22 March, 2011

The e-word

I was quite shocked to receive the letter from the CoM advising of the formation of a new Shul Committee for the Yeshivah Shul. I was aware of some of the things that were happening in the background in recent months, and was even one of the people who took part in what might be very loosely called a "focus group", referred to in the letter. Considering how long the CoM have had to consider this, and how many aborted attempts there have been, the whole things looks quite lame to me. You call this governance?

Based on the ownership structures currently in place, neither people who daven in the shul on a regular basis nor seatholders have any rights whatsoever. However, any moral (or halachic) rights we may have, or any moral (or halachic) obligation the CoM might have for transparency and accountability is clearly held with scant regard by those in power.

They claim to "encourage greater community participation" but it always has been and has to be on their terms. Members (and I use the term loosely - the term has no legal sense and is only tolui in hergesh) have been screaming for more participation for many years, yet time and again have given up after banging their heads against the wall that is the CoM. Now, they expect everyone to come running? Has anything really changed?

And what of "succession planning"? What is the average tenure of a CoM member? What process was used in the past to appoint new members? If they ever did accept fresh blood into the committee, they would be more like fresh meat to sharks in terms of their position on the committee relative to all the others. I have had the experience of being on the board of a large Jewish not-for-profit where several members had been there for over twenty years. Fortunately in that case, those people were kindly asked to move on, and a managed process of succession was put in place - a regular flow of new people and ideas in. Are they suggesting a staged retirement for existing members to make room for new ones? I doubt it.

The CoM expect us to believe that volunteering in their new committees will "create and foster a new generation of lay leadership". Newsflash: two generations of talented lay leadership have already been sufficiently disenfranchised to either give up or just find other organizations who value them and where they can make a contribution.

They claim that service on these committees "is a pathway for people with appropriate skills ... to be appointed to the CoM". What skills do the existing members have? Are they prepared to even articulate the sort of skills they are seeking and an open process of selection? No - all power to the existing CoM, now and forever.

What irks me most is the self-righteous tone of the communication. Bandying around buzz words like "succession planning", "reform" & "spirit of goodwill" just ring hollow to most members. They even chose not to use the "e-word" (election) anywhere in the entire document. And all of this hides behind the official party line of doing this for the betterment of our Moisdos. What have they done to make our Moised better in the last twenty years? Would anyone say it is better?

To summarize, it almost sounds like the Khartoum Resolution that followed the Six Day War:

  • No membership
  • No collaboration
  • No respect
Revolutions against autocracies are happening as we speak in the Middle East. Even the leftist, apologist  Obama acknowledged that "the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed … are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support this everywhere". No-one is asking for a no-fly zone over the Yeshivah; just a standard of governance that reflects contemporary values and indeed Jewish values. 

Unlike than this bottom-up tinkering, any genuine reform has to be built using principles at the top, and let everything flow down from that. As the old proverb says, a fish rots from the head. There is no sign of any change as far as that goes.

3 comments:

m trebish said...

David
I agree with nearly everything you say.
However you will agree that none of us are likely to use the court system to seek redress. Neither is anybody likely to try a have the issues dealt with by way of a Din Torah.
The option of going to the court of public opinion via the printed media or the electronic media invites more ridicule of the Mosdos and serious minded people are not interested in the general community becoming privy to all this unsavoury publicity. In addition by going public large donors the mosdos might think twice about continuing to contribute.

Even what you have written is not likely to make a change other than perhaps convincing all mispallelim not to volunteer.

I am therefore wondering if anything can be gained by seeking out people who want to have genuine reform organizing themselves into a formal group that will field say 5 reform minded people as candidates. This will force an election for the very loosely defined shule committee and will ensure that it will have serious minded reformers on the committee.
I may be very naive but I think it will be very hard for the CoM to block the wishes of a committee that has been elected by the seat holders.

are any of your readers interested enough in reform at the yeshivah to get together and explore if the latest plan of the CoM, flawed as it is, as something that could form the basis of a grass roots group to work towards reforms?

The Repenting Jewess said...

See my friend's telling comment sent to my blog:

"Well argued & wriiten. My take on this shul election announcement timing is that it is a diversion tactic by the main yeshiva centre board. They know there have been mutterings about democracy & accountability, more recently there was Bruce Cooke's letter to AJN about YC lack of accountability & the CY building investigation makes people think "how did this happen". Of course the obvious answer is decisions made at the top were wrong. So they can throw this shul election bone out to say 'we are changing' without actually risking any of their centralized power over the Centre & it's $$$ and they can drag this out for a while until the issue of accountability is pushed to the background by another issue"

Anonymous said...

ss, perhaps you can can shed some light on what your friend is referring to when friend says 'well argued and wriiten...', I couldn't find any reference to shule election on your blog?