Of all my activities as President of FJMC, visiting clubs and chatting with men’s club members are among my favorites. I had an opportunity to do a lot of this recently, as I went on what I’ve jokingly called my “odyssey.” Over the course of 11 days, my travels took me to seven cities where I met with members of 18 men’s clubs in various venues.
Since our Executive Committee (EC) was holding our quarterly meeting in Orlando, FL over the Oct. 31 - Nov. 2 weekend, I used this opportunity to fly first to Jacksonville, FL on the day before to visit the Jacksonville Jewish Center. I had been invited to lead a Town Hall meeting of the congregation and men’s club leadership, where we discussed Conservative Judaism and FJMC’s role in our Movement as well as programming ideas for the club.
The next day I drove to Orlando for the EC meeting. When our EC holds a meeting over Shabbat, whenever feasible we plan to attend services at local synagogues with affiliated men’s clubs and this was no exception. On Friday evening we all attended Kabbalat Shabbat services and were invited to dinner at Congregation Ohev Shalom, and during Saturday morning our EC members split up and attended services at Ohev Shalom, Congregation Beth Am and Temple Israel. At each we were able to chat informally with club members, and of course promote our upcoming Convention that will take place in nearby Miami Beach next July.
Following the conclusion of our EC meeting on Sunday I flew to Atlanta to participate in a joint meeting of the leadership of three clubs in the area from Congregations Etz Chaim, Beth Shalom, and Or Hadash, and we talked about ways that they could collaborate and work together to strengthen the Anshe Darom Region, the Atlanta Jewish community, and their individual clubs and synagogues.
The next day I drove to Charlotte, NC. Our club at Temple Israel has been in a hiatus (it can happen to the best of clubs!), but the synagogue leadership wanted to re-charter the club. I was invited to first speak to the synagogue’s Board of Directors about FJMC and our role in helping clubs, and then to the group of guys who would become the steering committee for the revitalized club. We brainstormed several programs and defined the next steps that these guys could take to move forward.
From there I took a break from club visits to attend, along with Allan Gottesman and Rabbi Simon, a one-day retreat of the Leadership Council of Conservative Judaism (LCCJ) at Pearlstone Conference Center near Baltimore. The LCCJ is composed of the professional and lay leaders of every arm of the Conservative Movement; some 15 organizations were represented at the retreat including United Synagogue, Women’s League, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Ziegler School, and the Rabbinical and Cantors Assemblies. This was a unique opportunity for the leadership of our Movement to get to know one-another. I don’t recall a meeting like this every happening in recent history! We discussed the future of Conservative Judaism: the challenges facing our synagogues and our Movement’s institutions, and what steps might be taken to address these, including greater collaboration among the various arms. This was a good beginning to what will undoubtedly be a long process.
My next stop was Cleveland where on the first night I attended a Beer and Bible program hosted by the Park Synagogue Men’s Club, followed by discussions with them and members of the B'nai Jeshurun Congregation Men’s Club on successful programming and fostering club growth. The following night I visited the Congregation Shaarey Tikvah Men’s Club where our discussion focused on the value that FJMC provides to its member clubs – including FJMC’s programming, leadership training, and consultation, as well as the benefit of integrating clubs and their members into local, regional, and international Conservative/Masorti Jewish communities.
Finally, I flew from Cleveland to Buffalo (through Philadelphia, would you believe?) to attend the Lake Ontario Region’s annual retreat, which was held at the Beaver Hollow Conference Center just outside the city. Thirty men from eight clubs from Toronto, Montreal, Rochester, and Buffalo participated. We had a great weekend filled with camaraderie, learning, spirituality, and ruach! Being from Los Angeles, it seemed a bit cold – but I later realized how lucky I was that this retreat was held before the giant snow storms in Buffalo!
Throughout my “odyssey” I was impressed by the vitality of the clubs and synagogues I visited, and the deep commitment of the club leadership to build community and to foster greater involvement of their men in Jewish life. Even in the clubs that were experiencing some struggles there was a spirit and dedication to work hard to address their challenges and to grow stronger.
I find these visits to be very valuable. By engaging with our men face-to-face I can learn about the successes as well as the challenges that our clubs are experiencing, and any issues that we can help with. These visits also give me the opportunity to share my vision of the importance of men’s clubs in the lives of Jewish men, and the role that FJMC plays in helping our clubs and in being an active leader within our Movement.
If your club would like a visit from FJMC leadership, there are many opportunities to make this happen. Most of our regions have club visitation programs whereby someone on the regional board would be very happy to attend your meetings or set up a dedicated meeting with you and your club leadership. Just contact your regional president to arrange a visit. We also have a network of consultants who are available to meet with your club and help address issues or advise on strategies and techniques to grow and strengthen your club. Lastly, as my recent travels have demonstrated, our international officers (including myself) are often available to visit your club. You can contact me by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or reply to this Blog if you’d like to request a visit by a consultant or other FJMC leader. Also, please reply to this Blog with any comments or questions about what I’ve written.
For everyone in the U.S., I hope and your families have a very Happy Thanksgiving!