ReThinking Synagogues: A New Vocabulary for Congregational Life

Article excerpt

ReThinking Synagogues: A New Vocabulary for Congregational Life, by Lawrence A. Hoffman. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2006. 225 pp. $19.99.

At the beginning of the 21st century, congregational life has changed. Yet synagogue boards complain that they are having the same conversation over and over without change or an end in sight. ReThinking Synagogues challenges congregations to change the conversation from what we do to why we do it, from what works to what counts, from surface changes to building a deep foundation, and from adding on more programs to changing the structure to respond to the essence and meaning of why we are here as a synagogue community.

Rabbi Larry Hoffman, professor of Liturgy, Worship and Ritual at Hebrew Union College -Jewish Institute of Religion, New York partnered with Ron Wolfson, Vice President and Director of the Whizin Center for the Jewish Future at the University of Judaism to create Synagogue 2000 (now 3000), an experiment in changing congregational culture. This book, and Ron Wolfson's book, The Spirituality of Welcoming: How to Transform Your Congregation into a Welcoming Community (Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2006), are an outgrowth of Hoffman's work in congregations with the Synagogue 2000 program.

Hoffman's vision for the synagogue of the future is about "doing synagogue differently." He challenges lay leaders as well as Jewish professionals to effect congregational transformation, based on six tasks, or PISGAH - Prayer, Institutional Change, Study, Good Deeds, Ambience of the Sacred, and Healing. Synagogue 2000 insists that the synagogue has to be God-centered, a Sacred Community, meaning that everything - relationships, agenda, activities, debate - in a synagogue community has to be purposefully dedicated to the recognition of God's reality. It is a "conscious theologizing of synagogue life." Hoffman relates that this had enormous consequences because it insisted that Jewish gathering alone was not enough of a reason for synagogues to exist. Other Jewish organizations are very successful at bringing in the Jews. …