Monday, February 7, 2011

Lesson from the Super Bowl: Hidden Yardage

[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.]


  1. In 1978 my wife and I moved to Long Island because of my new job, and I picked one winter Shabbos to try out the Young Israel of North Bellmore. Joe Polansky, Rabbi Gorelik and the others I met welcomed me warmly, which set our family in a Jewishly positive direction from then on.

  2. Perfect example, thanks. I davened in that shul a few times over the years; Rabbi Gorelik was great.

  3. Brett Keisel a Breslov Chasid

  4. Great post.

    I'd just like to say that if a person can't find the restroom (or whatever) it isn't a problem of signage.

    Before every event - services, classes, weddings, whatever - there should be at least one person at the front door, wearing a synagogue nametag, greeting people and answering their questions. I do this a lot at my synagogue, and it makes a huge difference.