogues demo

3.    Bonus Tip: Manage the Information – While a good synagogue relationship management application should allow you to track and manage all your interactions, it cannot manage the relationships themselves. Personal touch and continued interaction with your members is the best way to build and cultivate relationships. With that being said, you need the data to manage the relationships.



Tal Frankfurt is the Founder and CEO of Cloud for Good, the developers of Cloud for Synagogues, a Synagogue Relationship Management application built on the platform.


Four Lessons from the Replyallcalypse

What happens when 40,000 college students suddenly realize they can email everyone on campus? A lot of crowded inboxes, first of all.

For those who may not have gotten wind of the “replyallcalypse,” here’s the gist. A message went out from the NYU Bursar’s office using an old listserv system. One student, intending to email his mother asking how he should react to the news, accidentally hit “reply all” and shot out a message to the entire student body. He immediately realized his mistake and sent an apology, but it was too late. Replyallcalypse had begun.

The emails that ensued varied from friendly to funny, from inane to downright angry. I highly recommend you check out some of the cream of the crop on this Buzzfeed article and this report from NYU Local.

But beyond the inevitable, aforementioned nonsense that ensued, there’s a lot to learn from this avalanche of emails and their aftermath. Here are a few of the key take-aways:

  1. Transparency rules. Skipping to the end of the story, the NYU employee who originally sent out the email using the faulty system sent a timely and genuine apology out to the student body. He admitted his mistake, took responsibility, and informed the campus as to what was being done to take care of the last of the mess. It brought the whole meshuggas to a classy close.
  2. People want to be heard. I always stress in my coaching and presentation that engaging in social media is an iterative process that begins with listening. While the social media revolution may be about talking, the social media revelation is about listening. That’s where the magic comes from. The fact that so many students sprung on this unusual opportunity to make a joke, ask a question, give a shout-out, or (ironically enough) to tell the others to stop talking and stop crowding everyone’s inbox, proves that ultimately everyone just wanted to be heard.
  3. Don’t underestimate the power of playfulness. The majority of the emails that went out were just, well, silly. One (a personal favorite) asked if anyone had a pencil the sender could borrow. Another sent around a picture of Nicolas Cage, referencing an old internet meme. While that playfulness may seem like nothing more than a waste of time, it also represents the beginning of self-organizing. When Twitter first came out on the market, it was filled with all kinds of foolishness (and that foolishness still exists, no question – just hear me out on this one). But those messages about finding a parking space or having a cheese sandwich for lunch demonstrated the power of the medium. Since then, Twitter users have raised millions of dollars for important causes, helped coordinate uprisings, and even saved lives. I can’t help but wonder: had the replyallcalypse been allowed to continue, what might the students have started? (As an interesting contrast, check out this story.)
  4. It all comes down to connection. The student who accidentally began this whole debacle said, in the end, “I think the best thing to come out of these emails is a rekindled sense of community at NYU (even if it’s based on being stupid).” While we may love technology, and new and shiny things make us happy as crows, social media is all about people and relationships.

Finally, dear readers, choose your technology wisely. Know how it works. Understand what tool is best for the job. And for goodness’ sake, be careful about hitting “reply all”!

Case Study: The Networked Nonprofit: A Prequel (Temple Beth Abraham)

Editor's note: Allison is the author of Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age, and co-author (with Beth Kanter) of The Networked Nonprofit.  Recently, Allison has been serving as the president of the board at her synagogue, Temple Beth Abraham in Tarrytown, New York. This position has given Allison the opportunity to put her theory into practice, and to examine intimately the potential and challenges of synagogues as networked nonprofit.

As part of our blog carnival on Connected Congregations, Allison has written a very thoughtful case study of her work at Temple Beth Abrahram, exploring what it has taken to lay the groundwork for becoming a networked nonprofit.  The opening paragraphs are below.

Please download the 12 page case study here.

Two summers ago my worlds collided. A book I co-authored with Beth Kanter, The Networked Nonprofit, was published and at the same time I became president of my synagogue, Temple Beth Abraham in Tarrytown, NY.

I was more prepared for the book launch than the temple presidency. I’ve written books before and the process is pretty much the same each time. You spend months and months writing, then go out and talk to anyone who will listen to your brilliant ideas and phrases. Hopefully people say and write nice things about the book, three people buy it (including your mother) and then you go home.

I was fully unprepared to step into the role of president of a synagogue. While I had fifteen years experience in nonprofit management and more recently researching and writing about the power of social media to reshape organizations and communities, synagogue culture was a mystery to me. My presidency coincided with the Great Recession and significant decline in the number of Jews moving into our area. In the spirit of never wasting a good crisis, lay leadership, clergy and the congregation writ large have given me great latitude for experimentation for which I am enormously grateful. The following reflections as temple president are not intended as a victory lap, we are far from stabilizing, much less growing our membership. Rather it is an opportunity to share what I have learned in the hopes that others can build and improve on them and share their experiences as well.

My efforts at Temple Beth Abraham were based on the assumptions that form the basis of The Networked Nonprofit. Networked Nonprofits are:

“…easy for outsiders to get in and insiders to get out. They engage people to shape and share their work in order to raise awareness of social issues, organize communities to provide services or advocate for legislation. In the long run, they are helping to make the world a safer, fairer, healthier place to live.”

See link below to download the full case study.

Social Media Policy Workbook for Jewish Organizations

Some organizations jump into social media with great excitement. Others with great trepidation. What we know is that the rules of engagement in social media are in many ways fundamentally different than those of other communication tools we’ve used in the past.  A good social media policy provides clear guidelines as to how staff should represent themselves and the organization when posting and interacting with the community, freeing them up to think more strategically. A social media policy is also likely to help leadership feel more comfortable with the less formal nature of social media by letting them establish boundaries for its use. Often to gain comfort and confidence, we need to reduce the fear, get clear on expectations, and be on the same page with our staff, supervisors, board members, and the community.

This Workbook is designed to help you, as an organization, ask important questions about social media, and how you will manage it and use it to your advantage, thoughtfully.  The Workbook is offered as a PDF download free of charge, thanks to our sponsors, The AVI CHAI Foundation, The Union for Reform Judaism, and See3 Communications.

So, are you ready? Download the PDF below, then gather your team together, start the Social Media Policy Workbook, and enjoy the journey!  Make sure to report back and share your progress! Interested in learning from others who are working on their social media policy too? Join the discussion in the
Social Media Policy Facebook group at

Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today: Insights from the Author

Thank you to Rabbi Hayim Herring for sharing his expertise with us on a webinar last week and on our online book group throughout the month of June, as we discuss his book, Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today.

Over 50 people registered for our webinar to learn from Hayim and discuss the concepts he shared and their application to their congregational settings.  We discussed the very tachlis details of who leads change and how, and big (and sometimes purposefully theoretical) questions like "will synagogues as we know them continue to exist in the next few decades"?

You can find the recording of the webinar and related resources shared during the webinar here.

Our online book group — held in a Facebook Group — continues, and we welcome you to join us!  Current conversations have been around testing and piloting new ideas, what has changed in synagogue life in the last 10 years, and how do we retain a sense of sacred community while still being respectful of the desire for individualism and self-directedness?  Come on over to the book group to respond, and/or to pose your own questions too!

Push Yourself from Broadcast to Social

I coach many organizations on the social media, helping them to mature their practice and hopefully use these valuable tools to help achieve articulated goals.  What I notice — and notice a lot — is that moving from a broadcast mindset to a social one is hard.  Really hard.  I might spend a full hour brainstorming social content with a team from a congregation, and then notice their next 5 posts on Facebook are still about programs and posting links to articles they think folks should be reading.

Instead of talking with members of their community, they’re talking at them: read this, check out that.

While these types of posts are OK here and there, we need to figure out a different mode which will shift us from AT to WITH. In some cases it’s a very minor adjustment — phrasing your post as a question rather than a statement, for example.  But this ongoing trend points to a deeper cultural issue:  That organizaitons (and the institutional voice) are the center of a hub and spokes model. That the members of a "community" are puppy dogs sitting at the feet of institutions, begging for more information, more programs. 

In fact, in most cases the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

Leaders with whom I work are thoughtful, delightful, smart people.  I’m not assigning blame here, but I am going to be the aggressive coach that will holler and holler to push you beyond your comfort zone, out of your status quo routine, and into a new place where you will strengthen your social muscles and start to see and feel and experience and contribute to the world in a new way.

Measuring the Return on Engagement of Community Commitment

Guest post from Debra Askanase, cross posted from CommunityOrganizer2.0

I’ve been talking and thinking a lot about measuring social media engagement with colleagues, nonprofits, and social media activists. Two years ago, those of us participating in social media engagement and strategy were trying to come up with “the” metric to define social media tactical success. We argued and conversed, exchanged thoughts, and thought about why it’s so hard to pin this down. And then social media practice evolved, as did the thinking about measurement. In fact, it’s crystal clear to me now:

Measuring Return on Engagement (ROE) is actually two measures: SMART goal Return on Engagement, and the ROE of Community Commitment

Using these two metrics, an organization can get a pretty good sense of whether or not its online activities and strategies are working, and whether or not it is building a community of committed stakeholders.


SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound. If you begin your online engagement by defining SMART goals, you can measure the outcomes. This metric looks at the following:

  • Are you reaching SMART goals using social media?
  • How effective is your strategy at meeting SMART goals?
  • How effective are your tactics?

One organization I’ve worked with launched several online campaigns to generate organizational awareness, but didn’t frame the campaigns with SMART goals. The didn’t know how to determine whether or not their campaigns created more awareness, because they didn’t have a good measurement framework. In addition, the campaign itself wasn’t designed to move people towards a measurable activity, which also would have been resolved if they had had predetermined campaign SMART goals.

The ROE of Community Commitment: Using Engagement Metrics

How committed is the entire community you’ve built, both on each platform, and across platforms? Are you creating a sustainable base of fans and stakeholders?

While status metrics are simply the number of fans, followers, and views of video, the real number is the engagement metric. (I don’t want to dismiss status metrics out of hand, as they can illustrate the opportunity that may exist for engagement.) The engagement metric represents numbers that are in the context of social media conversations, and often reflect the impact of social network conversations. These are the community members that

  • Proactively talk about your organization and its work
  • Create something for the organization
  • Interact with your organization (such as posting to the wall, sending a twitter message to you)
  • Share your content
  • Interact with other members of the community

= the number within your online community who care deeply about what you are talking about. When you divide the engagement metric by the total number of fans/followers in a social media channel, that’s the ROE of community commitment.

Your ROE of community commitment is relative. It’s about measuring how engaged your community members are, versus those waiting to be activated. More importantly, it’s a metric to aspire to grow. Most Facebook Pages that I’ve worked with or seen have a “Talking About This” metric (which is Facebook’s community commitment metric) of 1 to 3%. The Twitter community engagement metrics that I’ve tracked are closer to 1%. This isn’t alarming; most people don’t take actions online, and they’d rather lurk, listen, and wait.

If you know and track the ROE of community engagement, the return for the organization is:

  • Identifying committed fans
  • Identifying levels of commitment online, and looking at moving them up the ladder of engagement, or into a back channel of leaders for community planning
  • Understanding whether or not your online community is engaged (see The Case of the 4,000 Twitter Followers Who Don’t Care)
  • Comparing community commitment between social media channels
  • Knowing what is, and is not working within your community
  • Where to invest resources, and how, to build your online community

I’ve put together a spreadsheet template for measuring return on engagement which you may view here. It is divided into three parts: top-level engagement and website stats, community commitment metrics, and specific metrics related to meeting your defined SMART goal(s).

SMART Goal and Community Commitment Metrics Template

Amy Sample Ward also has a great metric tracking template to view, and this template owes a lot to hers.

The most important metric to consider is whether or not you are building a committed and engaged online community. Once you have built that, you can begin to measure whether or not that community is taking actions you’d like them to take.

For a deeper look at Return on Engagement, here is a recent presentation that I gave through Darim Online, and also at the annual meeting of the Nonprofit Consultant’s Network.

Designing Social Media Engagement

View more presentations from Debra Askanase
Debra Askanase is an experienced digital strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. Community Organizer 2.0 works with businesses and nonprofits to develop actionable and measurable digital media strategies that meet organizational goals.  She blogs at CommunityOrganizer2.0 and tweets at @askdebra

What Parents Always Wanted to Know

Over the past five years, we have had much success with our open houses and tours. The ratio of applicants that have attended our open houses and tours has been high and our focus groups have indicated that we are successful in this area. However, when we started to think about ways in which we could show off the 21st century learning skills that are emphasized in the classroom, we realized that open house could be a significant opportunity for this. In understanding the importance of balancing traditional skills with 21st century skills, we upheld the conventional format of our open house by showcasing our choir, hearing an 8th grader deliver the Dvar Torah, and having our administration share information that they consider important for prospective parents to know about our school community. In recognizing that telling our parents what we thought they wanted to hear may not be the most satisfying approach to open house, we started to consider alternate ways in which we could educate our parents about our school and integrate 21st century skills. After brainstorming and sharing our insight, we decided to flip the open house experience. As a result, the prospective parents became the content directors, which made for a rewarding open house experience.

Upon arriving to the school, signing into our lobby, and being greeted, each parent was given an ipad. Parents were told that the ipads would be used as part of the questioning process but in the meantime, to please explore the wonderful educational apps available to the students while waiting for the open house to begin. Once we were ready to start, the parents were asked to click on the Twitter app on each of their ipads. In order to facilitate the navigation of locating the Twitter app, we made sure that the Twitter app was anchored at the bottom of the ipads so that it would show up on each screen. Prior to the open house, we created a Twitter account for each ipad with Twitter usernames like Davis Academy Guest 1. Once the parent clicked on the Twitter app, they would see that they were already logged in with their unique username and could see a message welcoming them to the open house.

Twitter FeedOnce everyone was settled in with their ipad, I proceeded to explain that we really wanted to hear what the parents wanted to know. Our hopes were that parents would feel comfortable tweeting their questions in an anonymous format throughout the open house. This would serve several purposes: 1) while parents were in classrooms hearing from teachers and students, learning about the curriculum and seeing the classrooms, they could instantly tweet their questions that would be addressed later 2) parents would feel uninhibited in seeking answers to their questions and 3) it would demonstrate the ways in which we are incorporating technology into our instruction and encouraging students to share their voice.

Tag CloudAs the tweets were being received, I tagged them with descriptors enabling me to generate a Twitter cloud. An example of this is the question that was tweeted that said, How do you meet the needs of diverse learners?. This question was tagged as differentiation. After being in the classrooms, the parents returned to the media center where I displayed the Twitter cloud on a large screen. The remainder of the open house consisted of the administration, the teachers, and current Davis parents addressing questions that were raised via Twitter.

Although we have had positive feedback regarding our open houses in the past, using technology in this way generated a new level of enthusiasm and excitement. Providing the technology as a tool to encourage open communication while still allowing parents to get a strong sense of all that is offered at The Davis Academy, created an environment rich in collaboration and an environment that ensured that all questions could be addressed. We are pleased with the outcome and will continue to explore innovative tools that will enrich our open house experiences.

Drew Frank is the Lower School Principal at The Alfred and Adele Davis Academy in Atlanta Georgia, where he previously served in multiple teaching and administrative roles in both the lower and middle school. Drew is a proud member of the Day School Leadership Training Institute (DSLTI) cohort 5, and he has incorporated many of the constructivist and collaborative learning activities (spiritual check-ins, fishbowls, case studies, and consultancies) in to these and other school and faculty programs. You can follow Drew on Twitter @ugafrank.

Need A Hanukkah Gift For Your Boss?

YScreen shot 2010-11-19 at 3.34.26 PMou’re looking for the gift that keeps on giving, right? I’ve got just the thing for you. Pick up a copy of Beth Kanter and Allison Fine’s book The Networked Nonprofit. A fun read with great stories and case studies, this book will help any nonprofit leader better understand the impact and opportunities of working in a networked world. THEN SIGN UP FOR OUR ONLINE BOOK GROUP! That’s right. Starting in January, we’ll be hosting a free online book group to discuss the concepts and their application to our work in the Jewish community. Bonus: experience the joys of the new Facebook Groups feature while you’re at it. You can join the book group now, and we’ll kick off discussion in January. That gives you just enough time to get copies for your co-workers, plus one for yourself, and read it in mid-December while everyone else is still scrambling for that other holiday, or by a cozy fire, or on the beach in Hawaii or where ever you might take a winter vacation… Have you read the book yet? What are you interested in discussing? What ideas grabbed your attention?