Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A New Analogy

While Lev was in town this weekend, between rosh hodesh davening and the spy museum, we trucked out to UMD to have lunch at Bev's. Rebecca Meyers pitched an interesting new analogy.

Lots of us have been to weddings, or for that matter various other lifecycle events where dancing has a high probability of ensuing. There is often a moment where people feel like there should be dancing but no one has yet struck out in that direction. A few people get out there and grab a couple other people but it still somewhat awkward. Oftentimes a bunch of people join up quickly and things get going fast, furious, and freylich. Pretty soon other folks see that it's hot and they join up too. The dancing has quickly gone from a dozen or so to a hundred or more and it grinds to a slow crawl. The excitement of the original dancing has died down and people are taking short strides to the right, careful to avoid stepping on feet of elbowing the folks in front and behind. my grandmother's mall-walking group has more pizazz. This may happen in cycles depending on the occasion and communal dynamics.

Rebecca suggested, that minyanim have similar cycles.

It would seem to me that the minyan process goes something like this:
  1. a few people, for some reason dissatisfied with the current options, think there is need for a new place to daven.
  2. a couple people try to get something started.
  3. it sputters at first but the potential is recognized by those in the new minyan and some who are not yet.
  4. as more folks join, potential is actualized, things are rockin'.
  5. people start streaming in from all directions.
  6. what was funky and fantastic becomes overcrowded and less dynamic.
This analogy struck me as quite astute and a very good fit.

It brings up a couple of questions.
  • why do minyanim in step 6 get less vibrant and the davening less good?
  • how can you avoid some of the problems created by step 6? what do you do if your group, despite smart community organizing reaches step 6?
(cross-posted at jewschool)


At 2/20/2007 , Blogger tikkunger said...

Interesting question and is not something which I have any solutions to.

I myself am a A Jew I Choice and since my conversion I've had a hard time connecting to a community anywhere, which could reflect my contradictions and eclectic tastes.

Anyhow, thanks for the interesting read.

At 2/20/2007 , Anonymous rebecca m said...

to work with the dancing analogy further:

sometimes people create spin-off circles or inner circles, which keep things more balanced. doesn't always work, though. This also requires a large number of people who aren't waiting/ don't need to wait for someone else to start something.

a large minyan is going to be qualitatively different than a small one. If a large one is a good thing in a given situation, then, well, good, though it may need a venue change.

If it's not a good thing, that's when step 6 kicks in. Eventually, people will get dissatisfied, and either drift away, or form breakaways.

I'm wondering if expecting and planning for breakaways could help this-- when a minyan gets over capacity, it is considered time for it to make some baby minyanim. This would only work if community involvement was successful and produced lots of potential leaders.

At 2/20/2007 , Anonymous rebecca m said...

on a separate topic, the UMD kedma minyan is now on Shulshopper.

At 2/20/2007 , Blogger BZ said...

Where was the Rosh Chodesh davening? It sounds like we had another (unofficial) KZ/TLS exchange this weekend!

At 2/20/2007 , Blogger Aharon said...

Maybe, when a minyan gets too large to sustain it's motivating philosophy, it's time to start spreading the minyan out to multiple minyanim in other locations. The biological analogy is budding.

At 2/20/2007 , Blogger ZT said...

re: rosh hodesh, eli, kavitha, lev, and i went to the local conservative shul. it was functional. i bet the nyc leg of the exchange was more exciting.

re: breakaways, the problem comes if the community in question fits a concentric circle model. if the core still wants to daven with the other members of the core, it can be hard to spawn new and exciting buds (to mix a metaphor).

At 2/21/2007 , Anonymous rak nefesh said...

I'm interested if this dynamic has taken place in minyans you've been involved with? Is this just what if or is this happening right now?

In either case I think as in most organizing that there isn't necessarily one answer on what to do but that it depends on the circumstances of the situation.


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