A MARRIAGE MADE IN HEAVEN? NEW OU PROGRAM BRINGS TOGETHER SYNAGOGUE PRESIDENTS TO MENTOR ONE ANOTHER AND TURN WEAKNESSES INTO STRENGTHS;FUNDRAISING TO RECEIVE SPECIAL ATTENTION
The Orthodox Union is arranging shidduchs these days, and it has absolutely nothing to do with sending eligible young men and women to the chuppa. Instead, the OU is bringing together synagogue presidents from across North America, in which in their one-on-one study groups, a president will mentor a counterpart on his or her strengths, and in turn be mentored by a counterpart on his or her weaknesses. The result of these marriages should be more well-rounded presidents, better able to lead their congregations in these challenging times.
Known as Mentoring 360, a new program of the Orthodox Union’s Pepa and Rabbi Joseph Karasick Department of Synagogue Services, the concept is that just as one president provides information, he or she will also receive information – thus the concept of the 360 degree connection. “What goes around comes around,” declared Michael Rosner, who is both Director of the Orthodox Union’s highly successful Job Board, and the coordinator of Mentoring 360. “The title ‘360’ is due to the cyclical nature of this initiative: one synagogue president will offer his expertise in a certain area to the next president, while simultaneously receiving expert advice from yet another president.”
According to OU President Stephen J. Savitsky, once a shul president himself, “The OU has committed itself to helping synagogues, and in turn, their Jewish communities, to grow and to develop into vibrant and prosperous locations and places to live. We know that the knowledge of synagogue presidents in some areas can be utilized by other synagogue presidents throughout North America, and can mean a real difference in a community’s success.”
As a result, 40 synagogue presidents – most of them of OU shuls, but some from out of the network – are exchanging expertise by email and phone, often with complete strangers. The program is now in its pilot stage; more presidents will be signing on in the future.
In a survey of presidents, Mr. Rosner and Synagogue Services determined that the most sought-after topics for mentoring include fundraising (naturally); programming; youth department; community development; community services; board structure and membership; the synagogue building; getting the “word” out; developing political relations; event planning and web development. In the survey, the presidents evaluated their own strengths and weaknesses, thereby giving Mr. Rosner the information needed to set up the pairs. In rare cases, a president was found whose strengths dovetailed exactly with a president’s weaknesses and vice versa, so they could mentor each other without other presidents becoming involved.
So significant is the fundraising component that a special session available by computer or phone is being conducted by OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Steven Weil and Rabbi “Bunny” Friedman, Founding Director of the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network, both of whom are knowledgeable and successful fundraisers; participation is limited to the presidents currently taking part in the program. “There will be the latest techniques on how to fundraise, to keep shuls stable and to build their communities,” Mr. Rosner said.
Once survey results are thoroughly analyzed, there will be regularly scheduled teleconferences or webcasts in which, during wide-ranging discussions, presidents can address issues of importance to them, Mr. Rosner said. “These sessions will offer an open forum and opportunity for networking among presidents as well as a constant exchange of ideas,” he explained.