The ‘gratitude’ of shul shareholders

  • howard feldman
I was unsurprisingly late for shul. And because I was rushing I got caught behind two senior female members of the congregation who were in front of me on the makeshift path that led towards the entrance.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Sep 14, 2017

The ladies were deep in conversation and there was little chance that I could manoeuvre around what seemed to be the latest models of titanium walkers that they were sporting.

They were “tut-tutting” as they ambled and gestured at the construction that had caused the need for the temporary pathway. “No progress since last week!” said the one shaking her head, clearly unimpressed. The other, agreeing with her said: “It’s quite remarkable. The builders must be paid by the hour.”

The background to this non-event is that the shul is remodelling the area where it holds the kiddush (brocha) each week. There is no danger that either of the seniors in front of me were either funding the project, being asked to manage it, or were participating as brick-layers.

Their involvement will unquestionably be limited to attending the kiddush where they will note the poor behaviour of the children, the unacceptable quality of the herring and that sushi is a waste of community funds.

“It’s no wonder,” they will note in a few weeks’ time when enjoying the new piazza that shul fees (which they most likely don’t pay) are so expensive.

The reality is such. Shuls don’t have members, they have shareholders. Active ones. And whereas they might never actually pay for the shares, their expectations are massive. Much like the SA Jewish Report has a community of editors, not readers.In a quest to understand the challenges of managing the shul “company” shareholders, I asked our community chairman to name one thing he never hears from members. He didn’t pause to breathe before answering:

“Thank you! I never hear that.” Then he did (pause). And he said: “Or maybe it’s ‘How did they get the seating so right for Yomtov?’”

I could see he was about to launch into a list of other unheard comments like:

“Wow, the air-con and shul temperature was so pleasant this year!”

But his voice had gone up an octave and he was clearly becoming hysterical. So, I left before he broke down and sobbed from the overwhelming pressure of it all. I do feel a bit guilty about opening him up emotionally and then leaving him in the lurch.

I was going to ask the rabbi the same question. But I already knew what his answer would be: “The sermon was the perfect length, it was easy to hear you and of course, your rebbetzin is so involved it is truly wonderful.”

He might even have ended with: “It’s fantastic that you knew I had a head cold and that you called me to find out how I was even though I passively aggressively didn’t mention it because I wanted to test your love for me.”

The treasurer’s answer was exactly as I would have imagined:

“Where do I pay?”

And: “I can’t believe that I get such good value for money from my shul membership. You provide daily services, employ spiritual leaders, youth leaders, cleaning staff, you feed us at the kiddush, provide goodies for our children, you invite guest speakers and make sure that the siddurim and facilities in the shul are well-functioning.

“What is amazing is that most of you are volunteers. Gosh - we should be paying double!”

The strange thing is that our Facebook feeds are filled with messages about gratitude. I even have a list of 40 “inspiring motivational quotes” about the very subject for anyone interested. They include gems like: “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it, is like wrapping a present and not giving it”, and “You cannot do kindness too soon because you never know how soon it will be too late!”

The High Holidays are no joke. Not for the rabbi, not for his wife, not for the chazan and not for the committee of the shul.

It’s rough out there. Perhaps this year at least we should try and cut them some slack, complain only half the amount we normally do and understand that the construction site, like our titanium walkers, won’t last forever.


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