Hearing Men's Voices: A Signature Program of FJMC
Edited by Art Spar
The 2011 Rosh Hashanah issue of CJ included
the article “A Mentsch is Born,” about FJMC’s
Hearing Men’s Voices program. Since that time
HMV programs have proliferated across the
continent. Eight mentschen gathered for a (virtual)
conversation in early December.
Moderator Paul Davidson (Temple Israel,
Sharon, Massachusetts): Each of us is a
Hearing Men’s Voices leader. Our goal
tonight is to share our best practices with
each other. Who’d like to begin?
Mark Givarz (Congregation B’nai
Amoona, St. Louis, Missouri): Our HMV
theme this year is spirituality. On Rosh
Hashanah we did a Hearing Men’s Voices
program as an alternative to the Musaf service
on the second day. (We modified the rules
to allow women to join in.) The topic was
seeking God. We formed two circles of about
14 people each to discuss the questions:
Do you ever seek God? If so, have you found
God? The groups talked for about 90 minutes,
and we could have gone on for hours.
The big discovery was that people can find
spirituality in alternative ways to prayer.
Neal Fineman (Temple Israel, Sharon,
Massachusetts): Our guys are passionate
about their participation. We average about
16 guys; there’s usually a lot of laughing; the
guys enjoy it. It’s really catching on. We don’t
have to make phone calls anymore. They
Bob Braitman (Temple Shaare Tefilah,
Norwood, Massachusetts): Men who come
to HMV aren’t necessarily involved in other
synagogue activities. I went to one program
and I didn’t recognize any of the faces. Since
I go to services regularly, I realized that
the HMV guys were completely different.
By introducing HMV into synagogue life,
we’ve created a completely new on-ramp to
the Jewish community. In his article in
this issue of CJ, Rabbi Charles Simon’ writes
about guys who aren’t turned on by traditional
Mark Travis (Temple Beth Judea, Buffalo
Grove, Illinois): Our HMV group has been
attracting about 15 to 20 people per session.
How do we get people involved? We conducted
a survey among young guys in their
30s and 40s. They told us that they don’t
need any more formal religion. They get
enough from their wives and synagogue.
They wanted time with other men to socialize
and discuss issues men have in common.
The one topic all the men share is children.
How should we talk to our children?
Like Paul said, the most important recruitment
tool is being asked by another man
to participate. Our slogan is “I hear voices,
voices at home, at work, at play, voices in
the synagogue, from my family, but…who
hears my voice?”
Bruce Gordon (Congregation Olam Tikvah,
Fairfax, Virginia): I’m just getting
started, but HMV has perceptions that need
to be overcome. Should the leader be a
trained psychologist? Can we do this without
years of experience? I’m helping get
groups started in Fairfax, Rockville,
Potomac, Gaithersburg, and in the Tidewater
region. What advice can you offer me?
Bob: One of the greatest misconceptions
about HMV is directly related to Bruce’s concerns
about not being a health care professional.
He’s asking himself whether he’s
qualified to run a session. It’s my experience
that lay people, not professionals, have
run the best sessions. The most important
criteria for group leadership are to be a good
listener, to be empathetic and show caring.
It’s about being heard. It’s not about a professional
providing wisdom. The leader should
come across as, “I’m a guy like you, let’s talk.”
Gary Smith (Adath Israel Congregation,
Cincinnati, Ohio): At our last HMV session,
we asked each of the participants to
discuss the most important lesson or statement
that their father or grandfather taught
them that most changed their life; in other
words, a life lesson. There were multiple
generations in the room, and the men were
blown away by the similarities and differences
shared by men of different ages. But
what was most effective was that we only
knew each other for years as a name and
a face. Who knew what they were like inside?
Now we know each other. We can interact
and have a more man-to-man conversation.
Now we don’t just say hello. We stop
and talk, ask questions, share something
about ourselves. We truly involved Jewish
men in Jewish life.
Bob: I’ve attended several gatherings where
men have been brought to tears. I was
shocked the first time. Have any of you had
Neal: I was brought to tears a few times.
It happened to me in an HMV session at
the FJMC international convention. I was
among strangers. I was just thinking about
my relationship with my father and I lost it.
I didn’t know these people, and I didn’t know
how they would react because a lot of them
were new to HMV, but that’s what I needed
to do. But I was brought to tears, and it was a wonderful release. It was good for me, and
I wanted to share with them that you can
do this kind of thing.
Paul: I’ve been in numerous sessions hysterically
laughing and crying, and every place
in between. There are too few places where
men can speak in a safe manner. I’ve seen
guys linger after an HMV session not wanting
to part with each other because they’ve
formed bonds. Now I see guys hug when
they see each other in shul. Sometimes when
I see an HMV buddy, we give each other
a knowing glance because we’ve shared something
Art Spar (New York, New York): HMV
doesn’t create emotion. The emotions are
already there. We’re creating an environment
to release them or experience them.
These emotions are residing there all the
time and we create something that allows
them to come to the surface.
My HMV experience in Manhattan has
been interesting. We’ve brought together an
eclectic mix of guys from rabbis to non-shulgoers.
We meet over dinner. Our first meeting
was in a kosher Indian restaurant. The
next time it was pizza and salad at my house
with a bottle of scotch and some wine on the
side. We’re not part of any synagogue or men’s
club but we use FJMC materials. We’ve gotten
to know each other, our roots and our
dreams; and we plan on continuing as long
as we enjoy it. We’re just a bunch of Jewish
men involving ourselves in Jewish life.
Paul: Is it better to meet at a synagogue
or at home?
Art: I’ve been to both. The informality of
a home setting allows guys to connect in
ways that a synagogue does not.
Bob: Very few synagogues have comfortable
spaces. I remember a meeting in a library
sitting around a conference table. It was not
intimate in the way it would have been in
a living room. The big problem with the
synagogue is the formality of the setting. It’s
not the fact that there’s a Torah down the
hall, it’s actually the space itself. And temple
classrooms are worse with the little chairs!
It’s too bad but most synagogues are not
Paul: Why are you so passionate about Hearing
Bob: Many men today don’t know how to
form relationships. We get most of our relationships
through our wives as couples. We’ve
lost the art of conversation, and we’ve lost
the art of community. I want a place where
men can come together, in a forum that isn’t
threatening, to talk about things that are sitting
in our hearts and minds, in plain sight,
or that we’re completely unaware of. HMV
is an extraordinary resource – there’s no other
venue like it. The dividend is it will strengthen
our synagogues, our clubs, and our communities,
but the real value is that it makes
our lives richer.
I remember running a session about the
high holy days. It forced me to think about
what the Days of Awe meant to me. I discovered
that it wasn’t only the religious aspect
of the day that draws my focus. It’s the memories
of being at my father’s side, holding
his hand, that opened a floodgate of feelings
that are always there but rarely experienced.
Paul: In the Jewish world, there’s nothing
else like Hearing Men’s Voices.
Art: There’s nothing more important than
human contact. We have lots of mixed sex
settings, but men are unique, our experiences
are different than women’s. There’s
something about a men-only session that
allows that uniqueness to shine, to flower.
The camaraderie is special. I enjoy it, I need
Neal: It’s powerful. It’s a place to find your
passion. I’ve never been to a session I didn’t
value. You see your own life in the expression
of others. There’s common ground
we all share. Hearing it from others adds
a powerful perspective to our own lives.
Paul: It’s a non-competitive experience with
no performance expectations. You don’t have
to know Hebrew. There are no skills