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Seating Pilot #3 (December 9, 2023)

Set-up:

We met again 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), and (3) the left side of the room was separate seating for men (with forward-facing rows). We started with 50 seats in the mixed section and 50 seats in the separate sections (25 in mens and 25 in womens), and added more chairs to the mens section during the service as that section filled up. In order to help with noise issues, we did not allow people to enter/exit through the main door, and instead asked people to go in and out through the chapel door. 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):

 

We received responses from 39 people, 38 of whom indicated that they had attended the pilot service. Based on an informal head-count on Shabbat morning, we estimate that responses received represent somewhat less than half of the adult attendees.

Membership: 37 people indicated that they were current members, and 2 people indicated that they were non-members.

Seating Location: 1 person indicated they had sat in more than 1 section, 21 people indicated that they sat in the all-gender section, 6 in the men’s section, and 10 in the women’s section.
29 people said it was easy to find a seat in their preferred section and 9 people said it took some effort.

Comparison to Previous Pilot: 17 people indicated that they had attended both of the previous pilots; 12 had attended one of the previous pilots; 10 indicated that this was their first time at a WSM seating pilot. Of those who had attended one or both of the previous pilots, 18 said that this one was better and 10 said it was about the same.

Comparison to a Non-Pilot WSM Shabbat: 16 people indicated that their experience was better than a typical WSM Shabbat, 17 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: 15

  • Strong Preference for IC: 6

  • Mild Preference for IC: 4

  • No Preference Either Way: 5

Positive Feedback:

  • Felt vibrant, engaging, warm

  • Bigger crowd; feels like a bigger tent

  • Good signage (easy to identify sections)

  • Much better in terms of noise control 

 Negative Feedback:

  • Need to work on acoustics in the Innovation Center: are there things that can be done (e.g., rugs) that would help?

  • The all-gender section feels far away from the amud, if don’t come early and don’t get a seat in the front – unlike the separate sections, which are closer to the front

 

Mixed Feedback:

  • Entering only through the chapel got a mixed review: some people thought it was awkward not to be able to use the main entrance; others thought it was worth it, as it helped reduce noise from the lobby area. (One person specifically noted that it felt more comfortable to come in through an entrance that was not in the men’s section.)

  • Some people like having the side sections (i.e., mens/womens) face forward only; some prefer having the option of facing inward (as in the chapel)

  • Should the amud be further forward or moved back for a more “central” feel? (This is related to the question of inward- vs forward-facing for the side sections, and how people feel about having their back to the amud.)

  • Again, people were mixed on whether it felt like an cohesive community or whether the seating pilot highlights divisions.

 

Other feedback:

  • Not everyone has a straightforward preference of where to sit; it may depend on circumstances (for example, whether they are alone or with family members). It may not be purely “ideological” for everyone.

  • It’s hard to predict how many people will come on a given week, and how many seats may be needed. This makes it hard to figure out if we’ve really “outgrown” the chapel space, is higher attendance (such that the chapel would feel too small) a “new normal,” or just an occasional thing? How would the Innovation Center feel on a week with smaller numbers? How do we decide on a space, at a time when our numbers seem to be in flux?

  • Would a change in seating change the numbers? (maybe it would be more attractive to people who don’t currently attend, maybe we would lose some members who would find it too uncomfortable)

  • Would a change in seating change our hashkafah and the overall feel of the community? 

 

Feedback about Next Steps:

When asked about the next steps they would like to see:

  • 19 people indicated they would like to see additional seating pilots

  • 10 people indicated they would like additional opportunities to share their opinions

  • 23 people indicated they would like additional opportunities to hear the opinions of others

  • 9 people left that question blank (1 of whom added a comment specifically stating that they thought we had enough information to make a decision now)

For those interested in further discussion:

  • 15 people wanted parlor meetings to discuss opinions in a small setting

  • 10 people wanted the opportunity to submit opinions anonymously in writing, to be shared with the community

  • 8 people wanted community-wide discussion in person

  • 2 people wanted community-wide discussion over zoom

  • 6 people wanted the opportunity to meet with members of the Vaad personally to discuss their opinion

Just as a reminder, the survey is not intended to be a vote 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 scheduled pilot will take place on December 30, and the Vaad will share plans for next steps by mid-January. 

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.

Tue, July 16 2024 10 Tammuz 5784