[This week’s Haveil Havalim, hosted by the incredible Jack, is here]
On the way to the beis medrash for night seder on Sunday, I caught a few minutes of the Super Bowl on the radio. [After the Jets were knocked out two weeks ago, I wasn't going to spend real time on the game...]
The announcers repeatedly emphasized “hidden yardage” – yards that one team lost, or the other team gained, indirectly. Penalties. Mistakes on plays. Dropped passes. These moments change a team’s field position, or turn the ball over to the other side, in ways that are not necessarily obvious. [Note: This is not the technical usage of "hidden yardage" expressed by Bill Parcells and others. For more on that term, see this page.]
Shuls have their hidden yardage, too, as they try to build their communities:
• The person who calls the shul office to find out about the area before moving in, and is given a cold reception
• The family who comes to the shul for the first time, and can’t find the restroom or the women’s entrance or the library because of poor signage
• The woman who wants to come to classes, but doesn’t receive clear or attractive publicity material
• The man who has been stopping in to say kaddish for years, but has never been greeted with a warm Hello by the people who are there
• The family who stopped paying dues because of economic hardship, and who were simply dropped from the rolls instead of being called by a concerned person who might have arranged for them to stay on, or even to receive a loan (for their needs, not for the dues) from the Rabbi’s Benevolent Fund.
Building a community requires looking for these opportunities, leaving nothing on the table.
One shul president of mine called these “low-hanging fruit,” a different analogy for the same phenomenon. There is so much we can do to build, if only we take advantage of these opportunities. It’s up to us - rabbis, shul presidents, boards, congregations - to do it.
[PS We certainly have hidden yardage in our lives, too – at work, in our families, in raising children, and so on. We miss opportunities to resolve disputes. We respond harshly when a soft tongue would have accomplished more. We squander chances to get together with family and friends. But that's a post for another time.]