Let’s Talk Turkey: Thanksgiving Ideas for Congregational Boards

Thanksgiving is next month (or this month for our Canadian friends) and while it is not a Jewish holiday, you and your board can still use the essence of the holiday – giving thanks – as an impetus for recognizing the dedication of folks within your congregational community.

Many congregations rely on the hard work of board and committee members and volunteers to make their synagogue run.  These people donate their time and energy, even though no one has enough of it, to strengthen the congregation and thus should be thanked. Here are a few examples (all taken from the Communicate! database) of how some Reform congregations recognize and give thanks to their leaders and volunteers.

  • At Temple Anshe Hesed of Erie, PA, they have begun a Mitzvah Maker program which was designed to reward the volunteers who serve behind the scenes and often go unrecognized.  (Monetary contributions are never a criterion.) Congregants nominate unsung volunteers and the synagogue’s Tikkun Olam Committee picks winners in four categories:  youth; young adults; seniors; and staff members. (See Communicate 2579)
  • One volunteer appreciation program wouldn’t suffice for Temple Beth Or of Everett, WA,:  This congregation has two ways of thanking volunteers! The first is through a Volunteer Shabbat, during which the rabbi talks about how integral volunteers’ efforts are to the synagogue; the volunteers’ names are also printed in that week’s Shabbat bulletin as well as in the monthly bulletin.  The other program is administered by the congregation’s president.  Twice a year the president chooses an individual who has made an outstanding contribution of time and energy to the congregation.  This volunteer is then lauded at the semi-annual meeting and his or her name is engraved on a dedicated “volunteer plaque.” (See Communicate 2077)
  • Congregation Beth Tikvah of Worthington, OH, says thank you by holding an annual Volunteer Dinner and Celebration, which includes Shabbat dinner and entertainment. The highlight of the evening is a caught-in-the-act-of-volunteering photo-filled slide show.  The photos are preserved on DVD and played on a large monitor during oneg. (See Communicate 2510)
  • Keep in mind that it may not just be people in your congregational community who deserve thanks – it may be folks or organizations in your community at-large: Temple Beth Torah of Melville, NY, conducts an interfaith Thanksgiving service with a local Lutheran church.  This church made its building available for Saturday morning worship and b’nei mitzvah services to Temple Beth Torah when the synagogue was just beginning and didn’t yet have its own building.  Over the years, the relationship between Temple Beth Torah and the church has grown and now they jointly host a Thanksgiving service – a great way of giving thanks to one another for being good neighbors and positive forces in the community. (See Communicate 1464)

How does your congregation or board make Thanksgiving meaningful?

And don’t forget: This year, the second night of Hanukkah will overlap with Thanksgiving, resulting in the phenomenon known as… Thanksgivukkah! We’ve got resources to help you, your family, and your whole congregation celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime hybrid holiday. Visit ReformJudaism.org for recipes, e-cards, and more!

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Kate Bigam

About Kate Bigam

Kate Bigam is the URJ's Social Media and Community Manager. Prior to this, she served as a Congregational Representative for the URJ's East District and at the Religious Action Center as Press Secretary and as an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. Kate resides in Northeast Ohio.

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