What an adventure traveling can be! My trip to Charleston started at 5:30 am, when I was awakened by a phone call from American Airlines telling me that my 11:25 flight was delayed until 11:55. So my 60 minutes between flights was now only 30 minutes. Lovely. I got a text from Kathy asking if I had heard, and I replied with “yes, should we change our timeline?” We decided not to. Phyllis got dropped off at my house at 7:30, we picked up Kathy 20 minutes later, and at 9:30, I dropped Phyllis and Kathy off at terminal 5. I parked the car in Lot C and caught the shuttle back and by 10:30 I had joined them at the gate.
Phyllis and Kathy had checked bags, but I just had a carry on. The flight was full, so they offered to check my bag for free. Since I was traveling with people with checked luggage, I checked mine. Big mistake.
The half hour delay became a 45 minute delay, and then an hour delay, and it became clear we were not going to make our next flight. After a smooth flight, we landed in Charlotte, North Carolina around 9:30pm. At the service desk, we learned they had put us on the 2:30 pm flight the next day. We asked about other options. They could put us on standby for the flight that was leaving at 10:20. If we didn’t make that flight, we would be rolled over to the 9:20am flight, and if we didn’t make that flight we would be rolled over to the 2:30 flight. We had also figured out that Charlotte is only 200 miles from Charleston, about a 3½ hour drive, although we were told that renting a car could be a problem.
We decided to try for the 10:20 flight and while waiting, we had dinner (American Airlines gave us vouchers.) We did not make that flight. We then tried to get seats on the 9:30 am flight, and were told that there were 3 seats. The customer service rep assigned me a seat, but when he went to assign Kathy and Phyllis seats, the seats had evaporated. Waiting for the 2:30 flight was completely unacceptable to us, so we decided to drive. American would give us rooms for the night, and at first we thought about sleeping and leaving in the morning. However, it occurred to us that although it was 11 at night, it was really only 8pm to us, and also that there would be significantly less traffic if we left at night than if we left in the morning, so we decided just to go.
Did I mention that although we didn’t make the 10:20 flight, our bags did? So we had no clothes (other than what we were wearing, of course!) On the drive down, we learned that the Charleston Airport baggage claim was closed, so there was no point in going to the airport. We also learned that American would not deliver our bags to the hotel because they did not open a ticket for our bags when we were in Charlotte.
We arrived around 2:20 am (11:20pm Pacific time) checked into our room and crashed. I woke up at 8:30 and decided not to wake anyone up, but just to go to the airport and get our bags. But both Kathy and Phyllis woke up. Since we didn’t want to shower and put on our clothes from the day before, dressing was fast. We went to airport and I was glad they were with me. I was able to stay with the car right outside baggage claim while they went in to collect the bags. As I was waiting in the car, two women emerged from the building. They looked like the type of women who would attend FLC, so I went up to them and found out that my assessment was correct. So I offered them a ride to the hotel.
I dropped everyone off at the hotel lobby and went to return the car. My phone thought I was still in LA, but I was still able to use it to get to the car rental return location. The car rental people were able to give me a ride back to the hotel. I got back to the room and took a shower, and man, did it feel great!
After lunch, we had the first set of Workshops. I went to the workshop on membership which was presented by Sharon Benoff. Before the workshop started, Sharon, who is somewhat of an energizer bunny on steroids, passed out business cards, index cards (we got our choice of vibrant colors), an outline of the workshop and tiny carabineers with an embedded compass. She also took selfies of herself with the right side of the room and with the left side of the room, exhorting us to “look alive” and saying “this is how you engage people!” (Afterwards, Smarties were passed out.)
There was lot of high level stuff that I don’t find useful, e.g., You are your group’s ambassador; Be excited about your women’s group; Go to Temple events; Directly ask women to participate; Tiered dues are a great way to raise revenue (we have tiered dues); Always invite your friends, Ask for participation; Ask people to do small tasks. Well, duh! They asked why people joined Sisterhood. Answers included: Friendship, I was new to the area, I was asked, Retired, needed something to do, Cheaper Bar Mitzvah invitations, Generational. They asked why do you stay? Answers included: Bonding, I’m appreciated, Want to get younger people in, It’s a Havourah, I want Sisterhood to continue.
The workshop’s next topic was “embarking on your membership journey.” They talked about the need to find out what is valuable to the individual, e.g., is it People, Causes, Activities, Interests? They talked about answering the question – “What’s in it for me?” Some answers: My ideas were valued and I got to make it happen; Make friends – common interests; Modeling for children; We staged a revolt, so we needed to make it work; We made the group welcoming; We made a difference.
They talked about partnering with the community (mostly the Temple community, but also the larger community) calling it “building bridges and developing connections.” They emphasized the importance of being present at congregational events. Some ideas for partnering: Challah bake with the Religious school, Put Sisterhood members on major Temple committees, Publicize their events.
They briefly talked about welcoming new members, emphasizing the importance of not doing “just one and done.” The topic turned to Sisterhood Interest groups, and they suggested surveying the congregation on what they would be interested in doing. They suggested adding to survey “Name three words that come to mind when you think of Sisterhood.”
Surveys also came up when they discussed creating your own Action Plan. They said, first, survey your members: Who are they, What do they want, When are they available, Where are they, Why are women’s groups important to them, How do they think your women’s group is doing. Then, evaluate what you are already doing: What seems to be missing? What are you already doing that is working? Where can you improve?
Surveys were discussed – they can be online or via paper. The wording is critical. Should have SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Agreed upon, Realistic, Timebound)
Thoughts for programs/interest groups: Food, Museums
Pacific District meeting.
In the Pacific District meeting, after introductions of major players and other announcements, we broke up into pairs with the goal of finding out a quality that would be useful to Sisterhood. I met Kathleen Doctor, whose name I particularly remember because of its similarity to Kathy Barker. They tried to have everyone talk about the people they met, but there were too many of us. We did take a picture of all of us.
As we walked into the opening session, we each picked a small paper from a basket. Each paper had one word on it. My word was “of.” The session started with a welcome from Blair. The Board and staff were introduced. Next was an ice breaker where we walked around trying to form grammatical sentences from our papers. I thought it was a poor ice breaker because we were focused on the papers and the sentences, and didn’t really meet each other. But then we were waiting to read our sentence and I had an excellent conversation with one of the women in my group. Not that I remember what it was about! Lastly, Joanne Fried was introduced.
Dinner was pretty disappointing if you were vegetarian. My dinner had two pieces of chicken, quinoa, and green beans. For the vegetarians, the quinoa was inside a bell pepper, which was often pretty small. I heard LOTS of complaints about the meal. I just thought it was boring.
Services were very musical – everything was sung, and there was little-to-no English. As has been true for the past few conventions, all the words were projected on screens; no printed prayers were available. I thought this worked well, the screens were large and easy to read, if a bit faded in the upper left hand corner. But I wondered whether there were people who need glasses and weren’t wearing them who had more difficulty. I thought that perhaps they should have announced at dinner that if you had vision issues, you should choose your seat during services with that in mind. There was no sermon, which surprised me. I wondered why not. Both Rabbi Esther Lederman and Songleader Debra Winter were excellent. When I was growing up, I was taught that the Sh’ma and the Ve’ahavta were essentially one prayer, and that you could stand or sit, but whatever you did for one, you did for the other. But at TAS, we always stand for the Sh’ma and sit for the Ve’ahavta. For both Friday night and Saturday morning services, we were sitting when the Sh’ma started and were not encouraged to rise. I heard people whispering “shouldn’t we stand up?” around me. Some did, and then sat down as soon as the Sh’ma ended. I think they should announce at the beginning of the service that standing and sitting customs vary regionally, and if your custom for standing or sitting during a particular prayer is different than the local custom, you are welcome to either follow your custom or the local custom, whichever makes you more comfortable.
After services, there was a song session, which I loved. Most of the women left, only about 50 stayed, and those who participated mostly stood and sang. They projected all the words on the screen, which was great.
Breakfast was at 7:45, followed by Torah study. I went to the Torah study on social justice. Torah study is not my thing, and I never get much out of it. This was no exception. But I think I was the exception in the room.
Morning services were similar to Friday night services, but with Torah reading. The Torah reader was excellent. The sermon was on pay equity (and how we need to make sure there is pay equity in our own Temple.) Also excellent!
The next workshop was on fundraising. They presented three successful fundraising projects. The first was Mishloach Manot (Purim baskets.) It was presented by Marlene Motola (firstname.lastname@example.org). I was particularly interested in this one because we had tried this and let it drop because it was too much work. So I was wondering how they overcame the issues that had stymied us.
They use HappyPurim.com, which costs 2.5% of profit up to $200. Everyone in congregation gets a box. They charge $4 to sponsor a box; or $144 to sponsor boxes for all members. Boxes are also sent to college students (unclear as to who picks up the cost). You can have one sent to someone out-of-town for $25/box plus $5 for shipping (at $5 they lose a little on the shipping.) They make their money on the people who sponsor all the boxes. They had ~100 people do this, so $14000. The boxes cost ~$1600. Very nice profit! But I don’t think we could get 100 people to sponsor, and holding the costs down to $5 would be tough.
They put about 12 items/box and they bake their own hamentashen. They have a recipe for 1500 hamentashen, which they handed out. Each department provides an item. They ask for donations. The cost per box is ~$5. This year they made 325 boxes (they have ~250 families.)
Then they got to the question that was burning in my mind. How do they deliver the boxes? Boxes are available for pickup Wed – Sunday. People who are homebound can get them delivered. If you are not homebound and don’t pick up your box, you don’t get one.
Food for thought – what if we just did this for Sisterhood members; not for entire Temple?
The next fundraiser presented was Deli Day – Texas style. It was presented by Cheryl Barenberg (email@example.com). Her Temple is in Beaumont Texas (110 families – average age = 68) and there is no deli nearby. I thought that this was a HUGE contributor to their success. They started this in 1988 and sold 200 lunches at $5 each. This year, they sold 2500 lunches at $12 each. Each lunch has a sandwich, coleslaw, chips, pickle, condiments; they make cheesecakes (wasn’t clear whether the cheesecake was extra or included.)
They emphasized the need to “deli-gate” (!) They said they don’t make any money selling the sandwiches. They make all their money on the sponsors.
The third fundraiser presented was called Mahj Madness. It was presented by Sandy Anderson (firstname.lastname@example.org). This is not a tournament, but a Mahj fun day. They said they started small – 30 people and now they are up to 110. They have the preschool decorate the boxes they use for the winnings. It is not a tournament, so no tournament rules; no time constraints; people play with friends. People are grouped according to skill levels, and they have 2-3 teaching tables. The do a Chinese auction with baskets, and they have a sliding registration scale- $36 supporter; $54 sponsor; $72 patron. People pick how much to pay. Their cost/person is about $8 and they make about $4500. They do salads for lunch. Play is from 10am to 2:30pm. There are tournaments in the community, but this is different. One Temple named their event “Mahj & Mimosas” and served Mimosas.
Two other fundraisers were briefly mentioned: Honey: this Temple has “calling parties” where they recruit people to participate (we should definitely do this!) and Holland bulbs.
Lunch was a salad with both salmon (with a dill cream sauce on the side) and thick slices of turkey (with a cranberry sauce on the side) available. I enjoyed it. The dessert didn’t look worth the calories, so I was able to convince myself to skip it. We sat by “affinity group.” Kathy and I sat at a “Presidents of Sisterhoods with 100-250 members” table. The people were nice. We brought up our donor program and asked if the other Sisterhoods at the table had something similar. None of them did, although they did think that tracking and thanking volunteers was a good idea.
Social Networking workshop
After lunch, I went to the Social Networking workshop lead by Madi Hoesten (Madihoestn19@gmail.com) and Becky Markowitz (email@example.com). They first threw out a bunch of technologies that have changed our lives: Google, Youtube, Zoom (video conferencing), Yammer, SignupGenius. Someone mentioned Whozin, which is like Signup Genius.
They then talked about how building a relationship takes work, saying “WRJ is a Contact Sport”. They said that handwritten notes are powerful, that the phone does work – we should use it to ask and listen. They said that the world and technology are changing and fast.
They talked about the power of video, how it conveys emotion and excitement, how it tells a story, conveys emotion, and is easy to share. They talked about tools that make organizing meetings easier, like Doodle or Meeting Wizard.
They gave reasons to use social media. To convey information, issue an invitation, create positive vibes. They talked about how they say it takes 3 times to connect, about how social media provides “Free” advertising, how it gives you a way to reach your friends’ friends, and how it creates FOMO – the “fear of missing out.”
They discussed using Facebook vs using a website. Facebook is short term; a website is long term. Websites are good for providing resources; Facebook is good for conversations. You have to think about whether you want it shared outside your membership.
A website is static. Information flows one way. It represents your “brand”. It can be a resource library. It is important to keep it current! They pointed out that it takes time to keep it up to date. I pointed out that Facebook takes ten times as much time as a website, and their response was that you can do Facebook on your phone and do it a few minutes here and a few minutes there.
Facebook is our “Information highway” – it creates impressions. It promotes dialog. Because it is a networking web, information spreads quickly. It allows people not present to be involved in real time.
They listed ways to advertise events: Evite, SignupGenius, Facebook, Website, Email, and other resources like Yammer, WRJ consultants, District AD or VP of marketing, Social Media chair.
Saturday evening activities
The next thing on the agenda was a bus tour of Charleston. We were loaded on buses which drove the streets of Charleston with a tour guide pointing out sights. The houses were interesting. They mostly had south-facing porches, which we were told was to catch the breeze, and provide privacy (north facing windows were few.) We saw the fort at the entrance to the bay. The tour ended at Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim. Here we heard of the history of the Temple and of Charleston and did Havdala. The Temple has beautiful stained glass windows, a balcony (which used to be where the women sat) and a high domed ceiling. I was impressed by the Temple.
We returned to the Hotel for dinner. Dinner for the meat-eaters was fish (a white fish) which I liked, and a kidney bean/pea/legume mix on a bed of rice. For the vegetarians, it was the kidney bean/pea/legume mix on a portabella mushroom, which I found odd. Why would they cut out the rice for the vegetarians? There was a basket of biscuits and corn bread muffins and another basket of pita bread. The biscuits would have been better if they were hot, but the corn bread muffins were good. Phyllis doesn’t like mushrooms, which was bad for her, because then she just had the kidney bean/pea/legume mix to eat. But it was good for me because she gave me her mushroom, and I really like mushrooms. Our table was one of the very last to get served, and they served everyone at our table except for Kathy. Then there was a very long wait before, at long last, they brought out a meal for her. I think she was the very last person in the entire room to get served. It was somewhat bizarre. Dessert service was also strange. For dessert, they brought out a plate with 4 macaroons and 4 mini-pecan pies, which was odd, because there were 10 of us at the table. One person was having fruit, but still, that still left 8 desserts and 9 of us. Again, I convinced myself that dessert didn’t look like it was worth the calories.
After dinner, the showed some short clips about the YES Fund and various programs it supports, and fredi Bleeker Franks spoke. I didn’t find her speech to be particularly moving. They also passed out lifeline pins for recently completed lifelines. They collected pledge cards and checks, but never announced how much money was raised. I was surprised that they had not arranged for someone to speak on the difference the YES Fund had made in their lives. I found the two young girls who had spoken at the Pacific District convention to be way more moving than the videos.
After dinner, a band called Nefesh Mountain played. Phyllis and Kathy left early. I stayed for a while, but then went back to the room.
Workshop on Innovation
The first workshop on Sunday talked about principles that drive strong congregations. It was led by Rabbi Esther Lederman and Stephanie Fink. They discussed five principles: Start with Why, Focus on Best Principles, not Best Practices, Have a Culture of Experimentation, Redefine Success and Work as a Team.
For the principle “Start with Why” they recommended reading the book “Start with Why” by Smon Sinek. They put up a graphic with three concentric circles. The outermost circle said “what”, the middle circle said “How” and the innermost said “Why”. The idea is that most companies start with outside and go in, i.e., What we do; then How we do it; then Why we do it, but they should start with “Why” and go out. I had an advantage that I had had exposure to this principle in Orlando. It felt good that, as people in the audience would say “our Why is such-and-so”, I would whisper to the person sitting next to me “That’s not a why that’s a how” – and then the presenter would say the same thing. The presenters said that we should look at our Mission statement and see if it a statement of how or of why.
For the principle, “Focus on Best Principles not best Practices”, they gave an illustrative example. A common current practice is to start meetings with a D’var Torah. But the principle is to bring the sacred into the Board and committee meetings. So other possible practices to do this include: Jewish Journey (not sure what this is), Chevruta study (not sure what this is either), Start the meeting on the Bimah (this one I understand), and Blessings
For the principle, “Have a Culture of Experimentation”, they suggested overcoming resistance by saying “We are trying this, but we don’t know if it will work”. They talked about the advantages, which include: Being an experiment reduces the stakes, You can run more than one experiment at the same time, and Have an obligation to monitor experiment closely (this is also a disadvantage!) They said that when deciding what experiments to try, you have to bring participants into the process. Otherwise you end up with the planners complaining, “Why won’t they come?” and the participants complaining “why won’t they offer things we care about?” They mentioned that the Rabbi at one Temple had 150 one-on-one coffee sessions with congregants in one year to find out what they care about (!) They said that surveys can be great because they are very efficient, but they are sometimes not effective – you need to talk to women.
For the principle, “Redefine Success” they said to include participant outcomes like: relationship, meaning, and impact in addition to budget and attendance. I wanted to ask, “Isn’t that just a way of defining any activity as a success regardless of whether anyone shows up?” but I held my tongue.
For the principle, “Work as a Team” the slide had three bullets: Relationships that elevate the work of leadership to a level of holiness, Relationships that are nurtured, and Relationships that are built on trust, honesty, communication, transparency, confidentiality, and reflection. Here I did speak up. I asked “how do I determine if my board is acting as a team?” They said, “You can come up with questions to determine if these things are present” and gave “Do the women know each other’s stories?” as an example.
They then talked about the concept of a Community of Practice (CoP). Communities of Practice are groups of people who share a concern or passion for something they do and learn how to do it better. The crucial characteristics are: Shared interests, a Community Network, and Participating Leaders. The reasons to do a Community of Practice include: Expertise resides in congregations, a Movement-wide interest in innovation, and Leveraging resources. Current CoPs include: Governance, Developing a culture of philanthropy (hey! TAS is trying to do this!), and LGBTQ. They briefly mentioned Active learning networks and the Audacious Hospitality Toolkit (uses Zoom; Yammer) – I want to find out more about the latter. Then we were out of time.
Workshop on Working with Youth
For my last workshop of the weekend, I went to one called “The Future of Feminism & What We can Learn from Working with Youth.” The presenters were Miriam Chilton (URJ) and Kathryn Fleisher (NFTY President). Kathryn, who must be about 18, is a very accomplished young women with more poise than most women much older than her.
They said that we were going to do an activity modeling how collaboration can happen. We broke into 5 groups. Each group got a paragraph and was asked to summarize the paragraph and explain how it relates to us and our philosophy.
Here is our summary of our paragraph: Intersectionality refers to the fact that people experience discrimination differently depending on the groups, i.e., race, gender identity, age, religion, with which they identify. Feminism needs to recognize and address the fact that individuals face and have to deal with more than gender inequality. We struggled with the paragraph and didn’t have enough time to explore what it meant to us.
At the time I didn’t understand what we were trying to accomplish with the exercise. But afterwards, I realized that each paragraph had presented a different perspective or definition of Feminism. People support or reject Feminism because of how they define it, and there isn’t just one way to define Feminism.
Then Kathryn spoke. She said: Youth don’t know much about the history of Feminism. They often reject feminism because they define feminism as radical feminism and they reject radical feminism. Others reject it because they define it as not intersectional. She was asked: Do the youth recognize that there is inequality? Answer: some do; some don’t.
We were asked: did you participate in the Woman’s March? What was your reason for participating? March was diverse in terms of participation, and also in terms of issues represented. One woman commented that in San Francisco, young women were under-represented. Discussion ensued on what groups were represented and what weren’t.
We were asked if we have conversations or outreach with young people in the congregation? We need to reach out to teens and have conversations with them. Some of the things that NFTY is doing: LGBQT, gender equality, “Know her name” – highlights women’s voices, “Stick to Love”, Racial Justice Campaign, Gun Violence Prevention/Domestic Violence.
They mentioned “#BelikeEsther” – a URJ campaign to tag things that are like the ideals that Esther stands for.
I had a thought – we should do a program on being non-binary where we bring in TASTY people to talk to Sisterhood – Talk to Keshet.
I stayed late at the last workshop to talk to Kathryn so I came in late to the speech by Karla Goldman. I had a hard time catching up. I think it was mostly inspirational – believe in yourself, you can do it, go forth and conquer, etc. We had an exercise in the middle where we were supposed to come up with the biggest challenge to WRJ (my group said: getting millenials to participate.)
Kathryn Fleisher (the NFTY president) spoke to thank us for our support. She is an amazing young woman and an excellent speaker. She got a standing ovation.
They then announced that FLC 2018 will be in Nashville, TN, March 1-4. They mentioned that Purim will happen during FLC 2018.
My overall impressions
We laughed a lot – like when they asked the audience for what WRJ’s greatest challenge is, and one person stood up and said, “I don’t know what we’re talking about but I just became a grandma for the first time!” Like when they put the words to the next song on the screen and the words were “Yai, lai, lai, lai, lai, lai, lai, yai, lai, lai lai lai, lai, yai, lai, lai, lai, lai, yai, lai, lai, lai, lai.” Like when they did the blessing over the wine for Havdala and there was nothing in the wine cup, and the woman on the bema turned the cup over to let us know what was causing the buzz on the bema.
In the program book, at the top (or bottom) of each page put the date and time frame that the things on that page are for. I spent a lot of time paging back and forth to find the day and time I was interested in.
Put email addresses for workshop presenters in the Program book.
For services, we were sitting when the Sh’ma started and were not encouraged to rise. I heard people whispering “shouldn’t we stand up?” around me. Some did, and then sat down as soon as the Sh’ma ended. I suggest they announce at the beginning of the service that standing and sitting customs vary regionally, and if your custom for standing or sitting during a particular prayer is different than the local custom, you are welcome to either follow your custom or the local custom, whichever makes you more comfortable.
I thought it was smart to print Birkat HaMazon in the program book, but a reminder to bring our program books to dinner would have been good. I didn’t bring my program book to dinner Friday night, so I didn’t have it.
Have Photo booths
What I miss now that we don’t do Assembly during Biennial
Speakers like Anat Hoffman, Illyse Hogue, Ruth Messinger, Rabbi David Wolfson, Lilly Ledbetter
6 points Sci-Tech academy
Major Jewish rock singers performing every night.
Services with 5000 people.