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First female chairman of Constantia Shul

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Hayley Pogrund has been elected the first woman chairman of the Constantia Hebrew Congregation in its 34-year history. Though not the first female member to occupy this position in an Orthodox synagogue, the occurrence is sufficiently rare as to be noteworthy.
by MOIRA SCHNEIDER | Feb 02, 2017

Pogrund cut her communal service teeth as chairman of her sons’ nursery school for five years over a decade ago and was, she says, “looking for something to do” aside from her voluntary work for Nechama. A newcomer to the shul committee, she has been catapulted straight into the top job.

Undaunted, Pogrund is brimming over with enthusiasm and plans for the shul. An information technology professional, she has an honours degree in computer science from UCT. Her work involved developing systems and problem-solving and she sees this as tying in with her new role.

“It’s almost like stepping into a company and doing a consultancy (seeing) where you can improve it. My aim is not to just keep things ticking the way they are - I want to try and turn things around, to try and make (the shul) a place where people want to go - and not only on Shabbat and Yomtov.”

First up is the shul’s public relations which she says “needs a bit of a shake-up. We’re looking at getting the website reinstated, possibly a Facebook page and regular communication with the members from me in the newsletter to keep the community involved; communication is key,” she stresses.

Reflecting on her new role, she says that in certain respects, a “paradigm shift” will be necessary.

“One of the first questions when I became chairman was: ‘Who’s going to stand on the bimah on Shabbos?’ So what if it’s not a chairman that does it, that’s just what’s traditionally happened.

“I don’t feel side-lined by not doing that,” she adds. “It’s merely a perfunctory role.”

As for the prohibition against women addressing the congregation during the service, this could be done at the brocha, she says.

Pogrund has experienced “absolutely no antagonism” to her election, despite being warned of this possibility by a male committee member. On the contrary, she says “the enthusiasm from the community has been absolutely amazing”.

On the role of the shul in the lives of its members, she feels that it serves as one’s extended family. Education features very strongly in her plans with additional programmes in the pipeline.

Another “huge area” of focus will be children and the youth, along with the employment of a new youth director. Youth lunches and afternoon games on Shabbos are also envisaged to retain the elusive post-bar- and batmitzvah age group.

As for the adult members, monthly get-togethers ranging from a Ladies’ Rosh Chodesh Club, a Friday night supper or purely social events are planned. Also envisioned is a survey to gauge what the congregation wants in a shul; what would make them come to shul if they are not already doing so.

“One of the things about Constantia Shul is that it crosses borders of social status and wealth,” Pogrund remarks. “One becomes friendly and one realises that one can connect with people of a different age group, a different social status - I think it’s a huge advantage.”

Rabbi Kalman Green, spiritual leader of the congregation, comments: “We asked Hayley Pogrund to become the chairman of our congregation and committee because she is supremely qualified for the job, is excited about doing it and has a tremendous track record in clear thinking and concern about what goes on in the community and to be perfectly blunt, the gender had nothing to do with the choice at all.”

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