December 2021 Bulletin Ref1


A constitutional scholar and long-term scholarly friend of mine, Mark Graber, is fond of pointing out that in the United States, pretty much every organization from the local chess club to every serious effort in the nation’s history (both successful and unsuccessful) to establish a government has led off with some sort of constitution-writing process. Most organizations don’t consider making serious changes to their governing processes unless they’ve entered some kind of crisis. But for residents of the US, transparent governance is important – important enough that any organization significant enough to have a tax profile or be registered with the state has to have some kind of formal structure codified in written bylaws.

Don’t worry! None of this is meant to warn the congregation that we are on the verge of a revolution or even a major overhaul of the bylaws. Rather, I write this month to discuss in more depth the role of our major governing body, the Board of Trustees. While the Board has a formal purpose in managing policy and making decisions, it also has an important role serving as a conduit and sounding Board for ideas and discussions brought by congregants. While most of what the Board discusses comes from our many committees, our structure also empowers individuals to bring urgent concerns to the Board’s attention for consideration.

The Board of Trustees meets monthly, almost always on the first Tuesday of the month at 7:30 PM. (Exceptions to this tend to be months when there’s a conflict, like this September when the first Tuesday of the month fell on erev Rosh Hashanah.) Board meetings are listed on the calendar sent out with the Bulletin every month. Before the pandemic, these meetings were held at B’nai Sholom, but since March 2020, all Board meetings have taken place on Zoom.

Any congregational member may attend Board meetings. To keep things simple, we’ve been using the same Zoom link every month, which any Board member or I can provide to you by email (to facilitate copying and pasting). The president of the Board provides a draft agenda about a week before the Board meeting and asks at that time if any Board members or the Rabbi know of additional items that should be included. On the Sunday or Monday before the meeting, the finalized agenda and any related materials are circulated.

What happens at a Board meeting? We open by reviewing and approving the previous meeting’s minutes. A Board member provides a short d’var Torah on the weekly parashah (often a fascinating part of the meeting for me – Board members come up with some really interesting interpretations for us to ponder). The Rabbi delivers a report or introduces any issues she wants the Board to consider (I remember well the meeting last year when Rabbi Katz used this time to introduce us to the Moments program!). And then we move into discussing a wide variety of topics. They range from post-mortems on recent events to brainstorming for upcoming events and programs to discussing proposals brought to us by committees. Committee proposals may be brought to the Board for input, to make the Board aware of committee plans and secure

support and participation from Board members or, if needed, to gain Board approval. Some committees and representatives, including Social Action and B’Yachad, report at least briefly to the Board at our meetings each month on their activities. We are working on implementing a system whereby the Board will receive written reports from all committees in advance of our meetings. Occasionally we will tackle policy proposals or consider whether to authorize expenditures that are more than a few hundred dollars. In the spring, we discuss the proposed budget at several meetings before it goes to the congregation.

Within this framework, there’s room for congregant participation and concerns. At any time, any member of the congregation can contact any Board member – our contact information is available in the Annual Guide – to request that an item be placed for discussion on the Board’s agenda. As the agenda-setter, I am likely to ask that congregant to provide a brief written backgrounder for the Board members to consider and encourage the congregant to attend the meeting to explain the issue in person, but we are always ready to take up and consider such items.

The president, in consultation with the Board, also prepares the agenda for the annual congregational meeting. If a congregant has an issue or proposal they would like to discuss at the annual meeting, we believe it would be better to run it through a Board meeting first for refinement and clarification. Some issues might be resolved successfully without requiring consideration at a congregational meeting, while others will benefit from having been discussed in a smaller meeting in advance. We will remind congregants of this opportunity in the spring in ample time before our annual meeting is scheduled.

In short, though, I remind you that the Board of Trustees is YOUR Board of Trustees. We are always happy to hear about ideas you have for B’nai Sholom and to welcome you into the governance process.


Julie Novkov

B'nai Sholom Albany NY