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Seating Pilot #4 (December 30, 2023)

We met in the Chapel, anticipating that we would not have a large crowd (due to school vacation). The room was set up with three sections: separate seating for men and for women was in the front of the room, with all seats facing forward (rather than inward), and all-gender seating on both sides of the back of the room. We had 40 seats in the mixed section and 40 seats in the separate sections (20 in mens and 20 in womens). 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 31 people, 26 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: 30 people indicated that they were current members, and 1 person indicated that they were non-members.

Seating Location: 1 person indicated they had sat in more than 1 section, 17 people indicated that they sat in the all-gender section, 4 in the men’s section, and 4 in the women’s section.
23 people said it was easy to find a seat in their preferred section and 3 people said it took some effort (1 each in women’s, men’s and all-gender).

Comparison to Previous Pilot: 28 people indicated that they had attended one or more of the previous pilots; 3 indicated that this was their first time at a WSM seating pilot. Of those who had attended one or more of the previous pilots, 8 said that this one was better, 5 said that it was worse, and 9 said it was about the same.

Comparison to a Non-Pilot WSM Shabbat: 13 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: 7

·  Mild preference for Chapel: 9

·  Strong Preference for IC: 2

·  Mild Preference for IC: 7

·  No Preference Either Way: 5


Positive Feedback:

·  Friendly atmosphere, felt inclusive

·  Good to see families sitting together

Negative Feedback:

·  Did not like that the separate seating was only front-facing, which meant that I had my back to the amud

·  Difficult to get in and out of “separate” sections, when seats go up to the wall without an aisle

Other feedback:

·  Appreciative of the thoughtful process to date, but concerns about the next steps and how a decision will be made.

·  Concern that the decision-making process not be divisive to the community.


Feedback about Next Steps:

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

·  12 people indicated they would like to see additional seating pilots

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

·  18 people indicated they would like additional opportunities to hear the opinions of others

·  10 people left that question blank (2 of whom commented that they thought we had should move straight to 3-section model permanently, without the need for further steps)

For those interested in further discussion:

·  13 people wanted parlor meetings to discuss opinions in a small setting

·  12 people wanted the opportunity to submit opinions anonymously in writing, to be shared with the community

·  7 people wanted community-wide discussion in person

·  6 people wanted community-wide discussion over zoom

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. (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

Next Steps
The Vaad is currently reflecting on the feedback from the surveys, and looks forward to sharing plans for next steps with the community soon. We would like to thank everyone who has participated in the pilots and who has shared feedback with us. We are grateful to be part of such a wonderful community, and are committed to hearing all voices and finding path forward that reflects the values of our members, and maintains the unique, vibrant, davening community that WSM is.

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



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