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From Our President - Help Ensure the Future of our Oneg Shabbat

Dear Congregation B’nai Shalom,

The purpose of my Monthly Connections article this month is to look for volunteers to help ensure the future of a great tradition at Congregation B’nai Shalom. I am certain everyone has attended Shabbat Services on Friday night. After our Shabbat services, we host an Oneg in the Social Hall. The Oneg always consists of a variety of foods — fruits, vegetables, gluten-free options, cake, sweets, etc. Our families stay and socialize, the clergy usually stays and chats with members and guests, and children load up on sugar and turn the bimah in the Social Hall into some form of gymnastics equipment. The Friday Oneg is part of the fabric of our congregation, and the energy in the room during our Oneg is not easily replaceable.

The Friday Oneg has not changed that much from when we were a very small congregation. Back then all members of the congregation took turns hosting the Oneg. Most congregants knew each other from attending services or as their children were in religious school together. They brought food, served it, and cleaned up. This included wiping down the tables, vacuuming the carpets, and bringing the trash to the dumpster. As the once small group of families became a larger congregation with a more diverse demographic, it became harder to get volunteers to host. Sisterhood recognized the positive impact that the Friday night Oneg has on the congregation and developed a plan to coordinate the hosts and create a warm, inviting, and delicious place for us to celebrate, socialize, bond, and nosh. In the current system, about once every one and half to two years a member is sent a letter from the office explaining hosting. The member is given a date by the office to be a host family, and told a Sisterhood Captain will make contact a week to ten days before to confirm and coordinate food. The Sisterhood Captain then shops for any additional foods that will be needed for that night (reimbursed by Sisterhood) and is then present at the Oneg and helps the host with set-up and clean-up. An Oneg takes place about fifty times a year!

The team of Sisterhood Captains coordinating the Oneg hosts is now dwindling in numbers. We would like to keep the Onegs as we go forward. To do that we will need new volunteers or “Captains.” If we can get to twenty to twenty-five volunteers then that is just two to three Onegs a year for each Captain. All Captains are taught what the responsibilities are and co-captaining with a friend is encouraged. We also realize that there are some new efficiencies that we can bring to the system with partners like Amazon, Roche, and Stop & Shop now delivering. We also have a custodial service that comes in to vacuum, empty trash, and clean up, so that is no longer the responsibility of the volunteers. However, the set-up, coordination, warm touches and culture of the Oneg is something that I am reluctant to start outsourcing to a third party caterer. It is not a question of money — it is about preserving the “Friday night with friends” feel of our Onegs. I hope that we can find new volunteers. Please reach out to me or our Executive Director, Steve Winer if you would like to volunteer.
I would like to thank the current team of Captains who make sure that every Oneg is a success, for being great volunteers, and for quietly leading by example for all of these years. A special thank you to Cheryl Kasof who serves on our Board of Directors and so thoughtfully brought this to my attention, Rabbi Gurevitz’s attention, and shared her concern with the Board of Directors in January.

Last week someone asked me, “What is the hardest part of being President of the Congregation?” I did not have to think at all. My response was “finding volunteers.” No matter how big, financially strong, and mature Congregation B’nai Shalom becomes, our future will always rely on volunteers. I hope that we can bring in a new generation of volunteers to keep our wonderful Oneg tradition alive for generations to come.

L’shalom, Rob Blumberg

Tue, March 26 2019 19 Adar II 5779