August 1, 2017
Dear Fellow JCO Congregants,
I am pleased and excited to report to you that Monday evening, the BOD passed a resolution to direct the Bylaws Committee to resume and complete the review and revision of our Bylaws with special emphasis on member voting. This will be an important change, as JCO has never, in its history, had member voting.
We expect to have a draft to review by our September Board Meeting, a community forum for additional member input in October, specific date to be determined, and a revised document-highlighting member voting and other appropriate changes to bring our governance up to date sometime in November possibly December given Bylaw Committee’s progress. There will also be a legal review of the document before it is adopted.
Last year, following the completion of the construction of the social hall and the refurbishment of the sanctuary, it became clear to many of the Board members that the next project of JCO needed to be a number of initiatives to bring JCO into line with best practices of small congregations. There was, for example, no policy and procedure manual for the Board. The history of the organization resided only in the memories of some long - term members but was not written down anywhere. A P&P manual that contains a history section with some news articles from the early days was created.
Next, the Board appointed a Bylaws Committee, chaired by Debby Finley and including long time as well as newer members, to undertake a thorough review of the Bylaws document. Of particular interest to the Board was the odd provision that only Board members had a vote. This policy had been in place since the earliest days of JCO (then called Kehillat HaAlonim, ‘Community of the Oaks’). This provision seemed especially important to reconsider now that the updated facility had attracted many new members who seemed to want to get involved. JCO was evolving and growing from a place where a few people did everything to a real community where many more folks wanted and rightly expected to have a say.
As is often the case, when more people participate, more opinions are expressed, disagreements occur. Those who have had control do not always welcome the ideas of others. Turmoil and dissension began to dominate the JCO Board and eventually, spill into the community. It became clear that another glaring lack of JCO was an agreement about the type of culture and conduct we would all be willing to adhere to as we conducted the business of serving our congregation. Simply reciting a blessing at the start of Board meetings was not enough to ensure respectful discourse.
With the goal of conducting ourselves in line with Jewish values of ‘derech erech’ the Board sought the consultation and guidance of Rabbi Mordechai Finley, a well-known teacher and leader, and worked together to craft a culture statement to guide us in our work, our social behavior together and to keep before us the reason we were willing to volunteer to serve on the Board in the first place. (The culture statement and related articles were shared with the congregation in the JCO e-blasts and are available on the website).
It may have been shocking for some of you to learn that JCO did not have member voting, as it shocked many of us on the Board when we first studied the Bylaws. It is puzzling that some of you have chosen to withhold your dues payment as a way to express your feelings. The Board extends sincere thanks to those of you who have expressed your opinion gracefully and have continued to support JCO financially and who trust that your wishes for greater involvement will be honored.
This change is not cosmetic; it comes with actual and important responsibility. As JCO goes forward into the next phase of our organizational development, I urge all members to find a way to get involved. You will be receiving a call to volunteer for duties for the High Holidays soon. Please respond graciously and volunteer to do a reading, serve as an usher, greeter or oneg sponsor. Please volunteer to chair or join a committee, please consider “paying forward” a little extra to underwrite those who can't afford full dues.
JCO is a unique and special congregation: except for our wonderful Rabbi, we have no professional staff. Everything that happens here is done by member volunteers. Please join the Board in sharing the joy and the responsibility of serving our community. Open your hearts, your minds and your sense of tzedaka for our beloved Jewish Community of Ojai.