Last week, I sat in my Rabbi’s office while we dutifully responded to emails. We had informally agreed that we weren’t going to interrupt each other, so instead of our usual banter, we quietly tended to our private to-dos. My inbox is a hilarious mix of rendevous planning, political strategizing, spreadsheet cleaning, and board governance duties. That, and then my sister and I forward each other hilarious exchanges from otherwise earnest listserves.

The sound of typing. Send.

The silence of skimming. Save as draft.

Click, click, click. Archive.

More typing. Emphatically hitting the “Send” button. Exhale.

That’s when my Rabbi peaks out from behind his curved desk with a meek spreadsheet question. “Is now a good time?” “Yes!” I reply, with glee. Today’s challenges? Sorting a spreadsheet by date. Secondarily, deleting empty rows. I feel that familiar mixture of chemicals in my brain and body. Excitement, problem-solving endorphins, and the thrill of people in my community wanting to learn, striving for efficiency. Desperately, I want to share that feeling of empowerment. With him and with all of you.

Who wears short sorts?

Even if you only have 5-10 rows in your spreadsheet, sorting and filtering can REALLY come in handy! That’s what I could see as I was peering over my Rabbi’s shoulder. (Don’t worry, fellow congregants – I didn’t see anything confidential! I’m always careful to take precautions about that). For example, sorting by Bat Mitzvah date makes a huge difference in planning, even if there’s only 5 on the list. That could represent your the plan for your whole year! And while you could do the brain gymnastics to sort the dates in your head, or just remember the information, it’s much easier to let the spreadsheet do the work.

Together, we did a demo about how to “Format as Table” (Google Sheets edition) and I saw the spark of learning and recognition in his tone and posture! You can follow along in the link above or by watching the .gif version below. Clicking the “filter” button will make it simple to sort or filter any column in your spreadsheet. Just be sure to “turn off” your filters at the end, or you might forget that you’re only dealing with a subset of your data, and cause confusion later.

To my Rabbi, spreadsheets that had the filters turned on (aka where you can see little drop down arrows on each column header) were like a mystery. He didn’t know what those meant, or how they got there. But now, he’s prepared to be a totally independent sorter-and filterer! And he doesn’t even have to wear…

The “Sorting Hat” from Hogwarts!

Spreadsheet Chevruta

All of this to say, spreadsheet skills really come in handy as a Rabbi. And you can certainly do an amazing job without them, but it might make life a little easier and more efficient if your heart doesn’t drop into your tummy every time your confronted with an intricate data table.

Recently, I’ve been incubating an idea for a 6 week-ish program for current and aspiring faith leaders that will help them become Spreadsheet Whisperers in their own right.

  1. We’ll start with some text study of biblical and rabbinic sources that describe the sacredness of counting our people, from administrative “census”es to familial lineage and beyond. I want to transform the administrative function from being a distraction from sacred leadership to being one and the same.
  2. We’ll work together, using spreadsheet best practices, to create an “event planning” spreadsheet that students can take with them foreverrrrr!
  3. We’ll do a “tour” of a few synagogue membership and pastoral care database systems so that everyone has a tiny taste of “what’s out there” and the overarching purpose of synagogue databases. We won’t do a deep dive, but it’s always good to get that extra exposure!

If this idea sounds exciting to you, and you would want to join, know people who would want to join, or want to chat with me to further refine the ideas, I would love to hear from you! Write me an email or leave a comment on this post so that we can make the Spreadsheet Chevruta dream a reality.

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