Service and Participation within the Adat Shalom Community
|What does it mean to be a member of Adat Shalom? Just as marriage partners agree to a Ketubah (contract) that spells out the mutual expectations and shared hopes for those people who are seriously and joyously committing to form a "community of two, " Adat Shalom members should similarly try to be clear about what we expect from each other and what we are prepared to give to our community.|
This statement has been developed to articulate the type of active, fulfilling involvement that we, as a community, hope members will be inspired to seek within Adat Shalom. The writing of this document represents the continuation of a process, started when our congregation was formed, of describing what we stand for and what we strive for as a community. In addition to providing new and potential members with a vision of what we are, the very process of describing the type of involvement we aspire to in our communal life helps to enhance our identity as a religious community with shared beliefs and mutual commitments to one another. Thus, this document is meant to be one more brick in the foundation principles of our community, joining the previously agreed upon documents: our original Statement of Principles written in 1988 and updated in 1992, as well as the Shabbat Guidelines, Tzedakah Guidelines, and Gemilut Chesed Guidelines adopted by the membership over the past few years.
The Spirit of Community
In many different forums, members have expressed their gratitude for what Adat Shalom has added to their lives. There are many reasons that people seek a spiritual/religious community such as ours: for a sense of camaraderie and sharing in striving to lead more complete, enriched lives; for an emphasis on acceptance and appreciation of where people are coming from instead of a rigid set of judgments about where others should already be in terms of religious observance; for the excitement about learning and the deepening of knowledge of what Judaism has to teach us about leading more fulfilling lives; for the emphasis on providing opportunities for everyone to be involved in and to contribute something to the community.
At its best, being part of Adat Shalom helps us through hard times, enhances the joyous times, and provides endless opportunities for growth and learning. Most members come to treasure their affiliation with Adat Shalom more than they ever expected to when they first joined the community. Adat Shalom provides an opportunity for each member to feel included in a warm, friendly, stimulating environment where individuals can enrich connections to Jewish roots and create nurturing connections to others who have similarly embarked on the path of growing Jewishly. We believe that it is through contributing to something beyond our limited individual selves that we can create meaning in our lives. Essential to the spirit that makes Adat Shalom so special is our connectedness to each other and the widespread sense of emotional ownership of the congregation by members themselves.
If our congregation is to provide positive and meaningful experiences for members, considerable volunteerism is needed from those individuals. We believe that the sense of responsibility necessary to inspire volunteerism will flow out of our recognition that Adat Shalom is a community of meaning for each of us and worthy of perpetuation. We therefore need to balance the awareness of what we get from our involvement in Adat Shalom with an appreciation for what we need to give back to the congregation to enable it to flourish.
Adat Shalom has traditionally relied heavily on volunteers to meet the congregation's needs. Early on, financial considerations led us to minimize our reliance on professionals and others who we might have employed to nurture and sustain our congregation. However, our early experience taught us that, financial considerations aside, it is each member's personal commitment to serve the synagogue with hands and voices that is the backbone of a religious community that aspires to be and remain rich, alive, and fulfilling.
We are hardly the first to discover the importance of serving the community. The mitzvah of community service is rooted in tradition. Pirke Avot teaches that the world rests upon three pillars; avodah (service) is one of them. Indeed, we have learned that when we work together, we breathe life into our community, finding in it a common purpose that enables us to contribute to each other's lives as Jews and as human beings. We are a congregation of volunteers in no small measure because we believe that we can create and sustain a vibrant, spiritual religious community only if each of us assumes direct, personal responsibility for some facet of our congregation. When we feel responsible for our community and stand ready to serve when needed, we come to value and cherish it far more than if we contributed only financially. Paradoxically, our service makes the community more valuable to us. Working together helps us move closer to one another.
In defining our obligations to each other and to the congregation, we must be sensitive to the tension between the needs of the community and the autonomy and freedom of each member to define what is meaningful for them. Volunteerism should not be generated by feelings of guilt or through fear of negative judgments should one fail to step forward to offer time and effort. True avodah must come from the heart of each and every person; we hope that our community will engender this spirit.
Two concrete obligations of Adat Shalom members, as stated in our congregation's bylaws, are payment of congregational dues and the hosting of a specified number of Shabbat kiddush luncheons. What other ways might we envision that members might contribute of themselves to the community? We suggest a model where every member comes to think of themselves as part of at least one of the many subgroups that are contained within the congregation. As we grow larger, it becomes increasingly important for members to have a sense of belonging to a smaller, more intimate group that can offer an additional source of identity and camaraderie within the larger community. In many cases, this could take the form of committee involvement. However, some people prefer to be involved in other ways that also provide opportunities to participate.
Groups that provide members with some mixture of personal contact with others and work on behalf of the congregation include such ongoing activities as the Parents and Babies/Toddlers group, the choir, the Rosh Chodesh women's group; ongoing service groups such as the ushers for our religious services or holiday planning group; and the more temporary work groups such as the Annual Retreat planning group. For members who find it difficult to commit to regular meetings, it is possible to volunteer for such labor- intensive tasks as mailings or phone calling. Along similar lines, volunteering to be on the Life Cycle Committee's list of potential "Mitzvah Providers" offers an opportunity to get involved when members are needed to help others in the community in times of personal hardship or loss (for example, attending shiva minyans, visiting the sick, preparing meals for families with new children, and helping families in crisis).
Of course, we recognize that people's involvement in any long-term relationship goes through natural ebb and flow cycles of intensity. Similarly, members of our community need to feel the freedom to become involved at a level and a pace that is comfortable to them and as well as to feel understood when they need to pull back when they feel overextended in their lives. We do not want our congregation's emphasis on participation to become intrusive or guilt-inducing. Rather, we want that emphasis to be a manifestation of our belief that the community we build belongs to all of us and can only thrive if an attitude of cooperation and caring is fostered among the membership.
If we can make the group and volunteer opportunities variable and inspirational enough, then it would be reasonable to expect that everyone should be involved in at least one area of congregational life that interests or inspires them. Thus, we would augment our current expectations of membership to include not only financial contributions and preparation of our oneg luncheons a few times a year but also to include some contribution of effort and involvement. Such avodah both strengthens the congregation as well as enhances each member's sense of belonging to the community. Our hope is that everybody should, in some way, have an identity as an active member of a smaller group within the larger community context. Such identity would ideally have the combined effect of perpetuating our tradition of volunteerism and high levels of participation within the Adat Shalom ommunity and enhancing our ability to maintain our sense of intimacy even as we grow in numbers.
These guidelines, were approved by the Adat Shalom board on 2/19/95 and ratified by the Congregation on 5/21/95. Members of the congregation had opportunities for input to this statement throughout the process of development.