Reflections from the National Association of Temple Administration (NATA) Conference.

Over the last two-plus years of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have applauded institutions both secular and non-secular for how they have “pivoted” or been “flexible.”

Jason Plotkin
Jason Plotkin

As our synagogues have emerged from this pandemic reality, our clergy, administrators and lay leaders have found themselves trying to assess what the new needs of our communities are.

Change has not always been a strong suit of our Jewish houses of worship as we often find ourselves falling into habitual norms, but the desires and priorities of our congregants have shifted over time and so must we do the same.

In early November, I attended the National Association of Temple Administration (NATA) conference in Clearwater, Florida, where the theme was “Surfing Through the Waves.” What greeted the over 150 synagogue administrators was the “waves of change” as the conversation focused not on the path from which we emerged but the route we must take forward.

In December 2019, at the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Biennial held in Boston, the URJ Vice President for Strengthening Congregations Amy Asin addressed the thousands in attendance. Asin shared, “Why talk so much about change? Because the decision to stay the same is a decision to allow the synagogue model to fade away.”

Unbeknownst to Asin at the time was the forthcoming COVID pandemic and the early ripples of a wave that had an unknown direction for us all.

taking action

While this was the second in-person NATA conference since the onset of COVID with a third in 2020 held completely digital, we all knew that the change that Asin spoke of almost three years ago was never more prevalent that it would be now.

Synagogues, along with their lay leaders and clergy have had no choice but to make dynamic adjustments over the last few years.

These “waves” have been felt across the spectrum of institutional life from worship to membership, staffing to physical spaces.

My timing as the new executive director at Temple Israel could not have come at a better time for the synagogue as it determines which way to head.

As the “new guy on the block,” having just moved to Michigan roughly six months ago to take this post, I came in with an understanding of the pulse nationally while also arriving with a fresh lens on everything having not experienced anything associated with Temple Israel prior to my arrival.

We know at the center of any meaningful change is the sacred partnership between lay leaders, clergy and staff members.

At Temple Israel, we intend to be at the forefront of this movement and these conversations are occurring every time we come together, all the while being mindful of how we can weave our rich history and traditions into the dialogue.

Between a move to a membership structure that is focused on relationships to putting together a listening campaign for subsets of our congregation, our business model is shifting to one whose core is built on relationships.

There is so much to reframe in our synagogues and no “one shoe” fits all sizes.

Like my other temple administration colleagues, we are all finding our own ways to ride these “waves of change.”

Jason Plotkin has served as executive director of Temple Israel since June 2022. A member of the National Association of Temple Administration (NATA), Plotkin is also a past president of the Program & Engagement Professionals of Reform Judaism (PEP-RJ) and a former member of the North American Board (NAB) of the Union for Reform Judaism.

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