The AGM season – Annual General Moanfest

Before I launch into the inevitable tirade that you are about to read, I would like to put a disclaimer at the front.  These remarks are general in nature and not specific to any one shule in Perth.  I have attended two AGM’s and have spoken to a member of another shule about their AGM, so this combined action research represents three of our religious bodies.

Like most well intentioned community members, I like to have a positive attitude towards the administrative duties that communal life entails.  However at this time of year a strange mentality strikes the spirit of many of our communities in a pythonesque sort of way.  First we become stooges, lamenting the power weilded by our elected officials to make decisions on our behalf, to the point where we challenge those matters that have no doubt been poured over for hours on end.   Then we become experts in financial management, ripping apart accounts and doing all we can to try and work out exactly how much the Rabbi gets paid.  Then we simply become the critics, like the two old men from the muppets, complaining about anything that we can conjure up in the way of a procedural issue. 

I’d like to put some things in perspective

  • Most of the problems encountered by our Shules are nice problems to have.  Compared to those communities that are withering away, are not financially sustainable, and have their machlokes dribbled all over the front pages of newpaper, we have nothing to complain about.  Any organastion has limited funds and has to make decisions about how to best put its resources to work.  We are truely privileged in Perth to have good facilities, enough people to contribute towards their well being, and problems that are created by too much activity and unrealised potential. 
  • An AGM is not the forum for micro-management of issues such as choice of suppliers, seating plans, service times etc etc.  Nor is it the role of community members to deliver drasha’s about how to be Jewish.  That is the job of a Rabbi.
  • Talking about Rabbis, whilst they are employees of Shules (in most cases), they are not regular employees and a little derech eretz would go a long way towards our communities working better.  In a normal employment relationship the management drive the agenda (the dog wags the tail).  However in the case of Rabbinic employment, we actually deliver a job description to the Rabbi that requires him to make decisions about the course of conduct and style of Shule service that is hosted.  Sometimes the tail does wag the dog.
  • How noticeable is it that for each of the 3 AGM’s referred to, the number of young people attending was minimal and not reflective of the membership demographic. Does that suggest that young families have no interest in formalities, rules, constitutions and administration, endless accolades and committee structures?  Or is that an alarm bell that the younger generation is lazy and not willing to commit? 

As a final comment, I would like to fire a blog shot at the person who sat at my house a few weeks ago complaining about all the problems relating to Shule management.  That person, who supposedly had all the answers, was not to be seen at the AGM – their one chance to put their issues on the table and some constructive ideas with that.  Mate – it was your turn to either “put up or shut up.”

In any community, particularly a Jewish one, there will be some people who do more than others, who shoulder more of a burden of communal responsibility.  There will also be the usual bunch of critics who sit at the side line and fire pot shots, until they get approached to contribute.  Suddenly they are not such mavens. 

At the end of the day, we all have a duty to be constructive, and to respect those people who give of their time to keep our shules functioning.  We also have a responsbility to use our opportunity properly to effect positive change through the annual forum that is extended.  If we don’t exercise that right at the proper time, then we forfeit the right to go behind the back of the elected officers and criticise. 

Since its Chodesh Elul, I believe that there is an al chet or two that is very appropriate to this sentiment.

I look forward to seeing you at next years AGM.