The Agudas Achim Network has generated more interest than any other program I have ever encountered in contemporary synagogue life. Inquiries have come from around the world (literally) asking for information about how to begin a similar in-reach effort in locations from California to Ashkelon.
The heart of its success is the corps of dedicated volunteers who call the members of the congregation three or four times a year and listen to your concerns and, thankfully, praises. Our volunteers are instructed to listen and record, but not to offer responses. They devotedly report the records of their conversations to Holly Higgins, the heart of hearts of the Network. She passes along the salient points of every conversation to me and to the congregation's president. We all refer specific concerns to those who can best respond to them, and specific praise to those who should hear it.
Almost without exception, the input has been important and valuable. I thank you for the time you have taken to share with relative strangers your feedback about the synagogue. Many of you are surprised, I know, to find how much you have to say!
A small minority of congregants ask each time that their comments be delivered anonymously. Unfortunately, when such comments are criticisms or pose questions, there is no way to respond. (Our Network volunteers do not act as couriers.) And by now, you know how I feel about anonymous criticism, it does not deserve the light of day.
There are times when it is appropriate to ask a volunteer to preserve a confidence. For example, if an individual knew of a friend who had fallen on troubled times and was too embarrassed to ask for personal attention, it might be reasonable to ask the volunteer to pass along the name of the friend without attribution.
However, some of the comments made "anonymously" (and requested by the speaker to be reported) have included personal attacks on members of the congregation in the most abusive language, and even uncomplimentary statements about the family members of our staff. Instructed as they are not to argue or defend, the volunteers are in a terrible bind. To listen to such diatribes, let alone to report them, violates the commandment in Torah not to bear tales or speak slander. But a promise of anonymity is a promise.
Our volunteers have maintained a 100% level of integrity and will continue to do so. I neither ask nor am offered the names of those who comment anonymously. We will be training our volunteers how to respond to these personal attacks in a polite but firm way which makes it clear that they exceed the limits of acceptable communication.
In the meantime, I repeat: an anonymous attack is a sign of cowardice, and the sharing of personal criticisms with a third party is a sin. If you do not have compassion on the object of your scorn, at least have some for the good-hearted volunteer who has taken the time to listen.
My annual report on the Discretionary Fund was distributed at the congregational meeting on May 21. Copies are available from the office on request.
each other and intermingle them with ancient words of devotion. I thank you in advance for helping to make my High Holy Days and those of the other members of our congregational family so much more meaningful.