Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Of Synagogue Presidents, Part III: President as Uber-Volunteer

We've said that the relationship between Rabbi and President is endangered by two major factors: The vagueness of the president’s job description, and the overlap between the jobs of rabbi and president.

To my mind, and from my experience, a simple solution from the rabbi’s side is for the rabbi to give the president plenty of space to create his own job, even as he is cognizant of the red-line boundaries which must not be crossed.

I say this because I view the president as an Ubervolunteer. You know what I mean when I say Ubervolunteer: The people who spend hours every week, all year round, working on the kiddush. Gabbaim who care enough about their job to make sure that everyone in the shul gets an aliyah as often as possible. House committee members who come out to mop up leaks and change light bulbs. The president, if he does his job right, is an UberUberUbervolunteer (Ubervolunteer3, if you will), so treat him like it.

This means:
Value the president, and let him know he is valued.
Allow him a lot of freedom, just as when you delegate to anyone else.
Assume the best of intent, not the worst.
Be gentle!

This solves the Vagueness of the presidential job description - the president gets to develop his job as he sees fit, and to the best of his strengths.

This solves the Overlap issue - the president can have his input wherever he feels necessary, and the rabbi retains his autonomy where he needs it.

This isn’t always simple, of course:
There’s a lot of deep-seated psychological baggage involved for both rabbi and president; I know presidents who look at rabbis and see their fathers. I've heard it's almost an Oedipal thing sometimes, which can get a little spooky. Telling lashon hara about your rabbi to get back at your domineering father, talking in shul to work off your frustration with your mother...

And then, on the other hand, I know rabbis who look at presidents and see schoolyard bullies and abusers past. That's a bad one, when you look at someone who's just trying to help and all you can see is Shmully Mxyzptlk, who beat you up in the sandbox back in third grade. Get help, please.

It’s also tough because the president is, technically, an employer, which can create heavy tension for the rabbi/employee. What if the president decides to cross a red-line, and doesn’t take it well when the rabbi tries to limit his actions?

Nonetheless, I believe that the rabbi is best served by knowing his red-lines and ceding as much of the rest as he can. Of course, I have violated that rule any number of times... But I’ve muddled through on the strength of these principles.

Coming soon, we still need Synagogue Presidents IV:
The President as Employer, Partner, Congregant
What happens when a president makes a mistake

What happens when a rabbi makes a mistake (as if!)


  1. "Mxyptlk"

    Aren't you missing a "z" in there?

    (This is a job for ... super-rabbi!)