If there is one piece of advice that I could offer to a Shul, it would be “Get Yourself a Gan”. This is a key component from the Chabad playbook, and when we moved into our new building and started a Gan, about 15 years ago, we saw the beauty of this under appreciated institution.
A primary motivation for opening a Gan is revenue generation. It can be significant and it can help you keep your dues low. Another motivation that was pointed out by a member of our Gan formation committee, is the beauty of providing the first Jewish education experience for our members’ children and for other children in the community. Hearing 3-4 year-olds learning Torah is a balm for the ears and the soul.
Like most valuable things, it’s not a simple matter to establish a Gan. First you have to have an adequate space for the number of classes you wish to house. When we built our building we installed movable partitions for classes in the lower level, but if we had anticipated the Gan’s success, we would have planned for additional space.
A second issue is the membership itself. Only a handful of people are involved with a Shul’s finances, so they tend to see the downside more than the financial upside. I still remember the meeting when we proposed the Gan and a member loudly proclaimed, “What do we know about running a Gan!”. As it turned out, we knew a decent amount, and we were successful pretty much out of the gate. Even after the Gan’s success there were some complaints about the inconveniences of the dual School/Shul usage. But as time went on it became clearer what an asset it was, and the complaints diminished.
Thirdly you have to run the Gan both as an educational institution, dealing with teachers and parents, and as a small business. After a rough start at the beginning, we were fortunate to find an extremely capable director. For the financials, we have a membership executive committee that oversees both tuitions and teacher salaries. Bumps along the way should be expected, but good people can overcome most obstacles.
Not everybody will have the resources or the drive to start and run a Gan, but you should definitely investigate the possibilities.
3 thoughts on “Get Yourself a Gan”
Love the fact that you used the Chabad playbook”. Any shul that has a component of kiruv would do well to see what is successful in both Chabad and also bigger congregation within the Reform movement.
The Reform place were I teach on Sundays has converted their library into a free Wi-Fi lounge with coffee and baked goods. This way when parents drop off their kids for Sunday school, there is a draw to keep the parents there. The congregation’s rabbi also hangs out there leading discussions.
Neil, I was referring to Chabad’s league-leading funding model often centered around early childhood education centers or for younger grades Gans.
Although the Shul Politics of Kiruv definitely deserves it’s own post – Stay Tuned!
The caveat is that it must not become an excuse for adults to stop learning.
“I don’t need to study Torah so that I can teach my children. I pay the shul to do that!”
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