An Open Letter to New Temple Presidents
To our incoming Temple President, Mazel Tov! You have been elected to lead our congregation. Our Temple chose you to be our President, because of your commitment to our community, your contributions to the Board and Executive Committee, and your experience in leadership and collaboration. You are going to be excellent.
A President is one of the most important thought partners in a congregation, and you will work closely with the clergy, Executive Director, Board, and staff. You will represent our congregation through the good, the bad, the mundane, the unbelievable and the hilarious. You will bridge the gap between congregant and leadership, and you will see “behind the scenes” of the temple in a way that’s new to you. Before your term begins, we have a few pieces of advice we’d like to humbly share.
There are no teams. While we each represent a different facet of our Temple community, our work is to collectively serve the organization. We will always have your back and we ask that you have ours. We will be your support, your first text, your phone call when something makes no sense, and we will push you to be the best leader you can be. We will never keep secrets from you, and we will put everything on the table so we can figure out what our next move is, together.
You will receive your fair share of “feedback” - from congregants, board members, staff and beyond. Hear the complaints but don’t take them to heart. They are not personal, but sometimes the person behind them is hurting. Share what needs to be known and shield us from what was only intended to stir the pot.
Prepare to read the monthly membership report with openness and be patient with our board as they respond harshly out of worry about the finances. They care so deeply, and will need to be reminded that numbers on a report only tell part of a story. We as your professionals can broaden the picture of our congregation's opportunities and challenges, and that picture is far more interesting than the simple membership numbers.
Respect and protect the members of our staff with everything you’ve got. Treat them with the kavod and dignity they deserve and set the example that our lay leaders are expected to do the same. You may be one of the only people who understands the depths of the work they do, and it is your job to elevate them whenever possible.
This work is exhausting and your term is long. Someday, you will feel burnt out. Trust us enough to tell us when that’s happening. We will protect your time off as much as we possibly can.
There will be, at some point, what could be considered a crisis. A budget shortfall, the departure of an essential staff member, an HR problem, or something none of us could have imagined. Resist the urge to panic. Everybody is watching you to know how to respond. More than anything, our congregation needs your calm and unwavering leadership, even if you have to fake it until you get to the after-meeting with us. We’ll come prepared with your beverage of choice.
Stand with us as we walk the line between our big dreams and our tight budgets. Help us advocate for what we truly need, and make hard decisions about what we cannot support. Be direct, we can take it. Keep our Jewish values at the front of hard conversations, and remember that above all else, our job is to care for people.
Share your expertise with us, and allow us to share and act on ours. Be willing to change your perspective. Be as transparent as possible. Represent our community with the best of intent and integrity. Remember that above all, this is a congregation, and you too are entitled to spiritual guidance and positive relationships with your clergy.
We know that this is not your full-time job, and that your commitment to our congregation is truly a labor of love. We thank you wholeheartedly for your time, your knowledge, your dedication, and your willingness to step up in what will undoubtedly be another unusual year for our community. Our partnership will set the foundation for so many new decisions, directions, and experiences this year, and there is nothing that is more important than getting it right from the beginning.