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Seating Pilot #2 (November 18, 2023)

Please see the bottom of this email for a recap of the email that was sent to the community over the summer, explaining the goals of the Seating Pilot and our approach to communal decision-making.

Set-up:
We met in the Innovation Center (rather than the Chapel), in anticipation of a large crowd and in response to the concern that the Chapel had felt too cramped for our previous seating pilot. The room was set up with three sections: (1) the middle of the room (directly behind the amud) was all-gender (or “mixed”) seating, (2) the right side of the room was separate seating for women (with forward-facing rows behind the amud and inward facing rows in the front of the room), and (3) the left side of the room was separate seating for men (with forward-facing rows behind the amud and inward facing rows in the front of the room). We started with an equal number of chairs in each of the three sections, and added more chairs to the all-gender section during the service as that section filled up. We sent out a diagram of the room set-up in the pre-Shabbat weekly email (click HERE to see it).

Responses (based on the survey that went out to the mailing list):

By Sunday evening (11/26/2023), we had received responses from 41 people who had attended the second pilot service on 11/18. Based on an informal head-count on Shabbat morning, we estimate that responses received represent just over half of the adult attendees. 

Membership: 38 people indicated that they were current members, and 2 people indicated that they were non-members (one of whom said they would join if the addition of an all-gender section were to become permanent). 1 person did not answer that question.

Seating Location: 1 person indicated they had sat in more than 1 section, 26 people indicated that they sat in the all-gender section, 7 in the men’s section, and 7 in the women’s section (although 1 of those said they would have gone to all-gender but it seemed too crowded).

Comparison to Pilot #1: Around 70% of the respondents indicated that they had also attended the first seating pilot. Over 75% of those who responded that they had attended both pilots indicated that the second was better than the first.

Comparison to a Non-Pilot WSM Shabbat: 27 people indicated that their experience was better than a typical WSM Shabbat, 9 indicated that it was about the same, and 5 indicated that it was worse.

Innovation Center vs Chapel: The survey asked, “How do you feel about the Innovation Center as a Shabbat tefillah space, compared to the Chapel (independent of the seating configuration)?” 

  • Strong preference for Chapel: 9

  • Mild preference for Chapel: 8

  • Strong Preference for IC: 7

  • Mild Preference for IC: 6

  • No Preference Either Way: 11

Positive Feedback:

  • Sitting as a family.

  • Bigger space; more light.

  • Larger-than-usual turnout: great davening and energy, felt participatory.

  • Switch-over from Tefillah to Kiddush in the same space worked well.

 Negative Feedback:

  • Not enough seats in the all-gender section (and when they were added, it was all the way in the back – so it felt far away from the amud).

  • The acoustics in the Innovation Center are not good.

  • Better signage was needed; it was difficult to find the section I wanted.

  • Noisier/chattier than usual.

Mixed Feedback:

  • Some people thought it was harder to hear leaders in the larger space, but others said they were able to hear fine.

  • Again, some people said that it felt like it was a cohesive community while others said that the seating seemed to emphasize divisions.

Other feedback:

  • The larger (IC) space may feel fine on a week with a large turnout. But are we really outgrowing the chapel, or is this a blip? Are there other spaces that we can consider?

  • If we use the IC again, perhaps try to limit traffic through the main door, as that increases noise.

  • Do we want to consider having the front (i.e., inward facing) sections as mixed seating?

  • How do we increase the size of the all-gender section without making the separate sections feel too small?

  • The sections facing in toward the aron (in the front) are awkward.

  • Change of seating seems to be a departure from how WSM was set up, and may change the overall feel/hashkafah of the community.

Just as a reminder, the survey is designed to solicit feedback to help us plan for future seating pilots. It is not intended to be a vote or a tool to make a decision about whether or not to make a permanent change to WSM’s seating configuration. We are sharing the results of the survey with the community in the interest of transparency, with the understanding that it should be taken simply as a snapshot of people’s reactions to the specific pilot service. (We have included at the bottom of this email language from the original email that went out to the community during the summer about the seating pilot; you can read more about it at https://www.wsminyan.org/seating-5784.)

Next Steps
Our next pilots will take place on December 9 (followed by a community lunch), and December 30. We will be experimenting with different room set-ups for future pilots, and will continue to solicit feedback from those who attend. At some future point, we plan to send a more detailed survey questionnaire to those who are members of WSM (click HERE for more information about membership), and we will use that information to help make decisions about next steps for our community. Implementing the Seating Pilot does not mean that we are definitely planning to move to a different seating configuration in the coming months; decisions will be made based on careful consideration of responses from the community. What the precise process will be – both for engaging in community-wide conversation and for decision-making – is still under consideration.

To share more detailed feedback/opinions/concerns, or to ask questions, please reach out to the WSM Vaad (leadership team) by writing to seating@wsminyan.org.

We are appreciative of the community’s support for this experiment, and we look forward to continuing to learn and grow together as a community.

 

FROM THE INITIAL LAUNCH COMMUNICATION

The Vaad has come up with the following plan to help guide our community over the coming months in considering the issue, centering the values of transparency, open-mindedness, engagement, reflection, and learning.


Step #1:

Hold a community Zoom session with Rabbi Ethan Tucker to talk about his article Good Fences Make Good Neighbors on September 10th from 7:30 - 9:00 pm. The goal of this learning session is to help us frame the issues that have historically been central to the topic of seating, and to seek to understand how the traditional texts might speak to our contemporary reality, and how we can use them to frame our experience of seating in shul. Please register for the session and we will send you Zoom information. You may find it helpful to read Rabbi Tucker’s article in advance of the meeting.
 

Step #2:

Experiment with four shabbatot this fall, where we pilot a three-section seating model: one section for men, one section for women, and one all-gender section. The goal of these shabbatot is to complement the intellectual learning we do with Rabbi Tucker with an experiential component, and to provide a forum for community members to reflect informally with each other (over kiddush and lunch) about how the different seating configuration feels in practice. These dates are: 10/28 (followed by a community lunch), 11/18, 12/9 (followed by a community lunch), and 12/30.  Please mark the dates on your calendar and plan to attend at least one (if not all!) of the “pilot” shabbat services. 

Step #3:

Solicit input from our community about their experience during these four pilot experiences and any other input they want to provide. Everyone will be welcome to share feedback with members of the Vaad. In addition, official minyan members will be invited to respond to a more formal survey to help the community leadership understand where folks stand at that point. Note that we do not envision this as a "vote" per se, but rather as a way of gauging where we, as a community, are. 

We hope that some degree of consensus will come from this process of learning, experimenting, and discussing. After these months of engagement we may feel ready to make a decision, and we may not; we will decide our next steps based on community feedback. The values that are paramount in this process are those that informed the founding of the minyan, that continue to define who we are, and that reflect what is of paramount importance to so many of us: seeking to create a space that respects the diversity of practice and opinion, while striving to be as inclusive and welcoming as possible. We hope you will all join us in this endeavor from a place of openness, generosity of spirit, and patience.

Fri, March 1 2024 21 Adar I 5784