The Optimistic Shul

  • February 01, 2015

    President’s Perspective. . . The Optimistic Shul

    During our time off during December, I caught up on some of my magazine reading – mostly photography magazines, Consumer Report and the “High Holiday” issue CJ Voices – Voices of Conservative Judaism/Masorti Judaism (I was a bit behind). I was particularly intrigued by an article in CJ Voices entitled “The Optimist Movement.” Now, I really don’t pay too much attention to what is going on in the Conservative Judaism movement outside of our area. All I know is that our shul is bucking the trend of many synagogues. However, the article did cause me to ask the question – are we an Optimistic Shul?

    The article quotes Martin Seligman, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who argues that the difference between optimists and pessimists is rooted in how the two camps explain their successes and failures. He submits that hardship and success is the same for both optimists and pessimists. An optimist explains good events in terms of “permanent causes” while a pessimist explains good events as a result of “transient causes.” In other words, the optimist believes good things are the norm and the pessimist believes that “luck” had more to do with success than anything else. On the other side of the coin, an optimist believes that struggles are temporary and serve as a learning experience for success. A pessimist sees challenges as predictable, at best, or deserved, at worst.  

    So, what kind of shul members are we? I hear people telling us we shouldn’t do this or we can’t do that because we don’t have the money, personnel or will. I hear others who recognize we have challenges, but we have the talent (both professional and lay) to solve them and our trajectory is heading upward. Don’t get me wrong, optimists are not Pollyanna’s. We all need a good dose of realism occasionally. The challenges we face are real, but how we interpret and react to them will dictate our future. If we believe they are transitory, we can overcome them. If we say “we can never do that” we create a self-fulfilling prophecy.  

    So ask yourself – would we rather look for scapegoats to blame or let the past be the past? Are we ready to form productive solutions for our challenges? Will we build structural and conceptual institutions to handle our growth? Will we create an exemplary place to educate our children or will we be mired in fighting over details and priorities? Will we listen to those who dare to rethink how we can improve what we do, or will we shun them?  

    Folks, like it or not, we are all in this together. As we begin to think about what Anshai Torah will look like in the years to come, let’s go into our future with a clear and optimistic vision.


    Howard Rubin