My three month sabbatical is over and it is wonderful to get back to New London. I am particularly grateful to all those who have supported the community at this time.
I left feeling tired and with a nagging feeling that I, and this community I love so dearly, were stagnating a little. Among the many books and articles I read during my time away was a report from the Jewish Leadership Council's Synagogue Vitality Project, authored by Steven M. Cohen.
'A synagogue,' the report suggests, 'may succeed in outward ways: increasing membership, high rates of attendance at services and programmes, balanced budgets, lack of conflict, and other features of apparent success. Yet at the same time, it may fail to inspire, instruct, comfort, cohere, and evolve.' Ouch.
In New York I met up with one of the most inspirational Rabbinic leaders of my time at Seminary, Rabbi Roly Matalon, from BJ. He shared the ark of growth of his community, which was growing exponentially during my time in New York. In the 12 years since I had left NY the growth first slowed and even reversed. 'We were stale,' he nodded, 'We were doing the same programmes, same tunes, same, same, same.' So what did they do? They launched a strategic initiative, bringing the community together to reflect. It has resulted in their focussing on a narrower range of core necessities, less responding to the ebbs and flows of every tide, less rolling round the hamster wheel because that the way the wheel had turned successfully in the past. And they are reaping the rewards of that clearer focus in many ways.
We, at New London, also need to be more strategic and focussed. We need to spend more time and effort on doing the things we need to do; for our members, for the Jewish community and the broader society in which we live.
At services this Shabbat I hope to share more about where I have been, what I have been reflecting on and where we should be heading. Over the coming weeks I will be sharing, in sermons and on the blog, five key centres of Jewish life - five reasons to care about Judaism in the way in which we do Judaism here at New London. There is a wonderful case to be made for the Jewish life we aim to lead here. I want to take this post-sabbatical opportunity to make the case as well as I can. I hope you will join me on this journey.
I'm back, and this time, the plan is to be more strategically focused.
Incidentally this Shabbat will be a fully-egalitarian one with mixed-seating options. This is in line with the decisions of the EGM last year. I am delighted that Chazan Jacky Chernett will be joining Cantor Jason to lead the services. For those anxious to see more possibilities for mixed seating or female participation in the leading of services, or even curious about what such change might feel like this is an important Shabbat. I do especially commend it.
It's good to be back,