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RISMEDIA, March 5, 2009-The Rabbi at our synagogue has a way about him. He is short and bearded, and he reminds me of Papa Smurf. He sings and plays the guitar during services, chronically forgets the page number that we need to turn to, and makes a point of personally saying hello to all of the members in attendance. There is something about him that people are drawn to – his kindness, his warmth, his easygoing demeanour, his peacefulness. He just has a way about him.

Each Saturday follows the same basic flow of song and prayer. We begin by giving thanks for the Sabbath that is before us, continuing with a reflection of the week that has passed, and then having quiet time for private and personal discussion with God, and finishing with a reading from the Torah (Old Testament). The Torah reading is regarded as the focal point of the service and is executed in a very distinct manner.

Each week, the Rabbi chooses a handful of people from the audience to come up to the altar and assist him in the Torah reading. He assigns a variety of tasks – one person opens the Ark where the Torah is housed, one removes the Torah from the Ark, another removes the Torah’s cover and prepares it for reading, and others recite a blessing prior to the readings. These jobs are considered a special honor.

After each person’s task is complete, the Rabbi takes him or her aside and forms a huddle. His arms around their shoulders, he whispers something seemingly important. The rest of us watch and wait for the private discussion to conclude. Whoever he is huddled with is ALWAYS extremely attentive, nodding periodically, wearing an expression of tremendous gratitude.

Being a relatively new member of the synagogue, this process was a novelty to me. I had never witnessed the huddle before in other synagogues and I often wondered about the content of his intimate discussions. Was he telling them a secret? Was he giving them advice? Was he giving them praise? Marks for their performance?

Almost every time I see the huddle, my mind begins to drift to the same place. I begin to think about the power of the huddle in a classroom setting, in parenting, and in business environments.

Imagine if every day, a teacher paused teaching formally for a few minutes to pull up a handful of students to the front of the class to tell them privately how special and amazing they were. Imagine if that teacher took the time to notice students’ special talents or gifts and shared what they noticed with his/her students. How would the students feel? How would they enjoy learning? How would they perform? How much more effort would they put in for that teacher? How good would you feel if that student were your child?

Imagine a business owner who did the same thing; spent time noticing everything that was going right and made a point of ‘snapping the picture when it looked good’. Imagine a boss who insisted on assigning tasks according to people’s passions. Imagine a business where each team member felt like they were functioning in their sweet spot and the owner knew he was getting the very best from each team member.

What would their corporate culture look like? How about turnover? Would it be high or low? What would productivity be like?

The huddle is not only about giving positive feedback to people, there is one more element – physical touch. Somehow, the action of simply touching someone’s shoulder creates warmth and reduces resistance. The power of touch and its impact on the human spirit is so strong that to describe it effectively in words is a challenging task. There are so many messages that a person receives as a result of a kind touch. The most fundamental message is ‘you matter’.

It’s not all that difficult to implement the huddle, and football fans might find it easier still.

Try it as an experiment at home or at work or in your community and send me an email at to let me know how it turns out.