Tuesday, June 12, 2012

In praise of beer at annual meetings

"So B. and I were thinking about getting beer? Thoughts?"

Believe it or not, this was the text I got an hour before our annual meeting from S., a board member and one of the organizers. 

Now, let me explain. 

This year, our intrepid president Jan decided that our normal format for the annual meeting (weeknight, light dessert, no one comes) should be eschewed in favor of a Saturday night Havdallah picnic, outdoors, complete with grilling (we own a grill as a congregation for such events). We'd had barbecues for the beginning and end of school, and Selichot, so it wasn't out of the realm of possibility, and most people thought it was a Very Good Thing. So good, in fact, that we had 100 RSVPs and the membership committee made it into a prospective member event. 

So we were planning on a casual evening, with beautiful weather, a camp-style Havdallah service, and goodies on the grill, when this text came in. 

My response was immediate: "Sure!" And so there was beer at the annual meeting, or rather, the picnic that proceeded it. 

I'm sure there are those who would poo-poo such a thing, encouraging drunkenness (I think a few people had all of two beers, and that was the max) but let me tell you why it was a good idea. 

Our tradition is one that believes in moderation (go as Maimonides), and beer in moderation is something that adults enjoy. More than that, seeing the beer, even if people didn't imbibe, signaled to people that this was more like a family gathering--a reunion or summer barbecue--than a stuffy, formal 'synagogue' event. It's not about the alcohol, it's about the tone that's set, and seeing a Sam Adams Summer ale in the hands of the rabbi (or one of our oldest members) signaled to people that they could let their hair down and relax a little, and behave as if they're in someone's backyard and not an 'annual meeting'. 

And it did have a backyard feel: kids running around and playing, older 'family' members reminiscing (some with a bottle in hand), a wonderful mix of longtime and our newest (and even some prospective) members milling about and sharing with one another. 

I'm not saying we need beer at everything (though I think it would make our onegs more interesting!); what I am saying is that an annual meeting--or any gathering at the synagogue--should have that feeling of family and friends and neighbors coming together--COMMUNITY coming together, and sometimes you need simple signifiers--like what's available to drink--to help people achieve that sense of belonging. Or, to misquote Ben Franklin: Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. 

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