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From the Archive: Still Worth Working For

02/17/2022 10:01:30 AM


Rebecca Beit-Aharon

Today I'll be focusing on a single document: the results of the Congregation Shaarei Tefillah Membership Survey from Spring 1986, which you can read in full here.

Shaarei started in Fall 1983. Two and a half years and approximately eighty families in, 59% of the congregation had been members since 1983, 23% since 1984, and 18% since 1985. So a strong starting base, but with plenty of room for growth—over half of the survey respondents saw "no reason for a limit on the congregation's size." Thank goodness, since we're over three times that size now!

At the time, the biggest issue was the building. I wrote earlier about the unsuccessful effort to build a permanent home on Commonwealth Ave, but we had 35 Morseland Ave by Spring 1986, and what to do with it was, per the survey's wording, "Everyone's favorite subject." (I love these hints of character sprinkled into the archive!) But while "favorite" might be stretching, "constructing a permanent home" was most important to members for the congregations immediate and long-term survival. Having a home, a true house of worship of our own, was more important than hiring a rabbi, or indeed anything else.

As far as what to do with the property, most people preferred to build a sanctuary onto the existing building, citing it as being the mostly likely to succeed with the aldermen and the most financially feasible. One comment even suggested that such a plan "might provide living quarters for a Rabbi." Other options, in order of membership preference, were to develop a better alternative (12%), renovate and enlarge the existing building (12%), and demolish the existing building to build something entirely new (9%). Comments and feedback include "preserve house-like aspects of 35 Morseland," "not desirable to have 2 orthodox synagogues on same street," and "need to stay flexible for long-term needs."

While Building is a major part of the survey, other sections bring up leadership, decision-making, and rabbinic/halakhic questions. Some questions are entirely open-ended. "In general, what do you think would cause you and other members of the congregation to be more involved in the decision-making process?" and "If you feel that the congregation's formal structure (i.e., the by-laws) is in need of amendment, what key changes would you suggest?" both speak to other key issues leadership hoped to address. The "in-group" mentality was also an issue; newer members were less likely to be involved in committees and other leadership roles, and 39% of respondents felt excluded from the congregations decision-making process.

The final question is one I'd love to ask you: "Which of the following statements best describes your present attitude towards Shaarei Tefillah?" Of sixty-three respondents, just about half agreed: "It is not as good as we once dreamed, but it's still something positive and worth working for."

That feeling is so resonant today. Nearly every moment in pandemic times is tinged with discomfort, unease—even moments that should be nothing but joyous can be touched by it. Even now, as we discuss the latest possible easing of pandemic restrictions, there's no guarantee we're on a trajectory towards normalcy. We're dreaming of a world that's past, and the present is very different.

But it's still worth working for. Our community is incredible: powerful, vibrant, kind. We are worth investing in, and we are worth working for. I'm glad to be here, working with you.

Wed, July 24 2024 18 Tammuz 5784