While rabbis and shul presidents often take center stage in synagogue life, the Orthodox Union wants to give executive directors their due, recognizing the important role they play in the congregation and helping them improve the skills they need to do their job.
The OU – the largest umbrella organization of American Orthodox synagogues – will host its National Synagogue Executive Directors Conference on Nov. 10 and 11 at Teaneck’s Cong. Keter Torah. According to organizers, the meeting will focus mainly on safety and security, conflict resolution, and time management. The goal is to provide resources that would not otherwise be available to this group of synagogue leaders.
“We felt that executive directors play a very crucial role in the efficiency and fluidity of the synagogue,” said Rabbi Bini Maryles, the OU’s director of synagogue services. “They don’t get the recognition they deserve for their role.”
Between 20 and 25 executive directors, mostly from the East Coast, will gather next month. Teaneck provided a convenient location within the tri-state area, she said. Once that location was chosen, the OU wanted to showcase the facilities at Keter Torah.
“What [executive directors] do is very unique, and they don’t necessarily have people or mentors to turn to,” said Laya Pelzner, the OU’s assistant director of synagogue services. “Our goal is to bring together an intimate group where they have an opportunity to network with each other [and] get a sense of who deals with what best.”
Conflict management is very important to synagogue directors, who often get caught in the middle of fights between rabbis and synagogue boards, Pelzner said, noting that directors need to know how to defuse those situations.
The conference will also address the issue of security, Pelzner said. For example, she explained, if an unidentified person shows up at the synagogue with a package, the executive director needs to have set rules in place to deal with the situation.
“I hope to get some more information about the latest safety and security [measures] and time management techniques,” said Adina Kirshner, executive director at Teaneck’s Rinat Yisrael. “I’m also interested in networking with other individuals from across the country.”
Kirshner is one of three executive directors from OU synagogues in Teaneck expected to attend.
“We’re looking forward to hosting it,” said Howard Gruenspecht, executive director of Keter Torah. “They’re offering a wide range of topics that we feel are of interest to people in this position. Just the ability to mingle and communicate with colleagues – which we don’t often get the chance to do – will be very beneficial as well.”
If the meeting is successful, Maryles said, he would like to turn it into an annual event. He and Pelzner will determine what worked, and what still needs to be “tweaked.” One change already under consideration for next year is to regionalize the conference to reach more people.
“I think it will serve its purpose,” Gruenspecht said. “It will be a good start of something we can build on and hopefully do again in the future.”
For more information on the conference, call OU Synagogue Services, (212) 613-8266, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.