The bigger picture. That’s what I saw in a room with 5000 or so Reform Jews, all in Chicago convening at the URJ Biennial. If you have ever been to a large gathering of Jews anywhere—at the western wall, Biennial, or large synagogue event—you’ve probably felt what I was feeling, the power of so many Jews in one place. That would be enough, dayenu, without anything more. But there was more, much more, in the form of individual stories of challenges and successes in synagogues all over North America. I certainly learned from others’ stories, and will bring back many ideas to share with our membership and our board. I also saw how we as a congregation are in this together with all of our other sibling congregations, large and small. Just like we are together in our own synagogue community, our synagogue is itself in a community of synagogues that support each other.
The challenge is to be inspired to adapt others’ examples to our own Jewish community, to retain our unique and wonderful Asheville Jewish experience while exploring new ideas. So, I ask you to be open to new experiences at our temple, and to be patient if we try something that may not work quite right at first. Be assured, I have nothing drastic in mind. But, one of the theories of congregational growth and adaptation at the URJ Biennial was to plan to be unsuccessful in new endeavors, to try new things as experiments only. You may have heard before that more can be learned from failure than from success. This does not mean that we try to fail, only that the experience of the experiment is the goal, not the success that might be measured at the end.
This all may seem a bit vague at this point. The idea, though, is to continue to do all the things we already do—study Torah, care for our community members, and so on—in new and re-imagined ways that might inspire ourselves and those around us. Then, once we try a new class, fundraiser, or other event, we’ll get to decide whether we liked it. At worst, it will remind us of the reasons why we liked the original way we did things. (For example, you may remember that we tried a digital-only Menorah, then went back to mailing it out because mailing turned out to be better, and worth the extra cost.)
One of the most important things I learned at the URJ Biennial is that much of what we do at our temple is just right. But we’re going to be trying a few new things here and there, and I hope these experiments will inspire us to get even more “just right.”