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February 17, 2012 / 24 Shevat, 5772
Haftarah Shabbat Shekalim
Parashat Mishpatim

2 Kings 11:17 - 12:17 (Ashkenazim begin at 12:1)

The Spirit of Shekels

There are serious challenges facing our synagogues and Jewish institutions today. Aging demographics, declining synagogue membership, waning Movement affiliation, and uninspired prayer experiences top the growing list. Although these challenges are complex, much of it comes down to money.

Every day I hear Jews complaining about synagogue dues, Federation solicitations, Jewish summer camp and day school costs (to name but a few). They feel they are being priced-out of Jewish Community. They are growing resentful of a “pay to pray” Judaism and they are voting with their feet.

This week’s special Haftarah (II Kings 11:17 - 12:17) cuts to this issue. In our Maftir, we read about “the half shekel” in what amounts to being the first of many synagogue capital campaigns. In this Haftarah we deal not with the difficulties of raising money to build the Temple, but the challenges in financially sustaining it - ultimately the purview of the kohanim (priests).

[King] Yehoash said to the priests, "All the money, current money, brought into the House of the Lord as sacred donations... let the kohanim receive it, each from his benefactor; they, in turn, shall make repairs on the House, wherever damage may be found....But it was found that the priests had not made the repairs on the House...”

King Yehoash is, understandably, upset. All this time he was under the impression that the kohanim were acting responsibly. Lo and behold (without a single class on financial matters in rabbinical school, then or now) the kohanim failed to handle the synagogue finances and years of deferred maintenance with no shekels in the bank had finally caught up.

The truth of the matter is that zuzzim, shekels, rubles and dollars have been a source of tension, corruption, stagnation and destruction for Jewish institutions and communities throughout the ages.

The vast majority of our Jewish institutions are spiraling downwards. Dues - High Holy Day seats - Donations - this is the financial trinity of most of our Jewish institutions and shuls. These revenue streams are outdated, uninspired, and fail to provide an inspirational Jewish experience. (And just because a temple balances the budget doesn’t mean they are doing anything more than subsisting. Any shul can offer little and stretch their budget. Any institution can sit empty and be kept alive through the curse of a big endowment).

To make matters worse, those who are often at the center of our synagogue or Jewish institutional finances, our modern day kohanim (rabbis, cantors, executive directors, and many lay people) are, at best, merely tweaking the system to save a buck here, and stretch a dollar there. Many fail to see as their responsibility the need to solve the underlying financial issues.

“But rabbi,” I hear people say, “aren’t money and spirituality mutually exclusive?”

The Torah, didn’t make such distinctions. In fact, more ink was put down in our Torah about the creation, functioning and maintenance of our Temple than all other subjects combined. Ayn kemach; ayn Torah - no dough; no Torah goes the Talmudic maxim. Shekels and spirituality have always been part and parcel of Judaism and Jewish communal life. Until we start addressing this issue we may not go broke but our uninspired Jewish communities will continue to break.

The days of Dues - Seats - Donations (or soliciting “the big machers” to write “the big check”) are coming to an end. What we need now are not merely solicitations of someone’s wallet, or even solicitations of their heart. What we need is to solicit our people’s brains, ingenuity, creativity and know-how. No more galas, no more golf tournaments, bake sales or High Holy Day appeals. We are a people that made the desert bloom. We are a people that made Israel’s modern economy boom. We are a people economically thriving in our personal lives and yet failing when it comes to our Jewish communal lives. Now, more than ever before, what we need is a Revenue Revolution in our synagogues, Jewish institutions and Jewish communities.

This week's Haftarah commentary was written by
Rabbi Baruch HaLevi. Rabbi Baruch HaLevi is rabbi of Congregation Shirat Hayam, Swampscott, MA, and co-author of his forthcoming book,
Reviving the Jewish Spirit. For more from “Rabbi B” please visit him at www.RabbiB.com.

NEW! We are now welcoming online comments on The Unraveller. Enter them at the bottom of the page on the new Unraveller blog (fjmc-unraveller.blogspot.com).

New Publications

Leadership - Innovation - Community
Understanding the Haftarot:
An Everyperson's Guide

In this stimulating and unusual book Rabbi Charles Simon, Executive Director of FJMC, provides the reader with the context to understand how the haftarot were organized, why they might have been selected and suggests reasons for finding meaning and value.
You can purchase it a number of ways.
Intermarriage: Concepts & Strategies for Families and Synagogue Leaders
If family members and community leaders wish to become engaged in the process of Keruv they often need to ask, "Does Keruv have an ideology and theology? And if so what is it?" Then they need to learn how to respond to intermarriage from the perspective of both gender and religion. This publication reflects the most current thinking about intermarriage to date and attempts to provide family members and community leaders with the needed understanding to effectively work with intermarrieds or potential intermarrieds.
You can purchase it a number of ways:
It's time for Build-A-Pair
The best way to teach about tefillin!

HeneniThe "Build a Pair" Program is a comprehensive and fun learning program to introduce 5th, 6th or 7th graders to the joy and mitzvah of Tefillin in Jewish life. Multiple components interplay to explore the religious significance, the construction of, and the practice of "laying" Tefillin. A comprehensive education program with videos helps the religious school teach students the meaning of Tefillin in Jewish life and practice. Students practice writing their Hebrew/Jewish names and the SHEMA (first line) to insert into pre-made wooden Tefillin boxes. Students decorate the boxes in any creative way they wish, allowing for personal expression. Students either compete or cooperate in writing a "wRAP" song to sing at a Big Event. The Big Event can be the World Wide Wrap (WWW), sponsored by the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs (FJMC), held annually on the morning of Super Bowl Sunday. The WWW program is designed to introduce and re-introduce Jewish men [and women] to the significance of "laying" Tefillin. The "Build a Pair" student program attracts the parents to see their children in their model Tefillin sing the "wRap" songs, allowing two generations (or more!) to join in the mitzvah together, and to let the students' sing their "wRAP" song for an appreciative audience.

World Wide Wrap is Sunday, February 3, 2013
The Bar Mitzvah Wrap!

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