Divre Harav – May, 2023

I have devoted my Rabbinic career to the advancement of small congregations, and hope to do so here in Grand Rapids until I retire. Small congregations are not just miniature versions of big congregations. We are a different sort of entity entirely. True, large congregations have numbers and budgets exceeding our capacity, but we have strengths and potential not found in large congregations. We have the potential to know and value each member of the congregation. We rely on each member to step up financially to the best of their ability and also participate in multiple other ways. Shabbat and holiday services, programming, committee work, and building management, happens because of lay leadership supported by paid staff, rather than the other way around.

Congregation Ahavas Israel is a small congregation and we need to be thinking like a small congregation. Small congregations are lay led. Small congregations develop resources from within. Small congregations are resourceful, without a tremendous amount of resources. We are creative. We take advantage of opportunities. And we understand that the landscape is always shifting, so we adapt. Small congregations have small budgets. No organizations has unlimited financial resources, but small congregations need to be mindful of overreaching. We cannot act like a large congregation. We cannot buy all of the services we would like, so we need to cultivate them from within.

While we value independence, we know that we have to make all of our assets work for us. Renting our building to the Children’s Workshop preschool, All Souls Community Church, and the Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids has provided a critical source of income.  Along the way, it has allowed us to form good relationship and partnerships that benefit the synagogue. All Souls has helped us create a Sacred Ground Native Pollinator garden on the back patio. All Souls and Temple Emanuel help us grow food in our Corners of the Field garden. We have partnered with Trinity Lutheran Church and Family Promise of West Michigan to help feed families who are housed in the church, several times a year.

Small congregations need to form partnerships to leverage limited resources. Partnerships are not necessarily permanent relationships. They might work well for a while, but as circumstances change, they might dissolve. Our partnership with Temple Emanuel to run a joint Beit Sefer B’yahad/United Jewish School is strong. Our partnership with Temple Emanuel and the Jewish Federation for a yearly scholar in residence weekend is ending because Temple and the Federation are no longer interested in the weekend format. It may evolve into a different format or we may seek a different kind of partnership. Temple Emanuel has ended our partnership to supply us with the services of a Cantor. We understand that nothing lasts forever and we need to be nimble and adaptable.

In a small congregation, each person is important. We need you to pitch in. Opportunities abound. Speak to me or the president, Ann Berman, and we can find a way for you to add your strength to Congregation Ahavas Israel.

Hebrew Phrase of the Month:

  • • Kehillah ketanah – a small congregation

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