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Rabbi James Prosnit

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jimRabbi James Prosnit has been Rabbi of Congregation B’nai Israel in Bridgeport, Connecticut, since 1990.  Prior to this, Rabbi Prosnit served as Associate Rabbi at both Congregation Rodeph Sholom, New York City, and Holy Blossom Temple, Toronto, Ontario. 

He received his B.A. from Ohio Wesleyan University, and M.A. degrees from New York University (Education) and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (Hebrew Literature).  He was ordained from HUC-JIR in New York in 1981 and received an honorary Doctorate of Divinity in 2006.

Since 1990 he has also been an adjunct lecturer in the Religious Studies Department at Fairfield University. 

Rabbi Prosnit is involved in the rabbinic residency mentoring program for rabbinic students at HUC-JIR and has served as a mentor for the Ignatian Residential College at Fairfield University.
Among numerous community activities, Rabbi Prosnit is Past-President of Connecticut Against Gun Violence and serves as vice-chair of Operation Hope, a homeless shelter and social service agency in the Town of Fairfield.  He serves on the Inter-religious Affairs Commission and the Commission for Lifelong Learning for the Union for Reform Judaism.

Rabbi Prosnit lives in Fairfield, Connecticut, with his wife and three sons. 

Av/Elul 5774
From The
Rabbi's Desk
August 2014
Reaching Beyond 20 Percent


The following are excerpted from Rabbi James Prosnit’s remarks at the June Annual Meeting.

Leap years in the Jewish calendar, of which 5774 was one, always make the year a bit longer. In the Jewish way, we add an extra month to the calendar rather than just a day, so if we think back, Rosh Hashanah arrived this year just a few days after Labor Day. As we remember, the New Year began for many with a wonderful celebration at Jennings Beach in Fairfield. By all accounts of the the evening, the tone of the service struck the right chord for hundreds of willing worshippers of all ages.

There were other highlights. A wonderful celebration to acknowledge Cantor Blum’s 20th year in the congregation, an Art Show that celebrated the talents of many of our very own congregants, an interfaith Passover Seder with St. John’s church in Bridgeport, the congregational trip to Cuba and just last month the very special evening of tribute to Glenn and Amy Rich and Jon and Cleo Sonneborn.

Interspersed were many learning and celebratory moments that resonated with a lot of congregants. The teaching and style of our Spector Lecturer Dr. Norman Cohen are still being remembered thoughtfully months
later, as is the music of the incredibly talented Michelle Citrin, who led our youth group and adults in creative and memorable worship. We focused on Holocaust studies with Andree Lotey, who brought her family story of being saved by Aristedes Sousa Mendes, and
we hosted a powerful Yom Hashoah service for the joint Federations of Westport, Norwalk and Bridgeport.

Israel was a topic of provocative conversation as a lot of congregants weighed in on “My Promised Land,” a
One Temple One Book read, and then a presentation by AIPAC’s and B’nai Israel’s homegrown David Gillette.
And of course there were the holiday celebrations, most notably Thanksgivikah and a fun Purim celebration with comedian Joel Chasnoff. As always we marked life
passages – the B’nai Mitzvah, the recent Confirmation of 28 10th graders, the weddings and this year far too many funerals.

We touched a good number of people– made them aware of the power of synagogue affiliation and reaffirmed that, since the days of Rabbi Gustave
Gumpel, this congregation has done a lot to inspire spirituality, even if in that case the rabbis’ daughter went on to be the mother of Cardinal O’Connor. We
pride ourselves in interfaith outreach. Little did we know our fame would come that way!

So many people who walk into our building speak of the warmth – the activity, the positive vibes that emerge from the Early Childhood Center and Religious School, the worship experience and the general ambience that we do our best to convey.

But an annual meeting isn’t just a time for back-patting. Thanks to a dedicated staff, my colleagues and our terrific support staff as well as a group of lay
leaders who give in inordinate amount of their time and talents – much of the glass was more than half full this year. But if we probe deeply there are certainly areas for growth.

Rabbi Schultz and I have started to read a book called “The Other 80%.” It’s written by ministers and is directed to churches, but as you can imagine, it translates well for synagogue communities. From the title you can guess its message.

Called the Pareto Principle for the Italian economist who noted that 80 percent of the land was owned by 20 percent of the people, there’s a play-out and truth in to the 80/20 rule in many, many areas: We wear 20 percent of the clothes in our closet 80 percent of the time; we spend 80 percent of our time with 20 percent of our friends; we contribute 80 percent of our funds to 20 percent of the causes we care about; and as many not-forprofits or fund-raising campaigns know, they receive 80 percent of the donations from 20 percent of the people.

For our purposes, like many churches and synagogues, 20 percent of the members are actively involved and 80
percent of our congregants join us only on occasion.

The theme of the book is how to turn spectators into active participants. Their solutions have a lot to do with
listening and talking to people, raising the bar on expectations of what membership is all about – one-on-one conversations, encouraging leaders to be inviters and greeters (all things we talk about a lot, but don’t always act upon.)

They discuss the drawback of committees – “The numbers of committees a church has is not directly related to increased volunteer recruitment, vitality or growth in attendance … if your members have only so many hours each week to contribute to the mission of the church, do you want them at committee meetings or doing ministry?”

The word ministry may be hard for us to relate to, but in Jewish terms I may suggest it translates to doing primary Jewish acts – study, worship or acts of hesed, social justice and compassion. If we invite people to engage in these things, we may just find that they will.
As we move forward to 5775, we hope we can count on you to help change the percentages!



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