Our Shul Runs on Solel Power

by Roselyn Allen, June 27, 2019

A few years ago, I was at a summer barbecue for a cousin’s birthday. His wife’s grandmother was there, visiting from Florida. At 102, I thought it was incredible that she was still traveling such a distance at her age, and I told her so. I asked if she was planning on staying in Canada long. “Oh, no dear,” she told me, “I have to get back soon. I volunteer in a nursing home, reading to the old people.”

I’ve never belonged to a congregation big enough to have its own executive director and roll of professionals. However, I feel that we’re lucky enough at Solel to have great staff in Rabbi Audrey, Arliene, Carol, and Nillon- that we get the privileges of any synagogue big or small. And the real difference between a synagogue with a couple of thousand members, and one that has a few hundred, is that making programs come to life depends in great part on volunteers.

I remember when I joined Solel how impressed I was that the Hebrew school was a bustling hub, staffed by Solelniks rewarded only with a small honorarium. It’s very impressive that our Bet Sefer Solel has such dedicated members, and people I have run into outside our community have commented on this volunteer model that works so well for our school. It was one of the things that drew me to Solel, and I decided to start teaching because I wished to demonstrate to my children that volunteer work was a worthwhile endeavour.

In my new role as President, I have gone to several of our committee meetings and asked what I can do for each group. Invariably, the answer is “we could use new members”, and this speaks to me. Volunteer fatigue is something we’d really like to avoid. We have many committed leaders who have been in their roles a very long time- longer than I’ve been president, for sure, longer than I’ve been a member of the board, and even longer than I’ve been a member of Solel! I’m sure these long-time volunteers can tell you they’ve benefited in many ways from their experiences.

As the opening anecdote illustrates, volunteering can help promote longevity, and studies have shown that it leads to increased brain elasticity, reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s. Older volunteers also benefit from the physical activity of getting out of the house as physical and social engagement lead to increased happiness. There is actually some evidence showing that seniors and the chronically ill who volunteer show lower pain scores and decrease the risk of heart disease.

The social aspects of volunteering benefit all ages. Lifelong connections are made with others who have similar interests, and sometimes we meet people who we never would have met in other aspects of our lives, and really click with them. People gain confidence as they do something that gives them a real sense of achievement, and it’s not a bad idea to punch up your resume with your community involvement.

This year, we’d really like to make an effort to get everyone to volunteer, even for small tasks, at Solel. You’ll find in your membership package a comprehensive form identifying opportunities here at Solel. I hope that everyone can find a way to contribute in a way that they’re comfortable with, whether you’re a high schooler looking for hours, a young adult looking to gain experience, a parent hoping to show their kids the value of giving back to the community, or a senior looking for a way to be social and active, we can find a place for you.

It has been said that the president is the synagogue’s number one volunteer, but I would say the synagogue president is just one of many vital volunteers.

Filed under: President's Message

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