Mancom Talk: Irwin Manoim explains the Board of Guardians

Mancom Talk: From the Committee

Irwin Manoim, member of the Board of Guardians

IF the Management Committee is the engine of our congregation, the Board of Guardians is more like the brake. While Management races forward, the Board says: “Just wait a minute …”

Of the various committees at Beit Emanuel, the Board of Guardians is perhaps the most obscure. No other Shul in the Progressive Movement has a body anything like it. Most congregants have never heard of the Guardians.

The origins of the Board can be traced back 21 years to a bitter split between Emanuel and its older sister, Temple Shalom. The two were for a while a single congregation, sharing Rabbis and Hebrew schools. Shalom broke with Emanuel and the Progressive movement and became a Conservative (Masorti) congregation.

When Emanuel staggered back to its feet, a new constitution was drawn up by then-Chairman Leonard Singer. One of its features was a Board whose purpose was to make sure that no Management Committee would hijack the congregation, change its character or divorce it from the Progressive movement.

So that’s the first of the Board of Guardian’s functions: to rule on whether new projects and initiatives of the Management Committee are constitutional. A recent example: Could the chairman of Beit Emanuel earn a salary, given how hard he/she is obliged to work? The Guardians ruled that the position had to be voluntary.

There are always four Guardians. They must have been members of a Progressive congregation for at least ten years, and to have served on Beit Emanuel’s Management Committee. They are elected at an AGM to serve three years (Management members serve only one year at a time). Guardians tend to be people who have served the community for long periods, or major donors.

The four current Guardians are Simon Hochschild and Paul Davis, both former chairmen of the Shul, Peter Dannheisser, former chairman of the Springs congregation, and myself. The Chairman of the Management Committee, Prof. Merle Williams, attends Guardian meetings (as it happens she is both a previous Chairman – several times – and a previous Guardian.)

The Guardians play a key role in hiring Rabbis and determining their contracts. Any transaction dealing with an amount over R50 000 must go through the Board of Guardians. Any alterations to the property, the sale or lease of sections of the property, must go through the Guardians. So must the sale of torah scrolls, prayer books, even the candlesticks.

But day to day, the real function of the Guardians is to act as informal sounding boards. Both the Chairman of Management and the Rabbi frequently ask our opinions (which they are free to ignore). Where disputes arise, we can be brought in as referees. We are thought to be older and wiser, more rational and more experienced. And who are we to dispute that?


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