Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
I have been a member of my congregation for ten years. I’ve always
paid dues, gone to services for yartzeits and High Holidays, and
attending things like the congregational Seder. Recently I was
recruited to work on a committee, and was both honored and
enthused. Now, six months in, I feel like a blindfold has been ripped
off my eyes and it is difficult to give cheerfully and without cynicism.
The chair of the committee organizes everything around her own
schedule, wastes half the time apologizing for being late and
unprepared, and much of the meeting time is spent figuring out how to
juggle the politics of big donors and their needs for public recognition.
That doesn’t begin to cover my annoyance and frustration. Do you
think it is possible to change a system that isn’t corrupt in a money
way but that feels morally bankrupt to me? If so, how?
Dear Fed Up:
My guess is that there are at least some other folks on the committee
who feel as you do. Anyone who has worked with a disorganized and
self-important person in charge of their life and time, whether it is at
work or as a volunteer, has faced similar discontent and frustration.
Sadly, plain speech is usually not well received and often gets one
discounted, shunned, or fired.
Here’s some suggestions that may seem like more work that you want,
but have the advantage of making it clear what is being done and not.
Volunteer to be the minute taker for the next six months. That allows
you to frame what has been said. End each set of minutes with a list of
action items, who&'s responsible for doing what by the next meeting,
and an agenda/date/and time that it will occur. If the meeting start
time comes and the chair is not there, ask the other attendees if they
are willing to start with the agenda. Those that say Yes are possible
allies. Offer to head a subcommittee for a topic you care deeply about.
Be willing to ask during a meeting what the criteria are for honors, if
they are clear to the rest of the congregation or just tacitly
understood, and if they are up for review or change. Have tea with the
likely allies and listen to their views. If necessary, ask how often the
chair rotates, but only if you are willing to wait out the transition and
put on that hat.