On Sunday 5th November the shul board, along with Eli and Rabbi David met to plan our strategy for the coming years including developing the purpose, values, and vision of the shul. We used the recent engagement survey that was put together for the community to inform this conversation.
Sponsor quality programming for adults, young people, and children
Adapt to meet new challenges
Develop future leaders
Support innovation and empowerment
Inspire children and young adults, and
Provide a strong sense of belonging for all.
We took all this data which led us to ask the following key questions:
How do we engage people in shul activity, especially under 40’s and children and young people?
How do we continue to innovate without upsetting the balance too much and alienating those who are happy with how things are?
What can we learn from the success and popularity of activities that were given special mention in the survey such as Maureen Kendler’s input and Harmony and Humour – why are these two events so popular and what can we draw from that to use in other events?
How do we communicate best with members what activities are going on so that they can get involved?
How can we make sure we are welcoming to all?
We kept these questions in mind as we looked at the three areas of activity on our website Learn,Pray, Do and discussed which activities in each area we wanted to continue or improve and are there more activities we wanted to start in each area. One group also looked at communications and how we can communicate better what’s going on with the community.
It was a packed 3 hours and just the beginning of what will be a process over the coming months to update the Muswell Hill Synagogue Strategy Paper 2013 that our previous Chair Stephen Frosh wrote. It’s a credit to the work he did that most of the actions he set out to do have been completed as you can see in his report Muswell Hill Synagogue Report 2016 . Our strategy is now in need of updating for the coming years to allow us to plan our priorities and to best plan our needs for the new building project. Over the coming months I’ll be updating you more about our final purpose and vision statements which will reflect what we see as Muswell Hill Shul’s reasons for existing and where we would like it to be in 5 years time. We’ll also be working on the strategy for the coming years which will also be shared with the community when it’s finished.
I’m happy to hear from you, if you have ideas for new activities, or would like to get involved in anything that’s going on now or to answer any questions you have, any time.
When I became shul chair, my main aim and the thing I have always been passionate about in all my involvement with the community, was to engage as many people as possible in shul life. It may be through coming to a morning minyan, attending shabbat services, volunteering for the kiddish rota, coming to an educational talk or getting involved in one of our social action projects, people connect in different ways both spiritually and socially which all have value.
The board have a strategy away day planned for November to discuss the topic of engagement and what the balance is of different shul activities, religious, social and cultural. We opened a discussion at one of our Board meetings on this topic and found ourselves conjecturing on various reasons why people may or may not engage in shul activities and how they find out about them. It seemed to us at this point that hard data would be far more useful than speculating and would be useful to inform the strategy for the community and the building going forward.
One of our community members Lynsey Showman has very kindly agreed to put together and analyse the results of this community survey, the more people who complete this very short survey the more useful the data will be so please do take 5-10 minutes to do it. We are also offering everyone who completes the survey, the chance to enter in a prize draw for a £50 donation to a charity of your choosing.
So please help us to build the best community we can, and to also help another charity of your choice at the same time – perfect!
Comments Off on Update on the MHS 2020 Building Project
You will recall that we wrote to the community in May this year to launch a consultation on the proposed remodelling of the synagogue building.
At that point in time the outgoing board had identified a number of potential projects that they felt best supported the objective of creating flexible spaces to house our growing range of religious, educational and social activities, and had supervised the drawing up of some images and basic plans that were designed to give a sense of each of these seven projects. These early ideas had been used to successfully test the appetite of the community for fund raising at a number of ‘parlour meetings’ held in February, March and April, and also with the United Synagogue in a discussion about potential for funding. The plans for the side entrance have also been used as the basis for a preliminary planning application to Haringey.
As a reminder the seven projects that had been identified were:
Create a flexible larger Bet HaMidrash
Renovation of the Rose and Harry Epstein Hall.
A new Main Entrance area for the Synagogue.
Redevelopment of the space upstairs behind the Women’s Gallery.
An upgrade of the Kitchen.
Redesign of the Side Entrance.
A Rooftop Play Area with direct access from the Nursery.
We decided to embark on a community-wide consultation designed to build on the feedback from the parlour meetings and ensure that as many members as possible had opportunity to express their view. The consultation consisted of (i) an online forum (ii) a presentation and discussion at the AGM (iii) an open community meeting held at the shul on Thursday June 29th 2017.
We have now had chance to synthesise all of the feedback this letter sets out what we think we have heard, as well as to explain the next steps we intend to take.
Feedback from Consultation
The Right Level of Ambition?
There was a view expressed by many members that the overall project was not ambitious enough. As the first major renovation project that has been proposed since many current members joined the shul, a clear appetite emerged to do more than the seven distinct projects that had been outlined. In some cases this view was inspired by the observation that a number of other shuls in the area have recently undergone major refurbishment and modernisation work. From a financial perspective it was also felt that raising funds now will severely limit future fundraising at any time in the next five to ten years and so it may be better to scale up now and not limit ourselves. On the other side, a number of community members expressed a view directly counter to this, namely that the shul building is largely fine as it is, that the community is not growing significantly, that it would be wrong to take on a large amount of debt. Whilst we feel that the majority view was in favour of more ambition it is clear that this is by no means unanimous and that a balance needs to be struck.
The Main Prayer Sanctuary
Many in the community felt that the main prayer sanctuary itself needed to be brought into the remit. As the section of the shul building that is used the most, that many associate with the shul itself and that represents the religious heart of the shul, it was felt that its renovation is an issue that should be addressed within the process.
Key Focal Spaces
As well as the main prayer sanctuary, the other spaces that were deemed to be the key focal points of the shul were the hall, lobby and downstairs common areas. It was generally felt that in these three spaces investment in renovation could have maximum impact.
A Coherent Whole
Allied to that is another point: that all of the proposed projects should to be looked at as a coherent whole. Given the flow between the foyer, the main sanctuary and the hall, for example, any design should look to create a consistency across these areas and optimise the flow between them. Indeed it is this overall ‘vision’ for the space that created more excitement than several of the individual projects initially proposed.
The Future of the Community
There were no strong views expressed that the usage patterns of the shul would change materially going forward. Membership is growing but not at a rate that requires an enlargement of the facilities; the hall is great for community events but not as a commercial venue; the cheder has grown but has now shrunk back somewhat, and the number of rooms is appropriate for the various services that are made available. In essence this can be taken as a support for the previous board’s proposal that flexibility should be paramount in our thinking.
It was felt that some of the basic utilities of the shul should be looked at as part of the process, notably ventilation, heating and lighting.
The board has identified several steps to take the process forward.
A new Buildings Committee has been formed, operating as a sub-committee of the Board. This Buildings Committee initially comprises Greg Swimer and Marc Rubinstein (co-chairs), Sam Clarke (finance), Steven Feldman (communications and fundraising) and Phil Style (buildings).
Over the next few months the Buildings Committee plans to consult with several designers and experts to explore ways in which the feedback from the community can be turned into a plan that works within budgetary and other constraints. On the assumption that it can, the Committee will attempt turn this into fully costed and detailed plan that can be presented to the community for approval. No actual building or construction work (barring urgent maintenance activity) will take place whilst this process is ongoing, although some conversations with planning officers at Haringey and officials at the United Synagogue may take place in order to continue the process of establishing the feasibility of any ideas.
Through the consultation process a number of community members with specific areas of expertise or interest have come forwards with offers to help. This is warmly welcomed and it is the intention of the Buildings Committee to consult with such members on an on-going basis in areas of their specific expertise.
The Buildings Committee is excited to be working on this next phase of the project and look forward to coming back to the community with further plans in a few months time. The Committee plans to meet on a monthly basis (approximately) and will post updates regularly via the shul website.
We hope that this letter, though rather long, is informative. We felt it important that the results of the consultation and next steps were properly communicated.
In the meantime if you have any questions or comments please do not hesitate to contact any one of us, either in shul or via the office.
With best wishes
Karen Ackerman (chair), Marc Rubinstein and Greg Swimer (co-vice-chairs)
On the Shabbat 17th June 2017 Muswell Hill Synagogue took part in the Great Get Together weekend. The synagogue threw open their doors and invited the local community to a ‘street kiddush’ to celebrate the legacy of Jo Cox and to express to all who came that “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us” (Jo Cox MP, Maiden Speech to Parliament). Over 200 people from the synagogue and the local community joined the ‘street kiddush’ and enjoyed the food and company. Special effort were made by all to chat with someone knew and many remarked how wonderful it was to get to know new people.
We were honoured to host Chris Honor, world renowned chef, for the event. His scrumptious and exotic cakes, prepared in the synagogue kitchen under the supervision of Rabbi David, were a highlight of the event.
Chris commented afterwards:
First and foremost thank you so much for a great opportunity to be a part of something so wonderful. In this day and age, with all the complication which comes with different cultures religion, races and creeds all living together, it is such a wonderful thing to sit down at a table and just eat. It is remarkable that over the simplest of cake we somehow become all equal and we find that one thing which we all love and have in common is great food. It is something magical that you can be a street sweeper or king and somehow all barriers are broken down by a shared meal.
Rabbi David Mason commented:
I was delighted and honoured that we could host the Great Get Together on our Synagogue premises on Shabbat. Inviting members of the local community to come and share a street party Kiddush with us was so special and I was thrilled that so many came. As a Jewish community, we always need to be watchful and take security seriously. But to literally open our gates to those who live on our street was of such great symbolic value, that we as an Orthodox Jewish community care greatly about the relations we build with those around us. Many who were there, both our own members and local individuals expressed how important this get together was given the recent traumatic events in our county. Much appreciation goes to the Chief Rabbi’s Office for their kind support, and of course to Brendan Cox for this amazing idea which we hope will become an annual occasion. We really were delighted that our Great Get Together could be a fitting tribute to the late Jo Cox MP.
Karen Ackerman, Chair of the Synagogue, commented:
This Shabbat it was such a pleasure to invite our neighbours to share wonderful cakes and other refreshments with us. It summed up what the Great Get Together was all about, sharing what you have in common with your neighbours, to reach out and to build new relationships. At Muswell Hill Synagogue we pride ourselves on being a warm, welcoming and inclusive community and this was a wonderful way for us to share that warmth and welcome with our close neighbours.
As one of our community members summed it up in a thank you email:
“Thank you so much for a wonderful community kiddush yesterday. It was a really thoughtful initiative and I hope it was a success. Rabbi David’s speeches – in Shul and also during the kiddush were both very moving and perfectly expressed how people are feeling after so much bad news of late. I am very proud to have him represent me and grateful for his leadership.”
The event was kindly supported by the Chief Rabbi’s Centre for Community Excellence.