We all know it. Many of us have had a car accident. Or maybe the pipes in your house froze when the heat went out. Car accidents and the things that can go wrong at your home are the easy ones, really. In most states you have to have car insurance. And you can’t have a mortgage on your home without having homeowner’s insurance. Of course the claims process can be a bit of a pain, but it is a means to an end, particularly if you need your car repaired or your bathroom renovated after the leak in the pipes was discovered once the pipes thawed.
I once had jury duty. I was excited to actually be a part of a panel of potential jurors on what seemed like an interesting civil case. During jury selection, I was able to determine that a gentleman fell off of a ladder at his dad’s home. He sued the ladder manufacturer, the store where the ladder was purchased, as well as his father involving his dad’s homeowner’s insurance company. Once I was interviewed and responded yes to the question “do you own your home?”, I was thanked for my time and sent on my way.
Back to insurance and synagogues. With many people coming in to the synagogue building for worship, religious school, B’nai Mitzvah, and even board meetings, general insurance becomes a cost of being in business. There is so much to think about beyond the basics such as fire and theft. Do Torahs need to have special insurance? What about other religious artwork throughout the building? Is special insurance required for a child-care program? When the youth group has activities at the synagogue and in the community? How about special insurance for the clergy in the performance of teaching and pastoral counseling duties?
And then of course one important question for me is whether there is directors’ insurance, a policy that protects board members against possible lawsuits. As synagogue board members have fiduciary responsibilities, if there is a lawsuit filed against the synagogue because someone fell or someone felt that they were wrongly terminated, or sexually harassed in the work place, it is likely that board members will also be sued. Directors’ insurance protects board members in the event –which is very seldom – that such an instance occurs.
I have linked some resources you should review from the Union for Reform Judaism and the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism. Also from Richard Hammar, a CPA and attorney specializing in working exclusively with churches and church leaders on an array of business issues.
The important thing is to be proactive and do something. Perhaps a starting point is to create an insurance committee, if you don’t already have one. Should you have congregants who own insurance agencies or who work in the insurance world, ask them to serve on the insurance committee or insurance task force you might create to review all of the synagogue’s insurance needs. Maybe this group’s work can begin by reviewing the congregation’s existing coverage. People in the industry will have a sense as to the coverage the synagogue requires based on the budget as well as its programming.
Let’s hope nothing ever happens. But being prepared is also a very sound business practice.