Library Minyan General Membership Meeting

November 9, 2003

The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. The following Minyan members attended: John Antignas, Dale Bodenstein, Mark Bodenstein, Bob Braun, Mayer Brenner, Terry Cohan-Link, Herschel Elkins, Miriam Elkins, Shawn Fields-Meyer, Jonathan Friedman, Val Goldstein, Rachel Green, Daniel Greyber, Janet Halbert, Sam Jason, Susan Laemmle, Morlie Levin, Norm Levin, Bob Malina, Fran Malina, Mitch Miller, Paul Miller, Henry Morgan, Joe Nimoy, Marizon Nimoy, Alan Paul, Kathryn Paul, Barry Rosenblatt, Kathy Rosenblatt, Heather Rothman, Diane Scherschow, Bill Seligman, Steve Spronz, Carl Sunshine, Tova Sunshine, Allen Weinstock.
Norm Levin began the meeting by describing the agenda, objectives, and procedures for the meeting. He indicated that the five pending issues addressed by the Ritual Committee (the first item on the agenda) would be discussed one at a time, with Bob Braun first providing a quick summary of the respective issue and overview of the committee’s deliberations on that issue followed by general discussion.

Pending Issues Addressed by the Ritual Committee

Bob prefaced his summary of the pending issues by reviewing the composition of the Ritual Committee (the gabbaim, Bob Braun, Norm Levin, and other interested Minyan members at their discretion). The committee meets regularly via e-mail, but only sporadically in person, as needs arise. All committee e-mail trails are open for the kahal to read and posted on the web site.

The following briefly summarizes the background to each of the pending issues, describes the Ritual Committee’s deliberations and/or recommendation, and highlights main themes or points made in the ensuing discussion. The votes and/or outcomes of the discussion of the respective issues are noted in the bottom bullet of each issue wherever applicable.

Prayer for U.S. soldiers

Background: The Ritual Committee was asked to discuss adding a prayer for the welfare of American soldiers. The Ritual Committee did some research and identified a prayer from the Jewish Welfare Board (JWF) that was deemed suitable for consideration. The Ritual Committee modified the JWF prayer slightly to read as follows: “We beseech you, Oh God, to shield and protect our armed forces in the air, on sea and on land. May it be Your will that the dominion of tyranny and cruelty speedily be brought to an end and the kingdom of righteousness be established on earth with liberty and freedom for all mankind. Amen.”

Ritual Committee’s recommendation: The committee recommended that this modified prayer be added to the existing prayer for the country for as long as U.S. military personnel are engaged in armed conflict.

General discussion: Most members were sympathetic to the argument that U.S. service men and women deserve our prayers. There was a wide range of views, however, on how best to address this issue. Some participants expressed concern that inserting the prayer into the Shabbat liturgy would inject politics into our service. Others, while sensitive to that possibility, felt that careful wording could minimize that risk. Still others were reluctant in general to add prayers to the existing liturgy, with some suggesting that prayers for our troops are best addressed on a private/personal level. The operational implications should the Minyan opt to include some version of the prayer were also discussed, including where such a prayer would be placed in the liturgy and where it would be physically inserted into the prayer books. The pros and cons of going with a prayer vs. a misheberach were also discussed.

Vote: A majority of the members present voted NOT to ratify the Ritual Committee recommendation to include a separate prayer for U.S. soldiers. Instead, a majority of the members voted in favor of exploring the idea of inserting some such expression or prayer into the standard mesheberach. The matter was referred back to the Ritual Committee to identify an appropriate formulation.

Prayer for Chayalei Tzahal

Background: The Ritual Committee was asked to address adding a prayer for the welfare of Israeli soldiers.

Ritual Committee’s recommendation: Upon review of the relevant prayers included in the siddur, the Ritual Committee determined that the Prayer for the State of Israel already includes an appropriate phrase and recommended that no further modification or addition be made. Instead, the Ritual Committee suggested that the Kahal be reminded from time to time that the prayer does encompass the safety and wellbeing of Israeli armed forces and that this should be kept in mind while praying.

General discussion: There was a strong consensus behind the Ritual Committee’s recommendation to make no further modification or addition to the liturgy and no opposing point of view was expressed.

Outcome: The committee’s recommendation was adopted.

Children on the bimah

Background: The Ritual Committee was asked to review long-standing Minyan policy concerning children on or around the bimah during services.

Ritual Committee’s recommendation: The Ritual Committee strongly reaffirmed the Minyan’s desire to welcome families and children and reiterated the Minyan’s existing policy: a) Children who are not leading a portion of the service should not, in general, reside on the bimah; b) At no time should any child (or any other person) sit on the shulchan, particularly in the presence of a Sefer Torah; c) The Minyan does and should continue to invite children to the bimah at specific times, such as the removal and return of the Torah and at Adon Olam; d) It is the responsibility of parents to enforce this policy with respect to their children, although gabbaim should provide gentle reminders as necessary.

General discussion: Most people agreed with both the committee’s reaffirmation of the Minyan’s desire to continue to foster a “child-friendly” environment and its reiteration of the Minyan’s existing policy. There was general agreement in particular that children should not be sitting on the schulchan in the presence of the Sefer Torah, nor should they be playing at the foot of the bimah or interfering with the schaliach tzibur. Several people stressed that, while it is a shared responsibility to create a sacred space for us all, it is especially incumbent on the parents of small children to help their children understand that the chapel is a sacred space. Others, pointing to the “graying hair” around the table, emphasized the need for maximum tolerance.

Outcome: There was general agreement that the Ritual Committee should remind the kahal of the Minyan’s existing policy.

Videotaping in the Minyan

Background: The Ritual Committee reviewed the pending issue of videotaping of simchot in the Minyan on Shabbat and chagim, which arose when a member of the Minyan asked if a family bar mitzvah could be recorded by a “Shabbat-friendly” video recorder. Rabbi Rembaum held as the Mara D’atra that such taping is halachically permissible based on a T’shuva by the Rabbinical Assembly drafted by Rabbi Elliot Dorf, and videotaping has been done upstairs in the main shul for the past six months. Rabbi Rembaum also stressed, however, that the decision whether to allow such taping in the Minyan is entirely a decision for the Minyan to make for itself and there is no pressure from the shul one way or the other. Mark Wolf strongly reiterated both of these points, emphasizing that as far as the shul’s lay leadership is concerned we should feel under no pressure either regarding the issue itself or the time it might take to reach a decision. After a brief exchange of e-mail among Ritual Committee members, Bob felt that the committee could not make a decision on this issue without the involvement of the general membership, a feeling Norm fully shared. Under severe time constraints to make a decision on the particular simcha, however, Norm and Bob decided to agree to a “one-time only” taping of that particular event on the basis of the explicit understanding that it would not constitute a precedent. The decision also included the proviso that no further taping would be allowed until the Minyan membership as a whole had a chance to vote on this issue. The issue was then returned to the Ritual Committee for further deliberation.

Ritual Committee’s deliberations: At the Ritual Committee meeting prior to the general Minyan meeting, many issues were raised both for and against videotaping. (For a more detailed account, see the minutes from the Ritual Committee’s October 29, 2003 meeting.) These included the following:

Aesthetics: The presence of videotaping could create a barrier to prayer, while leading to unintended and undesirable results.

Personal halachic issues: Videotaping could be a divisive issue because some Minyan members, notwithstanding Rabbi Rembaum’s halachic ruling, might feel compelled to separate themselves from services being taped.

The “two kahal” dilemma: Some committee members were concerned that if Minyan members separate themselves from videotaped services but participate at other times the goal of a unified community could be undermined, particularly given the increasing number of simchot scheduled in the Minyan. Others felt that on days when a simcha is celebrated there are already, in fact, two kahals and that this is both natural and appropriate.

Family considerations: Some committee members felt that the prime goal of the Minyan as a welcoming community should be to accommodate the desires of a family celebrating a simcha and that placing the desires of the community above the desires of individual members was equally divisive. Others felt that the Minyan has already moved considerably away from the model where a family “fits into” the Minyan for a simcha rather than the Minyan “servicing” the family and that a continuation of this trend has potential long-term implications for the nature of the Minyan itself.

Practical considerations: The operational implications of how (or whether) to announce videotaping and who/what events would be eligible for taping were also discussed.

Ritual Committee’s recommendation: The committee determined that the issues surrounding videotaping in the Minyan required a full discussion and vote by the entire kahal and recommended that the issues be discussed at a general membership meeting, followed by an e-mail discussion and mail-in vote prior to Chanukah.

General discussion: These issues served as the point of departure for a lively discussion. In addition to some of the same views expressed at the Ritual Committee meeting summarized above, the discussion included (but was not limited to) the following points, arguments, and/or perspectives:

It is important not to lose sight of the impact the process of these discussions can have on the people involved. We need to put “people first,” rather than “process first.”

The primary purpose of the shul on shabbat/Yom Tov is to provide a sacred space for prayer.

An unobtrusive video camera is “low impact” because only a very few seats can be captured on tape and recorded.

No matter how unobtrusive, a video camera is not “low-impact” because people need to avoid certain spaces and otherwise alter their normal behavior, which could have a profound impact on the character of the Minyan over time.

It is essential to see the details of the halachic ruling from the Rabbinic Assembly that allowed videotaping.

It is not essential to see the details of the halachic ruling because Rabbi Rembaum has already made his ruling.

What is ok upstairs should/should not determine what is ok downstairs.

This is a complicated issue and we should not rush to judgement. Chanukah may be too short a timeframe for a decision.

If videotaping is to take place, the kahal needs to be informed because of non-secular privacy laws.

As part of the larger discussion with the entire kahal it is essential that both “pro” and “con” statements be prepared and presented.

If it is possible to post a still frame from the videotape of the simcha at which taping was allowed it should be done so that the kahal can get a “picture” of the impact.

The question posed to the Minyan should be narrow and focus solely on b’nai and b’not mitzvah.

The question posed to the Minyan should be broader and more philosophical.

Reasoning from past experience with contentious issues, it might be possible to pose a tiered question, going from the more philosophical to the more narrow.

Vote: Following discussion of specific wording for a question that could be posed to the Minyan for a vote on this issue, a formulation was offered limiting the taping question only to bar or bat mitzvah celebrations and a vote on that formulation was called. The wording of the proposed question was: “Should the Library Minyan allow videotaping on Shabbat and Yom Tov of b’nai and b’not mitzvah as long as the videotaping is within halachic guidelines?” The majority of the members present voted “no” and this proposed formulation was rejected. An alternative motion was adopted to form a small team to develop appropriate wording for the question, along with a brief background statement and major pro and con perspectives. Herschel Elkins, Janet Halbert, and Steve Spronz agreed to work with Bob Braun on this drafting team.

Simcha guidelines

Background: As part of the Minyan’s effort to be a welcoming community, the Ritual Committee agreed over the summer to prepare a set of guidelines to assist families celebrating a bar or bat mitzvah in the Minyan. Avi Havivi and Sandra Braun drafted the guidelines. The Ritual Committee reviewed this draft and, with a number of changes, unanimously adopted the guidelines. The guidelines will be provided to families when they schedule their simcha at the Minyan.

Ritual Committee’s recommendation: Since the guidelines are limited to implementing existing policies, the committee believes that no further action by the general membership is required. Copies of the guidelines will be posted on the web site and made available in hard copy to interested Minyan members.

General discussion: There was no discussion of this issue.

Decorum in the Minyan

Background: Several Minyan members had complained about a lack of decorum during services and asked the Ritual Committee to address this issue. After discussion, a consensus was reached that existing policies adequately cover this issue but that all members are encouraged to remind their friends of the goal of creating a prayer-friendly environment.

Ritual Committee’s recommendation: No further action need be taken.

General discussion: There was no discussion of this issue.

Additional Issues

Dale Bodenstein provided a report on the Minyan’s finances. As of June 30, 2002, the Minyan had a balance of $4,981.86. Between June 30, 2002 and November 5, 2003 the Minyan received $4,272.66 from donations and interest. The Minyan spent $4,076.73 during the same period, mostly on kiddushes, tributes, and new megillot. The current Minyan balance is $5,177.79. A written financial report is available to all Minyan members. Dale also asked that all donations, including Simchat Torah pledges, be mailed to her directly. Her address is 1121 South Spalding Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90019.

As the hour was getting late, the remaining agenda items (new welcoming initiatives and an update on the Library Minyan home page) were postponed for future discussion. Two additional issues were raised for future discussion. One was whether some of the Minyan funds currently available could be used to further enhance the kiddush experience. Mitch Miller agreed to take the lead in exploring potential ways for doing this. The other issue was what, for purposes of sponsoring a simcha or event in the Minyan, constitutes Minyan “membership.”

The meeting was adjourned at 12:10 p.m.

Minutes drafted by: Morlie Levin

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