My Place at the Synagogue Board's Table
“Mica, you need to leave the room.”
The words flowed from the synagogue board chair’s lips with an astounding casualness considering their impact on me. As president of the youth group, I was a full-fledged member of my synagogue’s board and was sure that the chair had no power to evict me from the room. His excuse that reviewing the rabbis’ contracts was a task reserved for those with a few more wrinkles did not reassure me. But my spout of protests proved futile.
Driving home, I considered making this my last meeting. I’d already paid my dues by showing up once to this room of adults who showed no interest in engaging with me. And now, this clash. Had I been mistaken in thinking I could stay?
Within minutes of barging into my house, I tore through the Temple Sinai website searching for my congregation’s bylaws. In two clicks, I found exactly what I was looking for plainly written in Article V, Section 2: “Each ex-officio member of the Board shall have the same rights and obligations as other members of the Board.” The chair had no authority to kick me out.
The next day, I drafted an email to the chair drawing attention to the rights granted to me as an ex-officio member of the board representing the youth group. I expressed my concern that the exclusion of the youth voice suggested that the temple did not value our input because it discouraged the engagement of our youth leaders. After framing the conflict as a threat to the temple’s future by abandoning younger generations, I received a courteous, three-sentence response acknowledging my point but refusing to back down. I knew I would have to keep attending meetings.
Months later, while prepping for the next meeting, I learned that the chair had proposed curtailing my involvement on the board by amending Section 2. I confronted the chair about his disregard for the youth voice, engaged the broader temple community, and changed the opinion of a board majority to secure the language written in that fateful section of the bylaws.
Five months after the consequential board meeting, I finally ensured that there would be no attempt to exile the youth representative from future meetings by gathering supporters at the next meeting to block the amendment. In that same week, I passed the baton on to the next temple youth group president. I would not personally benefit from the victory, but knowing my successors would have a seat at the table still drove me to stand up.
Youth engagement exists as a core value within the Union of Reform Judaism, for good reason. The future of Judaism rests on younger generations, and while, admittedly, this was not an end-all or be-all event, pushing back to achieve even the smallest of victories shows the power of the youth. And that can and will extend far beyond our Jewish circles into broader society.
Speaking out while surrounded by twenty faces, many belonging to people who'd known me since I was learning to walk, was neither easy nor familiar to me. Time and time again in my life, I have overheard an offensive joke, witnessed a microaggression, or recoiled from a tough situation, but a cat got my tongue. I have sat idle, knowing I should speak up, but some foolish concern stops me. But last December was not one of those times, and will not be the last.
We all harbor regrets from situations where we stood as bystanders. But if we can gain a lesson from such times, it’s to stop standing down and speak up.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Maltzman, Mica. "My Place at the Synagogue Board's Table." 18 May 2020. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 24, 2021) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/my-place-synagogue-boards-table>.