At our AGM, we're making big decisions about biscuits

By NWJew, September 17, 2009

I’m not going to pretend that our synagogue annual general meetings are the friendly, supportive events that the rabbi hopes for, in vain, each year. However, he ought at least to be relieved that only a tiny fraction of the membership bother to turn up for this ancient and honoured ritual, often referred to as “bashing the lay leadership and taking a barely concealed sideswipe at the spiritual leader while you’re at it”.

I suspect that my shul is similar to yours and that the following portraits of AGM stalwarts will be familiar.

The Keeper of the Book: Always sitting in the front row of every meeting, this is the person who leaps to his feet every time the most obscure procedural detail is not being followed. While the rest of us study Talmud he studies the synagogue constitution and he knows obscure clauses down to the sub-sub-section by heart. As a result, approval of the previous year’s minutes takes approximately two hours. We’ll be hearing from the Keeper of the Book again. And again. And again.

The Founder Member: There appear to be about 300 founder members still active in my shul, which was set up in 1924. Go figure. Anyway, the founder member performs an invaluable function ensuring that we keep sight of the original principles upon which the synagogue was formed. He will not hesitate, for example, to leap to his feet during a discussion about decorating the function room to remind us that while the paint may have been curling away from the plaster for the past 27 years, we mustn’t abandon the original colour of the walls, which he personally chose. What was the original colour? Nobody can remember, but the best guess is that it was the colour one’s face turns when attacked by food poisoning.

The Treasurer: This is a crucial role for the synagogue. The treasurer must possess the skill to describe enormous budget shortfalls without anyone being unduly perturbed. He does this by not leaping to his feet at any time while droning on, at length, and barely audibly. When he has completed his report it’s time to put it to the vote. With most of the members now fast asleep, the budget is passed by a majority of two votes with only the Keeper of the Book voting against.

The Guildswoman: Inexplicably there have been no new members of the Ladies’ Guild since 1983. Some have speculated that the cabal — I mean guild leaders — are reluctant to allow in women who don’t wear enormous hats with fruit on top. At each AGM the chair of the Ladies’ Guild reports on the complaints she has received over the year concerning, among other things, the stale biscuits at kiddush and the hay fever-inducing flower display at Yomtov. This speech earns her the longest and most enthusiastic applause of anyone at the meeting. What she doesn’t realise is that the applause is a front so that members can continue to kvetch to their neighbour about the flowers and biscuits.

And so the meeting eventually comes to a close. Nothing is decided and everyone goes home asking why they bothered. But don’t worry; they’ll all be back next year to show their appreciation of the poor suckers who volunteer for official posts because they certainly don’t reckon they could do a better job of it themselves.

Not much they don’t.

    Last updated: 11:54am, September 17 2009