Growing Pains?

Rabbi Deborah Silver
November 14, 2012
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I teach a ‘Melton class’ at my synagogue – the Florence Melton Mini-School four-part curriculum of Jewish studies for adults; it originates in Israel and it’s a great course for what I think of as the ‘wilderness generation’ of Jewish adults, who – like me – had rather a bitty Jewish education. The class was called ‘Bet Knesset’ and centered around the synagogue – what’s a synagogue, what’s its purpose and so forth. I began by going around the class and doing a brief word association exercise – ‘I say ‘synagogue,’ you say X.’ One of my students, who has been a lay official in various organizations in his time, wryly answered, ‘Money.’

I am no economist. Really, I am not – I have a terrible time with numbers and statistics. But I do remember reading once, and it stuck with me, that it’s possible to set up the economics of an organization such that – basically – if it is not actually growing, it is automatically failing. This creates a fragility right at the heart of the system. We panic when this year’s numbers don’t reach last year’s, or, conversely, slap each other on the back when we look at the bottom of the Excel spreadsheet, secure in the knowledge that, provided we stick with what we’ve been doing, all will be well – which is another kind of fragility, in my opinion.

And I find myself wondering how many of the issues dealt with in this Sh’ma bubble up out of a tacit assumption that our institutions, in order to be successful, must grow and keep on growing. I wonder what those questions of equality, time management, accessibility look like if we can imagine a sustainable model: one in which quality is more important than quantity, where we aren’t constantly scrabbling to make ends meet, given that the ends were never designed to meet in the first place. I wonder if such a model is even possible.

Any economists or CFAs out there who can shed light on this?

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