Prayer Service Resources
Policy and Practice

Except where noted otherwise, these reflections were written Rachel Forster Held, a gabbai of Kehilat Hadar, in 2007.

Table of Contents:

Being Inclusive in Davening without Sacrificing Quality

Most minyanim see inclusivity as a key principle for at least two reasons:
1) It empowers people in their own Judaism
2) It minimizes the burden on any one person

At same time, many face the question of how to foster inclusivity while maintaining high and specific standards for the quality and shape of the davening experience, in terms of the liturgy, tunes used, atmosphere and tone, divrei torah and leyning. Many minyanim have very distinct standards for davening and also understand that people get turned off by one bad experience. It is important for all these reasons and more to always have high quality. Therefore minyanim face the questions of which bars to set; how best to instruct daveners and leyners; and what happens when someone wants to lead but does not have the skills to do so.

A. Building bench strength: Tips on how to increase the number of minyan participants with the skills and capabilities to lead quality davening.

1) Have a discussion about minyan standards and quality control: this makes people more self-conscious about how they themselves are preparing, and how to do so in accordance with minyan guidelines. Examples of minyanim with specific policies about quality control:

• Darchei Noam (New York) makes leyners check in with gabbai two days before Shabbat to make sure they are ready.
• Kolei HaKol (Chicago) tries to minimize what they give new or inexperienced people – e.g. short aliyot, maariv
• Kehilat Hadar provides guidelines in advance (on leyning, davening, giving Divrei Torah etc.)

2) One-on-one coaching – “davening chavruta.” It makes a big difference to develop personal one-on-one relationships when you are training others.

The DC Minyan has had most success with the one-on-one tutoring. Gabbais pair up with minyan participants interested in leading. Tutors are then able to work with the new person, checking in and making sure they are ready, and giving constructive feedback afterwards (although this does put burden on the same people who are often called on to leyn and lead)

3) “How To” classes: having a mini-minyan or a “master class” to build up skills sets. Minyanim should make the education of new daveners and leyners a stated goal.

4) Many minyanim have also put davening and leyning files on their websites. This is very helpful for practice and for establishing communal standards.

5) Giving people constructive feedback:

• Always thank people and give them feedback—most people want this for their own growth. Some notes on giving feedback:
• Encourage all new people to check in with a more experienced person in advance to avoid pitfalls.
• Always give feedback with derekh eretz!
• Feedback (e.g. on Torah reading) should be given by the gabbais, rather than the kahal, who sometimes act as backseat gabbais.
• Gabbais should find a way to earn the respect of the kahal while not making leyners/leaders feel awful
• It helps if the gabbai sits very close to the shlichei tzibur, to be the wingman if necessary

6) Make the atmosphere encouraging for new people:

• One minyan had an adult bat mitzvah with all first-time women layning – people knew about the occasion in advance and were very supportive.
• Some minyanim announce immediately after the aliyah (rather than in announcements at the end of the service) that it was the person’s first time leyning.
• Malei Shirah has a “leadership chevruta” – leaders of the minyan tap a 3rd person and the 3 of them sit together a few weeks before their leading to work on tunes, skills, spirituality, etc. It is a bonding experience.


B. Short-term tips

on handling people who want to lead but are not up to the quality standards of the minyan:

a) Encourage them to get involved in other roles
b) Plant people with strong voices throughout the room
c) Have people begin small (e.g. reading a short aliyah) and then build up confidence and skills


C. Balancing inclusivity of tunes:

Does your minyan use new and innovative tunes or the old and familiar?

• Shtibl Minyan (Cambridge, MA): We try to encourage daveners to mix it up. The dilemma is how to balance giving the community challenge AND comfort.
• Migdal Or (New York): Our community likes to mix it up.
• Kol Zimrah (New York): People come to us for the innovative davening experience, so we’re always changing things up.

Environmental Policies

Minyanim face particular challenges face when attempting to be environmentally conscious.

These challenges arise from, among other things:

  • transient space, that is often not used exclusively by the minyan
  • lack of storage space and minyan-owned materials
  • when individuals are purchasing (e.g. kiddush), cost can be a challenge


Minyanim face the question of determining a clear environmental policy at a number of points in their operations. The most typical points are:

  • Kiddush
  • Communal meals
  • How people come and go to programs
  • Materials used

Ideas to bring environmental consciousness to your minyan:

  • Try one "green" Kiddush or "green" potluck
  • Buy water pitchers instead of soda bottles (healthier and better for environment)
  • Buy durable kitchenware: though for one-time purchases, disposables are cheaper, in the long run, the capital expense of durable ware can save minyan money).
  • Educate minyan members: e.g. Kiddush-buyers should know that it is possible to purchase healthy food at a good price (especially if one is willing to put in preparation time)
  • Focus on local issues
  • Bring in people to talk about work they do (TLS, D'var Tikkun)
  • Minyan-sponsored community garden
  • Use Hazon resources
  • Connect members to local CSA's (Community-Supported Agriculture)
  • Use shmittah year as teachable moment
  • Link to other existing programs
  • KOL foods
     

Is environmental impact of these programs actual or symbolic?

  • scale of larger minyans creates actual impact
  • spiritual piece: for Tikkun Leil Shabbat, cleaning is part of community ritual (see below), making it an easy way to contribute to community
  • clean-up as a statement: demonstrate that the minyan cares about cleaning up our environment, not leaving work for janitors on Shabbat


If minyans are actually keeping people in cities, that could be the most important environmental impact.

Examples from Tikkun Leil Shabbat (DC):

  • potluck for 100 people each time they meet
  • plasticware provided for everyone
  • always has a dishwashing captain who starts the night wearing a lei-lei is passed onto other people who then wash dishes for a while before passing the lei onto the next dishwasher
  • separate tables for hekshered and vegetarian food, each table has different colored plates

 

Facilitating Hospitality

Hosting guests in one’s home for a Shabbat meal is a critical way to build community and make others feel welcome. Visitors feel valued and meet new people if they are invited to a meal, and minyan regulars appreciate invitations, which strengthen their sense of community and increase the chances they will host others in the future. Meal invitations provide the opportunity for both the guest and host to meet more people and thus feel more comfortable within the community.

Ideally, people would organically take time during Kiddush to invite both new and familiar people to their homes, and minyan leadership would not need to be involved in the process. Unfortunately, the large size of some minyanim and the lack of a meal-hosting culture can prevent the process from happening naturally.

As a result, minyanim have tried many tactics to help provide people with meals and foster meal invitations during Kiddush. Some methods have proven more successful than others:

Community hosted meals: Participants sign up in advance to either host or be a guest. Hosts specify the number of guests they can accommodate, and guests are matched in advance based on location, diet and other factors. Hosts then invite their guests in advance and request contributions to the meal.

* Pros:
o This allows people to plan in advance for guests, and sends a message that the entire community values hosting others at meals.
o Guests do not have to identify themselves last minute, which can be embarrassing (ie why didn’t you already have plans for lunch today?)
* Cons:
o To generate enough signups, this event can only occur occasionally, so it does not satisfy the need for providing more regular meal invitations. (However, it can be done in conjunction with other options, thereby solving this problem.)
o Communities must decide in advance on Kashrut standards, and must have enough hosts whose kitchens meet those standards.
o This has the danger of sending the message the hosting others is limited to these settings, and may inhibit a more spontaneous “meal invitation” culture


In-shul guest/host announcement:

During the pre-Kiddush announcements, a gabbai asks that people meet in a certain spot if they are looking for a meal, or if they are making a meal and can accommodate guests.

* Pros:
o In theory, people who would otherwise dine alone for a certain meal are instead welcomed.
o Both parties meet new people, and this practice sends the message that all are welcome.
* Cons:
o This leads to the possibility that there will be more people who want a meal than who offered to host. While it is hard to imagine someone could identify themselves as needing a meal, and then have no one offer to host them, this has happened.
o In this system, visitors and strangers to the community are most likely to request places for meals. While it is important to provide for them, many people active in the community may not have a meal invitation but may be embarrassed to ask for one.
o Sometimes the same few people request a meal every week, which can turn hosts off to volunteering.
o This system forces the meal-seeker to identify him/herself, which can be emabarrasing or lonely. One feels pitied, not welcomed organically.


“Underground Hosts”:

This was a compromise solution that leaders of Hadar invented, and it is done on a weekly basis in conjunction with occasional Community Hosted Meals: Every week at Hadar, one or two involved community members who are hosting a lunch are asked to leave a couple spots at their table. They then take time during Kiddush to invite people to lunch. Gabbai’im and other people involved in the process can also be on the lookout for people who may not have plans, and alert the hosts to invite them. This process is not widely publicized, in an attempt to change the culture without calling attention to it. The hope is that people will see others inviting people to meals organically, and understand that this is simply “what happens” at this minyan.

* Pros:
o With guest/host announcements, one-time visitors were benefiting most from meal hosts’ attempts. Underground hosts can involve inviting more regular minyan attendees who may be reluctant to request a meal.
o Hosts can meet new people during Kiddush as they look for guests. They can also invite people they already know, strengthening the sense of community.
o This practice encourages the culture of inviting people for meals. It is hoped that once someone is invited to a meal during Kiddush, they will begin to invite others when they host.
o On the rare cases where someone emails the minyan in advance specifically requesting a meal, lunch hosts can accommodate them as well.
* Cons:
o Hosts sometimes feel uncomfortable or have difficulty inviting people during Kiddush. Discomfort can arise from people’s surprise at receiving a spontaneous invitation from a stranger. (Hadar will attempt to resolve this problem by adding an announcement: “If you have an extra place at your Shabbat lunch table, we encourage you to consider extending an invitation to someone you meet or talk with at Kiddush.”)
o People who are less social during Kiddush may miss invitations.

 

Hiring People in Lay-led Minyanim

About 30% of the minyanim participating at the recent minyan conference employ paid staff to assist with minyan operations. The obvious benefit of having paid staff is that it takes the load off of volunteer and lay organizers and frees them up for longer-range visioning

Some problems with having paid staff:
• Most places where minyanim meet do not have offices
• Question of who in the minyan leadership will oversee the staff and if this creates more unnecessary work for lay leadership
• What will it mean for the community in terms of becoming more like an institution?
• Which funds should be used to pay the staff member? Is this an appropriate use of membership dues?

Some recommendations:
• Define the job clearly
• The staff should have a physical space from which to work
• The staff should have a relationship to the community
• There should be transparency with the community in all matters relating to the staff
• The staff could be particularly useful in assisting with data management and archiving

Some questions that minyanim should be sure to discuss as part of defining the role:
• Is the staff part of the community?
• Should the staff member be Jewish?
• Will he or she be expected to attend community events?

Examples of Minyanim with paid staff:

  • Havurah on the Hill (Boston): works with the program coordinator of the Vilna Shul (where it meets) to coordinate with volunteers and administration matters
  • Kehilat Hadar (New York): pays someone to do finances; pays people for High Holidays to daven and teach; pays teachers at education programs and a scholar-in-residence.
  • DC Minyan (Washington, DC): has hired an administrator in the past
  • Tikkun Leil Shabbat (Washington, DC): While close to 100% of the work is done by volunteers, they do benefit from the assistance of the staff of Jews United for Justice.
  • Shirah Hadashah (Jerusalem): Pays a part-time administrator
  • Washington Square Minyan (Brookline, MA): They pay their Tefillat Yeladim coordinator a small stipend to run services on Shabbat and holidays; they also offer an honorarium to people who will layn full parshiyot; they have one custodian every Shabbat morning
  • Darkhei Noam (New York): We have a part-time administrator who orders kiddush, sets up our supplies before Shabbat, arranges registration for minyan events, etc.
  • Shtibl Minyan (Cambridge, MA): pays someone to help out with childcare
  • Minyan Tehilah (Los Angeles, CA): We have a high school students who sets up for us and cleans up after who we pay

 

How Often to Meet and Which Services to Hold

Most independent minyanim do not have the resources, whether human or financial, to meet for all services. Minyan leadership must therefore decide which services to offer and how often. A number of factors can go into this decision.

* Reasons for fewer services:
o Each additional service adds to the strain on the volunteer minyan leadership. A rotation of volunteers must arrive at shul on time, stay through cleanup, and assign davening, leyning and teaching in advance. Gabbai burnout must be kept in check when possible, either by involving more volunteers or by limiting meetings.
o Most independent minyanim focus on striving to maintain quality davening and leyning . At some point, knowledgeable daveners and leyners could be spread too thin and interfere with the quality of davening. At the same time, the best daveners and leyners should not participate too often for fear of either burnout or too much repetition, limiting the inherent creativity of a range of service leaders.
o Financial resources can limit the number of services as well, especially in communities that pay high rent for their space.
o Fewer services can make each meeting feel more special; meeting more often can decrease momentum.
* For example, Kehilat Hadar's average Shabbat morning attendance dropped somewhat when it went from meeting biweekly to meeting three times a month. Some community members find that the novelty wears off with more frequent meetings, and that there is less urgency to attend on any given week. It is possible that this drop in momentum occurs most in the switch from 2 to 3 meetings per month. It might not be as dramatic if an minyan goes from 1 to 2 or 3 to 4 meetings.

 

* Reasons for more services:
o Limited services (such as once a month or less) reduce the ability for natural community bonds to form.
o Primary Jewish communities have always met every Shabbat or more. Once these minyanim become primary communities for the Jews they serve, it is possible that additional meetings may be desireable.
o More services force the community leadership to extend beyond a small core in order to thrive.

 

* Striking a balance about how often to meet:
o If a minyan does not meet for all services, there is a concern that increasing the frequency of services might leave community members more in the lurch on a minyan's "offweeks." For example, if a minyan meets twice a month, people have the option of belonging to a synagogue or other community and attending services twice a month there as well. Once a minyan meets three times a month, people may feel less at home at a different synagogue or community on the offweeks.
o Once a minyan meets every Shabbat, there is an expectation that it become a full-service community.

 

* Deciding which services to hold:
o Friday night services are a natural place for a new minyan to start, since the "start-up" costs are low: you simply need a place to meet and 1-2 daveners. (no Sefer Torah and leyners). However, Friday night minyanim rise and fall on the strength of their davening (typically Kabbalat Shabbat).
o Shabbat morning services have much higher start-up costs, but have the advantage of a set time in which most people are free (Saturday morning vs. Friday night, which fluctuates with candlelighting time).
o Once a minyan regularly meets for a given service, either Friday night or Saturday morning, adding other types of services poses additional challenges. Minyan leadership must not only transfer resources but must also attract many of the same people to both types of meetings, which can be a challenge in terms of people's schedules and of stylistic consistency.
o There is a tradeoff: sticking to one type of service can often best serve a core group, whereas offering differnt types of services will be attractive to the greatest number of people and broaden the minyan's reach.
 

Motivating Minyan Participants to Volunteer and Lead

If you or your fellow minyan leaders use the following statements a lot, that is probably a sign that your minyan needs a more effective strategy to motivate volunteers:

o “I’ll ask for help if I have time after the work is done”
o “It takes less time to do it myself than to explain it to someone new”
o “I don’t have time to call/e-mail everyone on this list”


Why is motivating volunteers so important?

*When done right, it can alleviate burdens of the minyan leadership

*Ensures that all aspects of the minyan is led by its participants

*Motivating volunteers can lead to finding new leaders


Tips on motivating volunteers:
AWARENESS:

It is important to consider limitations on the available time and energy of minyan leaders. Address some issues over e-mail (rather than at meetings). This can mitigate time demands.


KNOW THY MINYAN:

There must be a need for new leadership in the minyan before recruitment of new leaders begins. Minyan leaders—old and new—should be prepared to creatively adapt to the community you have.


KNOW THY VOLUNTEER:

Try to make sure that you know people and their interests before asking them to do a specific task; the more specific the roles, the more people tend to feel comfortable.

 

In addition, just because someone approaches you to volunteer does NOT mean the person is the right volunteer for the job. This of course requires delicate interactions, but will help solidify the project in the long run. Perhaps there is another role for the motivated volunteer that better fits his/her personality or skill set.

 

If, however, someone suggests an idea that you think they are capable of executing effectively, encourage the new leader to take on the project, so that s/he can have ownership from the beginning.



CARE:

Use care regarding who asks for help and how he or she asks is important:

o Sometimes it’s a matter of personality – does the member of the leadership group project an appropriate tenor for eliciting “yes” responses?
o Emphasizing the positive impact of performing the requested task may be preferable to mentioning the undesirable aspects of performing the task (e.g. physical exertion required, repetitive, etc.)
o Inspire the volunteer candidate, rather than using guilt (This is a phenomenal opportunity vs. If you don’t do this, the program will collapse).
o Connect the new volunteer with the previous one, so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Get buy-in from the previous volunteer in making the pitch about why this job is fun and inspiring.


RECRUITING NEW VOLUNTEERS:

• There has been success in one-on-one pitches after someone has been identified as a leader.
• Getting the new leaders involved socially (outside the minyan work).


START SMALL:

Participation is a matter of degree; offering or requiring progressive levels of volunteer participation can be effective:

• E.g. you can start by setting expectations for a small volunteer work contribution from participants, such as:
• Move your own chairs
• Clean up your own dishes
• Help set-up
• A common strategy is to offer volunteer opportunities to all participants, then fall back on “regulars.” In other words, open the job to all via email, but then do proactive follow-through to find the right person. Typically people don't step forward without a personal "ask" – but if asked, most people are willing volunteers.
• Some minyanim present fewer opportunities for participants to pitch in than other minyanim do: Lakeview Minyan, for example, generally requests volunteers only for three things: davening, dvar torah and sponsorship.


COMMITTEES:

Establish committees to handle specific projects or issues. This helps by:

• Presenting an opportunity for newer volunteers to take a greater role
• Allowing minyan leaders not on the committee a respite


ADVANCE NOTICE:

Ask people to sign up in advance for volunteer tasks can help – consider online sign-up.

• Online spreadsheets/documents (e.g. Googledocs) allow others to see who has (and hasn’t) volunteered; this can motivate people to sign up
• When people suggest new practices or projects, consider suggesting that they run with their own ideas
• Some minyanim offer opportunities to sign up to volunteer as a regular part of interacting with minyan participants.
• For instance, Kehilat Hadar offers anyone who signs up for High Holidays or Shavuot (the biggest online sign-up times of the years) a menu of volunteer jobs that people can check off as part of the regular sign-up process.


FUN:

Making volunteering fun is an advantage

• At Tikkun Leil Shabbat, for example, volunteer dishwashers get to wear leis (for veggie table dishwashers) or beads (for hekhsher table dishwashers) and dishwashing is a social (i.e., group) activity
• Another example: cute, colorful cards accompanying Kiddush dishes and highlighting a volunteer opportunity


SAY THANK YOU:

Giving thanks to volunteers is important

• There are many ways to give thanks, but face-to-face expression of appreciation is probably the best
o Providing volunteers with food and/or drink is probably a good idea
• Leadership/committee meetings with empty-stomached participants generally are worth avoiding


TARGETING:

Targeting participants for volunteering/leadership can be an effective strategy

o Listen carefully to other daveners in the kahal and ask them to lead as appropriate.
o Some minyanim noted that listening to people who are given aliyot gives a sense of their potential ritual skills beyond an aliyah – it is an easy way to “scout.”


ADVERTISE:

Increasing awareness of how participants can help get things done by, for example:

o Publicizing specific volunteer opportunities (via e-mail/announcements)
o Divulging and or publicizing budget (or other financial) details – letting people know what funds are needed for my help in raising funds
o Conspicuous or cute methods of emphasizing volunteer opportunities, such as the leis and colorful cards mentioned above (these methods may not be appropriate for some minyanim)


TEAMBUILDING:

Non-davening-centered events (Shabbat dinners, etc.), for example, can enable volunteers, leaders and others to get to know one another


COMMUNICATION:

Regular communication with the volunteer is crucial – don’t wait for the problems to arise before talking to them. As part of the thank you email, one could ask: How is it going? What could we do better to support your work?

 

Should Your Minyan Have Formal Membership?

An important question facing independent minyanim organizers is whether to have formal membership.

Pros of having membership:

* Membership allows members of the kahal to feel valued and gives them an active way to feel like part of a community.
* Holding an official membership can convey a sense of ownership over the minyan's programming and visioning.
* Membership can create a sense of belonging and community among members.
* Membership dues can contribute to a minyan's financial security (most minyanim have a payscale--i.e. different payments depending on status--single, couple, family, student, etc.; many are pay-what-youcan or have suggested dues).
* Membership allows for greater coordination between minyan participants and leaders and contributes to smoother organization of minyan activities.


Cons of having membership:

* Membership can impose a perceived separation between "insiders" and "outsiders."
* The feelings of ownership and belonging can become polarized to those who have it and those who do not.
* Especially within more transient communities, membership can exclude people who are living in the area for a short time or trying out a range of communities.
* Because independent minyanim - whether intentionally or by default - often lack the funds, space, Rabbinical presence, and paid leadership to offer full-service programming, membership might not provide any additional benefits other than a sense of belonging. (This is in contrast to synagogues, where members have special access to Hebrew schools, lifecycle event services, etc.) What would it mean to be a member without these benefits?

In every community there are people who hold both opinions. At Kehilat Hadar, the gabbai'im opted not to have formal membership for the following reasons:

* The gabbai'im believe it is a bigger loss to make some people feel like outsiders to the community than to make the insiders feel more like insiders.
* Other volunteer and hospitality initiatives can foster a sense of belonging in place of offering membership. For example:

o Actively recruiting volunteers tells people that their services are needed.
o Holding open community meetings about the minyan's future directions allows many voices and opinions to be heard.
o An opt-in directory, in place of a member directory, allows people to contact one another and fosters a sense of community.
o Any number of hospitality initiatives (too numerous to list here) can increase the sense of community far more than holding official membership.

 

* Because programming is reasonably priced for all who attend, the minyan could not offer additional financial benefits of membership such as member discounts.

 

* Hadar has raised enough money by having a suggested donation amount for attending High Holiday services, and by soliciting end-of-year donations. Donations allow community members to strengthen their sense of ownership even without membership - and donors receive personal thank-you notes from the gabbai'im!

 

Increasing Jewish Knowledge of Leadership

At a discussion an Independent Minyan Conference, there was a discussion on increasing the Jewish knowledge of minyan leadership. Overall, the founders of independent minyanim on the whole were very knowledgeable, while the new generation of leadership does not have the same knowledge base. New leaders described that they lack knowledge in many areas, including: leading services, kashrut policies, reasoning behind egalitarianism/non-egalitarianism/other ideological issues, Torah reading, creating new services/rituals.

Some points raised in the discussion:
• Many in the new generation of leadership have feelings of inadequacy or intimidation in relation to minyan founders.
• Many mentioned a particular dearth of women in the minyanim who are knowledgeable and able to take on leadership roles within the service (e.g. leyning, leading services)
• There was a general feeling that the community does not have the same sort of stability when the knowledge base departs
• Founders had an ‘anchoring knowledge’ of why the minyan does certain things and could engage in halakhic decision-making, which is not necessarily the case for the new generation of leadership.
• What happens when the leadership has less knowledge than the community (e.g. the NY or LA communities where the community is comprised of many rabbinical students who are transient and the leadership is non-rabbinical students who are more permanent)?
• Many minyanim face the dilemma of divvying up responsibility within the leadership for items that are particularly a matter of skill/execution and those that require judgment/decision-making in complicated situations.
• Many felt that new leadership could strive to create a culture of learning—even if leaders do not know “as much,” they can serve as examples for the community of those who are continuing to learn.

Ideas to increase knowledge among leaders:
• “Boot camp”-type training for lay-leaders
• Hiring a scholar-in-residence
• Create a network for connecting leaders of the different minyanim through learning—e.g. weekly/monthly sessions via internet for study;
• Have leaders learn in hevruta at home and then connect with other leaders who are doing the same
• Select an halakhic advisor (not necessarily someone local)

 

Form 1023 - Application for Recognition of Exemption

Example of filing for recognition of exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code
Sample filing provided by DC Minyan

Includes:

  • Form 1023 application
  • The supplement to the Form 1023
  • The Form 2848 (power of attorney)
  • The IRS determination letter itself

Download here

 

Guide to Giving a Dvar Torah

by David Zvi Kalman

Giving a Dvar Torah Outline

Dvar Torah Resources

Kol Zimrah Service Guidelines

Guidelines for leading services at Kol Zimrah

Download

 

Long-term Vision

Creating a long-term vision:
Developing a vision requires a conscious and explicit effort and a minyan needs to dedicate adequate time and resources in order to articulate one effectively

Some tips:
*Create an administrative structure (perhaps a committee) to occasionally assess how well operational decisions and medium-term plans (i.e., up to 3 years) are consistent with the minyan's long-term vision. Ideally such a group would be familiar with the day-to-day operations of the minyan, yet have no decision-making authority. Rather it could issue to the Board a (biennial) report describing how well the minyan has progressed towards its vision and recommending next steps. Currently no minyanim among those in the group had such a structure.

*In trying to create a vision, a minyan needs to consider whether it aims to meet the shifting needs of its members (a cohort who has begun having kids; moving to the 'burbs), or whether it aims to serve a specific neighborhood and/or demographic group (i.e., whose members may age out).

*Once a minyan creates a vision, it must be communicated to, and shared by new leadership. Even among people who are very familiar with a minyan, those who assume a leadership position should receive an orientation in which they are carefully grounded in the vision of the minyan. Tikkun Leil Shabbat (DC) has had success in providing such an orientation to new board members.

*Some minyanim may purposefully choose to not develop a vision, especially those that are less interested in participating in a broader "independent minyan" movement or creating a sustainable institution.

Examples:
Picoegal (Los Angeles):
Meeting in a larger space with better acoustics. Having more resources (financial and talent) and providing more education to the greater community; maintaining the warm, welcoming atmosphere; maintaining the strong sense of community. Stronger partnerships with other communities. More organized structure to encourage increased participation (e.g. committees).

Minyan Urim (New Haven, CT)
The same but bigger! We’d like to meet every week, and maybe for daily services.

 

Minyan Segulah Service Leader Guidelines

Guidelines for leading services at Minyan Segulah in Washington, DC/Silver Spring, MD

Download

 

Reflections on Technology at Kehilat Hadar

Publish date: July 15, 2009

by Aaron Kasman

When most of people think of organizing a minyan, usually the practical stuff like finding people to lead services is what comes to mind. Clearly, that's important and it's the core of what we do. But as an engineer, I also think a lot about how we can best use technology to maximize the connections within our community, improve effectiveness of our operations, and make our jobs as leaders easier. I encourage techies and the non-technically inclined to read on.

IT (information technology) touches pretty much every part of Kehilat Hadar's operations in some way: collecting donations, event registration, outbound email blasts and of course advertising events, to name a few. Several factors influence the way we think about IT and why it matters so much. Consider that some of these aspects differ from more conventional synagogues:

  • We don't have a central office and have very few paper files. Most of the work we do in organizing the community is distributed. We each work on projects at times that fit into our respective schedules.
  • Our community has relatively high turnover. This means that our leadership also turns over quickly, so storing reference documents are crucial. There's also turnover among those who are working on the technology solutions themselves. Our solutions need to be transferable as people move on.
  • In keeping with the spirit of Hadar, our technology teams have been made up of volunteers. However, that's not to say that professional help shouldn't be sought if needed! 
  • We are very budget-focused. Free is good. (Check out techsoup.org for deals for non-profits.)
  • Everything we do is a work in progress. There are lots of things we want to do, but it's a matter of prioritizing and dealing with projects in manageable chunks.

We don't send snail mail. Aside from a few fliers that we distribute at services, all of our communications are web-based.

Based on my experience, I'd like to share some practical tips for using IT effectively within your minyan:

1. Don't reinvent the wheel.
Volunteering means that we're working on our minyanim in off hours and need to maximize the efficiency of our efforts. Designing custom solutions to solve IT needs is very time-consuming and can lead to serious maintenance problems down the road. Custom software is never just "written"; it needs to be tested and iterated over until it's just right, and then tested some more. I urge you to resist the urge to design something from scratch, especially since there are some helpful building blocks out there.

A. Google - for day-to-day tasks
A few highlights from Google, all currently free:
a. Use Google Analytics to analyze statistics about the use of your website.
b. Google Documents is invaluable to us for jointly editing documents (in realtime, if necessary) and then referring back to them later.
c. Google Spreadsheets has a terrific feature that lets you set up a form that members of your community can use to sign up for events, sell their hametz, etc.
d. Google Alerts are a convenient way to be alerted when your minyan's name (or any other topic of your interest) appears online in the blogosphere, for example.
e. Google Calendars can be directly embedded into webpages to show off your minyan's events. We use an internal google calendar to schedule meetings, keep track of who is on vacation, etc.
f. Gmail lets you converge your mailboxes. Email sent to aaron@kehilathadar.org lands up in my Gmail box, but I can also send email from that address from my personal Gmail account. Check out Gmail's settings for more details.

 

B. Content management systems - for your website
Kehilat Hadar was early on the web scene with a "web 1.0" site that served the community well. Among the major challenges is that any changes that went beyond basic edits of content, like setting up a calendar for the next year, required more advanced IT skill. In early 2009, we launched a new site that leverages a content management system (CMS). This allows a wider range of non-technical people to edit the site. It's fairly intuitive to use, and requires just a little orientation to get up and going.

There are numerous popular CMS systems out there. We picked Drupal (see drupal.org for more details). Why do I love Drupal? Because it has let us build in tons of functionality into our site without a single line of code written. (To be fair, a bit of custom work was done to theme our site, but not to address functionality.) We have been able to add a calendar, manage community postings, and integrate simple forms all by reusing a few of the hundreds of optional modules available at drupal.org. Furthermore, we've been able to make good progress on our goal of making as much of the setup as possible available to non-techies. For example, one of my fellow gabbaim, Rebecca Zeidel, who does not have a technical background, set up the form for our community-wide learning project. By bypassing the IT person, lay leadership is further empowered, the IT operations are demystified, and very practically, there's a reduced bottleneck on waiting for IT people to complete needed tasks.

We're also using our same Drupal-based website to build out several areas of resources for our leadership, essentially the minyan equivalent of a corporate intranet. Google documents works pretty well for this, but we have also begun to consider questions like who can access these documents as leadership transitions, and how do we organize an ever-growing swath of resources?

Drupal helps solve the technology leadership problem I mentioned earlier: the advantage in using something that's in the public domain is that the knowledge of the particular system is not limited to the skills of a couple individuals. Anyone with knowledge of Drupal could quickly learn to administer our site.

Did I mention that Drupal is free? It's also open source, with an amazing community of volunteer contributors supporting it.

Lastly, I'll plug another open source program: civicrm. Civicrm is a constituency management package built specifically for non-profits. It handles things like donations, events, volunteer management, and mass emails. Plus, it integrates seamlessly with Drupal. At the time of writing this, we're not yet using civicrm, but we're looking forward to some of the upcoming features which will help us manage some of our more quirky requirements for our Shavuot retreat and High Holiday Services sign ups.


2. Get with the program.
The information that we're offering is being consumed through more and more media and devices (like the iPhone), and we need to stay current with how we get our message out. We're on twitter and have pages on Facebook and LinkedIn.

We're experimenting with the best ways to use RSS feeds, and our main events calendar can be viewed in your Google calendar (a feature that Drupal provides). We're looking at whether our weekly email is organized effectively from the reader's point of view. In addition, we are examining how we can improve our internal processes so that we can minimize duplication of effort in preparing our outbound communications.

3. Protect the integrity of your operations.
Regardless of the sophistication of your IT, you put a ton of effort and time into getting your minyan running smoothly. Make sure that you take the necessary precautions to protect your work.

A. Don't underestimate security.
Password management for things like email accounts is serious business. Here are a few tips:
a. Wherever possible, don't share accounts.
b. Make sure a couple key people, and only those people, know the passwords to any accounts that do need to be shared.
c. Change passwords at regular intervals, such as every 90 days. I know too many people who've had their Gmail accounts hacked. Use good passwords. It's very easy for a hacker to get into an account that is protected with a password that's a dictionary word (there are rogue programs that do this). Mix case and add numbers and special characters.
d. For your website, use a secure connection ("https") when handling and private information. Get professional help if you need on this.


B. Don't underestimate backup.

I've seen friends lose their hard drives (theft, damage, etc.) and it's devastating. Online services like mozy.com are really easy to use, and either free or almost free. External drives aren't enough, since they often remain at the same physical location as your machine, so they are susceptible to the same physical damage.


4. Community

Most importantly, be sure to leverage the skills of those are technically inclined in your community!

 

I hope that these tips will be helpful to you as your minyan continues to grow and flourish!

 

Skills Survey from Or Chadash Minyan

 

Agenda for Initial Meeting for New Minyan

by Audrey Jacobs.

This is the agenda for the first planning meeting for Sapir Minyan in San Diego.

Learning Tefillah
Want to learn more about our prayers—from both a meaning and experiential angle? Read and listen to thoughts on different sections of tefillah from R. Elie Kaunfer, Dena Weiss, and Joey Weisenberg.
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