An Example of Minyan/Havurah Governance

By: Adina Rosenbaum
This article was inspired by a workshop offered at the 2009 NHC Summer Institute on havurah governance.

For a community to function, approved there has to be some group of people empowered to make decisions. Different communities use different governance structures, illness varying in the number of people involved in leadership, sale the authority they have, the amount they interact with the larger community, and the way they reach decisions among themselves. Below is one possible model for havurah or minyan governance, based on the governance structure of Tikkun Leil Shabbat (TLS), a havurah in Washington, DC that meets every third Friday night.

TLS has a coordinating committee of 13-15 members. Although having a smaller committee may be more efficient, having a 13-15 member team distributes the work so that members of the committee do not burn out, and allows participation of people with different skills and from different parts of the community in the group. At the same time, it keeps the committee small enough for its members to know each other well, for meetings to be manageable, and for everyone to be able to fit in an apartment living room (very important for urban communities). The committee members are responsible both for engaging in long-term planning and envisioning and for taking on tasks each time the havurah meets, such as setting up, cleaning up, greeting people, or leading singing. (TLS has a Google spreadsheet with the roles that need to be filled each time it meets that both members of the coordinating committee and others in the community use to sign up for those roles.)

Every year or so, the coordinating committee’s members choose to rotate off or stay on the committee, and any openings are filled through a short application process. Except for a few people who are in charge of specific logistical tasks, such as making sure the spreadsheet gets filled out or sending out e-mails about upcoming gatherings, all members of the committee are equal. The committee meets every few months, with committee members taking turns facilitating the meetings, and makes decisions at meetings based on consensus. Consensus-based decision-making generally results in issues being discussed at length, which can be time-consuming, but it helps ensure that all members of the committee’s voices are heard and that all members leave the meeting with some sense of ownership over the group’s decisions.

In addition, the committee has a bunch of standing subcommittees (including a holiday committee, a finance committee, and a davening committee) and creates other temporary subcommittees as needed. Temporary subcommittees have been created, for example, to think through TLS’s co-sponsorship policy, to create a historical archive of meeting minutes and policy decisions, and to do an initial read-through of applications. Figuring out what to delegate to subcommittees requires balancing the desire for the committee as a whole to maintain control over the direction and functioning of the havurah/minyan, with the recognition that some discussions are hard to have in large groups and that it is not a good use of everyone’s time for everyone to have to discuss every issue. The subcommittees are authorized to make some decisions, mostly related to the minyan/havurah’s day-to-day functioning, on their own. The Davening Committee, for example, can find people to lead services without having to check in with the full committee. Often, though, the subcommittee is authorized just to come up with a suggestion that must be brought back to the full committee before it can be implemented.

Because decisions can’t always wait until the next full committee meeting, the TLS coordinating committee has a system for making decisions that must be made quickly over email. When someone comes across an issue that needs immediate attention, that person decides the importance of the issue (with some input from others on the committee). If the issue is of minimal importance, the person whose attention it came to makes a decision on it, then emails the full committee to explain what happened, the choices that were made, and the values that informed those choices. If the issue is of great importance, the person to whose attention it came sends an email to the whole committee explaining the issue, setting out a question that needs answering, and providing a time-frame within which responses must be provided. After the stated time-frame, the person will make a decision based on the responses and send an email to the committee explaining the decision and stating that the decision will be implemented unless there is overwhelming opposition. This decision-making procedure allows decisions to be made quickly, without in-person meetings, but still provides multiple opportunities for members of the committee to weigh in and have their voices heard.

Adina Rosenbaum attended her first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2007.

1 comment

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