Beth Israel Congregation (BIC) in Jackson, MS, is very lucky to have many volunteers who give their time and talents to make our congregation and community a better place. Still, we know that you can never have too many volunteers and that we need to make a concerted effort to thank our volunteers. So to foster a culture of volunteerism and thank those who have volunteered, we have started a series of B地ai Tzedek Shabbats, at which we acknowledge and thank three congregants who have been nominated for the honor of B地ai Tzedek. (We致e since decided that having three honorees made our service a little too long. As a result, we will probably limit the number of honorees per Shabbat to two.)
We try to choose a Shabbat when the Torah portion can be tied to the concept of doing something righteous. For example, for our first B地ai Tzedek Shabbat, the Torah portion was Sh知ot. Our rabbi spoke about the section on the Hebrew midwives Shifrah and Puah, relating that they risked their lives disobeying Pharaoh in the name of justice because they knew what was right. Our rabbi noted that it is rare that the Torah mentions the names of women, and suggested that there must be a reason that these b地ot tzedek were named. Her conclusion was that it teaches the importance of naming the righteous members of our congregation, giving them the honor they deserve for making our community and our world a better place.
To build attendance, we advertise in our monthly newsletter, our weekly blast and on Facebook. Plus, B地ai Tzedek Shabbats feature have a nicer-than-usual Oneg. The service brochure has a special insert sharing the volunteering history of our honorees. During the service, in lieu of the rabbi痴 sermon, the honorees are each asked to give a brief talk (no more than five minutes) addressing any/all of the following:
- Who or what in your life motivated you to do the volunteer work you do?
- What benefits have you received because of your volunteering? (That is, what have you personally gotten out of it?)
- What part of what you do as a BIC volunteer has had the most significant impact on your life?
- What would you say to someone in an effort to explain why what you do is important?
- Share anything else you want to say that might inspire someone else to volunteer within the congregation.
Our first B地ai Tzedek Shabbat was last month [February 2013]. It turned out even better than expected for a number of reasons:
- The volunteers were thankful for the acknowledgement of their contributions.
- It attracted more than the usual number of attendees at services that night.
- During the course of their short talks, our attendees said so many things that promoted congregational volunteerism, such as how each of us is a cog in the wheel; how they get so much more out of volunteering than they give; how it has taught their children by example; and so much more.
- Many people stayed much longer than usual, which cultivated relationships among our congregants.
Our congregants really enjoyed the event.
Read the URJ publications Building Sacred Community: Volunteers in Your Congregation and L'dor Vador: Creating a New Generation of Temple Leadership for additional information about engaging volunteers and leaders in your congregation.