"We’re not your father's men's club!" That's what I used to hear when I first became active in my club in the early 1990's. At that time the stereotype was a bunch of older guys who sat around playing cards and drinking beer, and this comment was meant to reassure prospective members that our club included men of all ages and our programming was meaningful and worthwhile. To be honest we did on occasion play cards and drink beer, but we also fulfilled the FJMC mission of involving Jewish men in Jewish life through ritual programs, Hebrew literacy training, social action projects, and service to our synagogue. FJMC had developed the Art of Jewish Living series in the mid-1980s, and the signature Yom HaShoah Yellow Candle Program and World Wide Wrap were launched shortly after that. When you add in the many sports, cultural, and social activities, our men's club was a fun, dynamic organization that served the needs of our men for Jewish education and spiritual enrichment as well as camaraderie and fellowship.
Men’s Clubs have certainly evolved over the years, and today's clubs are nothing like those that existed 85 years ago when FJMC began. Yet our society has undergone revolutionary changes, enabled by the rapid growth of technology. With the ability to instantly access news and information, interact with people globally, and connect through social media, we live much different lives than we used to. The implications for what men want and need from their synagogues and their men's clubs are significant. To continue to be relevant and viable the Men's Clubs of 2015 and beyond must understand and respond to this changing landscape.
There are two sets of issues that are particularly key to a Men's Club in 2015. The first set relates to the various challenges facing Conservative Judaism (as well as many other religious movements). These challenges are most evident in our younger generation, but apply across the age spectrum to some extent. Recent studies and social surveys show that people today are much less likely to join religious institutions than in the past. For the Conservative Movement this has meant much lower affiliation rates, reduced synagogue memberships, and some synagogues closing. While some people are simply less interested in their religion and prefer a secular lifestyle, many are still searching for spiritual experiences and are looking for ways to find meaning in their lives, but outside of the synagogue. Those who do affiliate often do not find meaning in the traditional sanctuary-based prayer services, either because they don't understand what's happening in the services or because they don't read Hebrew with sufficient fluency to get any value from the prayers. Further, the increasing rate of intermarriage results in additional challenges to Conservative Judaism, from the perspective of fostering Jewish families when one spouse is not Jewish.
What should the Men’s Club of 2015 do, to respond to these challenges? Here are some suggestions:
1. Offer programming that helps men (and their families) better connect with and feel comfortable in prayer services. Working in cooperation with the clergy, a men’s club can provide education in Hebrew literacy, understanding of prayers and rituals, study of Torah, etc. The new Shabbat Tefillah initiative that FJMC is developing and will launch at our upcoming convention will provide valuable resources that will help a club undertake these types of programs.
2. Be proactive in welcoming interfaith families. Again in cooperation with the clergy, a men’s club can help the synagogue implement Keruv strategies and approaches. Many clubs have already updated their Bylaws to allow them to include non-Jewish men as members. One way to start outreach activities in the congregation is to conduct Hearing Men’s Voices-type sessions that address the issues faced by families with non-Jewish members. FJMC’s Keruv initiative has resulted in a wealth of materials that can be used in this type of programming.
3. Be proactive in developing meaningful relationships with members and prospective members. At our last convention, Ron Wolfson taught us the value of “Relational Judaism” – the concept that men (and women) are attracted to and stay involved in organizations when they know that the members truly care about them. Men’s clubs are usually the poster child for this, with “fellowship” being the hallmark of most clubs; but we know that we can do a lot more. How often do we let a new or prospective member sit by himself at a club function? How often do we neglect to ask a new member to help out in a club activity? We can all do a better job of building relationships which will serve our club and our synagogue well, but most importantly will bring value to the life of the new member.
The second set of issues that are key to the Men’s Club of 2015 are those that relate to being a man, as well as being a Jewish man, in today’s society. With increasing egalitarianism, the roles and responsibilities of men have changed in the workplace, in the family, and in the synagogue. Men find themselves under new pressures to define appropriate roles for themselves in these various environments, and to establish an effective work/life balance. Yet faced with life’s stresses men do not have the resources to help them deal with their issues. Unlike women who readily discuss personal issues with friends, men tend to keep their struggles and challenges to themselves.
This creates a great opportunity for a men’s club to come to the rescue. In reality, there is no other organization, either inside or outside of the synagogue, that is better equipped to help Jewish men address the critical issues that they face and be better men in all areas of their lives. Through a well-planned series of Hearing Men’s Voices sessions, supplemented by other educational programming and materials (speakers, panel discussions, FJMC –provided resources, etc), the Men’s Club of 2015 can help its members:
1. Become a role model for their children – as a father, as a Jewish man, as an ethical member of society. Studies show that fathers have a tremendous influence on their children (especially their sons), even after the child has left the nest. Yet many men don’t recognize this nor understand how they can use this influence to effectively guide their sons and daughters to grow into adulthood.
2. Learn to be healthy.
3. Learn to manage their finances effectively.
4. Improve relationships with wives, parents, and friends.
5. Navigate their way through work, career, and retirement issues.
6. Enhance spirituality and develop a better relationship with G-d.
7. Develop meaningful long-lasting relationships based on camaraderie, common interests and core values.
The Men’s Club of 2015 has a tremendous opportunity to offer its members real value in many key areas that are timely and meaningful. Is your club moving in this direction? Please share what your club is doing to offer relevant programming to your members, which addresses the issues of 2015.
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