Our Temple President Just Turned 40!

by Rabbi Erin Polansky

Our temple president just turned 40 – but those are not words commonly heard in synagogue boardrooms. In his second year of leadership and our congregation’s second year of existence, Neshamah Congregation’s president has just celebrated his fortieth birthday.

Why is this noteworthy? Because while other congregations are bemoaning the disappearance of young people from its ranks, our congregation’s board is governed almost exclusively by leaders in their 30s and 40s.

Like many of our board members, our president, Jeremy, does not consider himself a religious person. In fact, he was not a shul-goer before volunteering to steer our congregation.

Instead, he was motivated by the desire to create something meaningful and lasting for his children. Jeremy wanted to see a religious school that would excite and engage his children, and he wanted it to be part of a congregation that would excite and engage its members – without bringing along the baggage and heavy burden of membership that is felt in so many of the older, more established synagogues. Jeremy coined our congregation’s tagline: “The traditions we grew up with for today’s world.”

In addition to working full-time at a demanding career, Jeremy is an active father to his two children (Ryan, 11, and Erika, 8) and a supportive partner to his wife Robin, also a Neshamah Congregation board member.He loves to golf, play softball, and travel – yet Jeremy still finds the time to schlep equipment out of his garage to help set up for Friday night services, meet with venue owners to arrange rental contracts, shepherd us through the process of becoming members of the URJ, oversee our financial situation, meet with our lawyers and auditors, and speak to members when they have concerns or want to make special financial accommodations. And he does this all with a smile.

Jeremy is not a prophet. He is a dedicated member of our community, working to create something meaningful for all of us. And just this month, Jeremy was recognized by the City of Vaughan for a Volunteer Recognition Award.

There are other Jeremys out there in congregations, but they are not stepping forward. Neshamah has managed to inspire young leaders to spend time and energy creating something new and exciting in several ways:

  • We’re not afraid to try new things
  • We don’t try to sell anyone anything they’re not interested in buying
  • We believe in high-quality product with low overhead
  • We capitalize on the energy and creativity of our members.

When a young person expresses a complaint, if challenged, s/he can probably think of a solution or at least a possibility to try. I guarantee you, s/he can tell you why the current situation is not working. Neshamah listens to those ideas and challenges its leaders to see them to fruition. We work together to make those dreams into reality.

Those of us in our 30s and 40s do not want to spend months and years studying a phenomenon, interviewing constituents, engaging consultants, and coming up with possible solutions. We want to point and click. We know what we need; we know what our children need. We need to be able to start from scratch and build what is meaningful to us. We want to be empowered to think creatively and not to be held back.

This can be done within the context of an established synagogue. It doesn’t have to be “something from nothing,” like Neshamah was.

If a synagogue is willing to take a risk and trust the intuition and commitment of younger, less knowledgeable, less seasoned leaders, the rewards will be immeasurable!

Rabbi Erin Polansky serves Neshamah Congregation of York Region in Vaughan, Ontario, Canada.

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2 Responses to “Our Temple President Just Turned 40!”

  1. avatar
    Sandy Leibovitz Reply June 3, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    As the mother in law of the president, let me say congratulations Jeremy. You are everything that Rabbi Erin says, and more . A recognition well deserved !!

  2. Larry Kaufman

    I don’t find it remarkable that a new ongregation built “far de kinder” should have young leadership — we build best when we build to meet our own needs, and not the perceived needs of others. But our own needs must include those of the adults, not just the kids. The synagogue should be neither pediatric nor geriatric. With over four decades of synagogue governance under my my belt, I’ve learned the two killer phrases: We can’t do that, we’ve never done it before, and We can’d do that, we tried it 20 years ago and it didn’t work.

    As a proponent of constant and careful text study, I suggest an exercise for congregation wherever they are in their own life cycles and demographics: hold a facilitated discussion on the simple (or not so simple) text, The old shall dream dreams and the young shall see vision, Develop a congregational plan that capitalizes on the strengths of the old and of the young, and on the difference between a dream and a vision.

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