A Bisl Torah

Are You an Owner or a Renter?

I recently sat with a Jewish professional and she challenged me to think about those phrases: do those that take part of our faith communities see themselves as owners or renters? An owner is a stakeholder. Someone that sees value in defining the mission of the synagogue, setting achievable goals, volunteering, planning events, all of which assists the clergy person in holy works of engagement.

A renter floats. A renter stops in, partakes in a service or two but doesn’t see himself as someone that wishes to invest time, money or effort. A renter sees the synagogue as a “place” that works for him; not a place in which many people work together to serve a greater good.

There are owners and renters in every community. And while I may argue that a community needs both leaders and followers, I would also argue that every person that wishes to feel known, heard, cared for, or accepted needs to be an owner. An owner takes many different shapes: An owner puts the cookies out on Shabbat. An owner greets at the door. An owner sponsors a program. An owner feels a sense of pride in the growing and thriving of their synagogue family because they took part in its refining.

Midrash speaks about the nature of serving a community. Rabban Gamaliel made up his mind to place Rabbi Eleazar Hisma and Rabbi Yohanan ben Gudgada in posts of authority. He sent for them, but they did not come. He sent for them again, and they finally came. He then said to them: You apparently suppose that I am about to bestow power upon you. What I am bestowing upon you is servitude, as is said, “And they spoke unto him, saying: ‘If thou wilt be this day a servant unto this people.’ ”

Rabban Gamaliel was reminding his colleagues that being “an owner” is a privilege, a post that must be steeped with both humility and pride. A renter may see the synagogue as an institution where others “serve” him but an owner seeks to “serve” a holy mission: to gather the community together to enact righteousness and blessing in this world.

In whichever way you see fit, be an owner. We need you.

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