There is an article by Yossi Aron in the AJN (also reposted in comments below) that reignites a favourite soapbox topic that I have previously addressed on this blog.
I used to agree wholeheartedly with the position outlined, that our shules need to transition their administration from voluntary to professional roles. In the USA there are tremendous facilities that support activity and growth due to the full time accountability associated with employment. The resources are in place to ensure that communal activity is cohesive, far reaching, and all encompassing.
As Reb Yossi points out, Shules can be small to medium sized businesses. This analogy cannot be dismissed. If you look at the functions of facility management, accounts, communications, governance, sourcing supplies etc etc, then there is a modicum of activity that would not be out of place in the structure of any Small to Medium Enterprise.
However in recent times I have had second thoughts about the idealism of professional shule administration, particularly in the Australian context where there are only a small number of Shules with the financial resources to justify a full time administrative executive.
At the end of the day there is still the matter of community. Community is contingent on volunteerism. In the same way that you cannot run your family like a business, so too, you cannot make your community a commercial enterprise. There has to be give and take. A professional body means that the membership are all about take, and there is no need to give. Put another way, a community that is a not-for-profit enterprise organisation is a community without a natural heart.
It is true that in any communal settings some people are unfairly burdened, over-extended, and do more than others for the sake of ensuring that goodwill prevails. Often it is these people, communal stalwarts, that are unable to find a means of succession, and are left for years, if not decades, with a huge voluntary responsibility. When the time comes for someone to take over, and nobody can be found, suddenly it is discovered that a remunerable position is required.
We live in an age where volunteerism is hard to sustain. The cost of living and the need for family committment overtake our capacity to serve publicly. But I am starting to realise that solving this issue with a structured business mentality is not the best form of response.
I would argue that if a community cannot resource itself to socially provision for its needs on a voluntary basis, then it does not deserve to be a community. Paying somebody to do a job is nice if you can afford it, but it loses the personal connection that is required in a community setting. It also introduces politics, as the employer-employee relationship then requires definition. Jewish communities are not well reputed for getting this balance right.
People also need to feel valued. In a community, if you look long and hard enough, often people are more than happy to be involved, but they are either not approached, not valued, or not given the true opportunity to contribute. By that I mean the archtypical committee where the acclaim and credit is taken by one person who manages to get other people to work while they stand in the limelight. Volunteers often need to be able to inject creative worth, guide outcomes, and inject individual style in order to acheive in a communal setting.
Both sides of the argument have merit. Perhaps elements of both voluntary and professional guidance are needed, and the balance will change for each and every shule. One thing is for sure and that is that the current models of Shule administration in Australia are not delivering effective growth or the optimum level of output commensurate to a Shules resource base.
As always your thoughts are welcome.