Where Should All The Past Presidents Go?

A vacation, of course! At least the immediate Past President, anyway.

After two or three years of countless questions via email and telephone calls, board meetings, staff meetings, and basically worrying about everything pertaining to the synagogue, what comes next for past presidents? Especially for the immediate past president, such people know the operations of synagogue and its DNA better than anyone. Particularly at this time of year, with the High Holy Days approaching, the shoulders of a synagogue president are pretty heavy.

So when the president pounds the gavel at their last annual meeting or board meeting, a vacation is well deserved!!

President George W. Bush wanted to give Barak Obama space to find his own way as president. And Obama has followed suit regarding President Trump, despite many pleadings for him to be more active.  I am not saying that past synagogue presidents should follow the practices of Bush and Obama. Or even do the opposite and become activists.

But past presidents of synagogues possess tremendous knowledge, leadership experience, and commitment in their hearts to help foster a strong Jewish community. And hopefully will not be moving away to another city of the ranch.

Isn’t that something we should take advantage of?

And the tendency is not to make an effort to involve past presidents. You can give them honors at the High Holy Days. Perhaps there is a regional or national board appointment through a synagogue movement or Federation. Most often the big reward for their service is appointment to the synagogue board with a life appointment. It may or not be honorary. And having their picture up in the gallery of presidents. Past presidents may attend and participate at board meetings. Or not. They certainly don’t have to be concerned about reappointment to the board.

So what should the current president, on behalf of the synagogue, do to take advantage of this bullpen of talent?

One idea is to create a President’s Council comprised of all of the synagogue’s past presidents. Invite them to a gathering at the synagogue or the current president’s homes 2-3 times a year, to share with them as insiders what is going on at the synagogue. Yes, they are more than capable to check out the wonderful calendar on the website. But maybe this group can be used as a sounding board for challenges the president is facing, or even new program ideas that the current leadership is thinking about.

Perhaps there is a special task force or working group where the presence of experienced synagogue leaders would be beneficial. A search committee for a new rabbi or cantor are the obvious ones that come to mind. But think about special working groups for strategic planning, governance, and interfaith relations with other houses of worship in the community. Even an audit committee. Something of import – to the synagogue as well as to the person – and that is time limited.

Synagogue involvement in leadership shouldn’t end with one being the president of the synagogue board. Past presidents have experience and wisdom. And we should make every effort to take advantage of that!!

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4 comments on “Where Should All The Past Presidents Go?
  1. Ree Adler says:

    This is a great idea and i wonder if Barnert does it.

  2. Martin Tannenbaum says:

    Our past presidents serve as a consultation group for the current executive team. Also, we’ve found that one of the most powerful roles for past presidents is in synagogue fundraising. Given their commitment to the shul and their knowledge of members, they’ve been great and stewarding and asking major donors.

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