So this week was a good first week. Great first day, wonderful first service last night (everyone was really lovely and happily overlooked my multiple snafus), and a lovely first meet & greet at Esther and Paul Timmeney's house in Chalfont.
Meet & Greets are essential to the transition process for any clergy person. I did a bunch when I became assistant rabbi at Shir Ami and I'm doing 11 or so here at CBE. I see it as a first date with the congregants; a chance for people to get to know me and ask me questions, as well as a chance for me to know the individuals in the community better. It is not, as Bill Kahn and Terry Bookman point out, an opportunity to understand the gestalt of a congregation nor to start formulating a vision for the community. That happens after a lot more work and energy getting to know people and their values, the congregation itself and its history and traditions, and really living in the congregation in a meaningful way. Sure, I might have ideas at this stage (mostly based on my personal vision of my rabbinate), but it would be the epitome of hubris for me to redact any kind of meaningful agenda after getting to know a self-selected group of congregants in my first summer.
It is a chance to ask questions, though, and, as I said, to get to know one another better. I thought the questions on Wednesday night at the Timmeney's were great: probing, respectful, curious and helpful for creating a framework of exploration for all of us. Sadly, I was so caught up answering others' questions I forgot to ask my own!
So here's my question (and it's the same two I'll ask at every M&G): Why did you join CBE (or your own congregation)? And why are you still a member?
The reason I ask those questions is pretty basic: it's self-evident at this point in Jewish history that the days of affiliation for its own sake are long gone. People belong to a shul (or JCC, or chavurah, or whatever) because of a sense of need and belonging; that is, the congregation (using that as a baseline) fulfills something for the individual member and allows the individual member to fulfill something in others. Joining a synagogue is a consumer act, on face value ("I joined to have my kids 'bar mitzvahed'", "I joined because my family always belonged here", "I joined because I liked the Cantor", etc.), but staying a member is an act that transcends simple needs fulfillment and enters the realm of community building.
So, for those of you reading out there, riddle me this: why do you belong to the community you belong to (be it Shir Ami, CBE, or another one) and what compels you to stay?