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EDITOR'S REPORT: HOW TO INCREASE SYNAGOGUE AFFILIATION: IT'S ABOUT BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

by Rhonda J Spivak and Rhonda J. Prepes and, November 21, 2013

There is a recent article on Jews and affiliation: Where do we go from here?  by David Baugher published in  the Jewish Light that deals with how to increase synagogue affiliation that we wanted to bring to the attention of readers since  this is a significant challenge in our community. 

http://www.stljewishlight.com/news/local/article_2624b8e0-470e-11e3-8a80-001a4bcf887a.html.

One of the ideas emphasized is that synagogues need to rethink how a Rabbi's time is allocated, with an emphasis on the Rabbi connecting one on one with congregants to meet personally with them and take interest in them. This may mean that a Rabbi will be absent from some committee meetings.

Ron Wolfson who is co-president of Synagogue 3000 and author of “Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Com-munity” notes in the article that in in big congregations, the personal touch can be lost as rabbinic calendars are filled with the banal logistics of day-to-day synagogue life.

“The bottom line is that they need to have personal encounters,” he said. “They need to take the time in their very busy schedules to be out of the building or to sit down for 45 minutes with somebody to hear their story, take note of their talents and passions and connect them in some way to the life of the community.”

That may mean rethinking how a rabbi’s time is allocated. Does the rabbi really need to be at every committee meeting?

Wolfson said he knows of a congregational leader who switched to a software platform that allowed him to put his office hours online, such that those who want to make an  appointment can logon and block out a time.

“Religious life is built one conversation at a time, one-on-one."

One technique referred to in the article is the concept of pay greater attention to the handling of Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. One New York congregation revamped the Bar and Bat Mitzvah preparation process starting with special meetings at the homes of families. This gave parents and children  a chance to get to know the clergy, and to become acquainted with other b’nai mitzvah families. The idea was to "create a community building experience", creating connections between members that would stem the  tide of families who leave the synagogue after their youngest child had finished the ceremony. This relational approach was found to retain 80 percent of their families.

The key to retaining and attracting new members is for the congregation to build linkages between members and the institution. Wolfson notes that one Oakland, CA synagogue membership director began actively reaching out through social media where she got 400 members of the congregation to friend her and she was able to learn about the lives of the families that she’s trying to reach and engage.

In the article, Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, CA said it is important for the synagogue to project an inclusive atmosphere.  His synagogue created a special “covenanting ceremony” for newcomers, where the newcomers get to know each other, are introduced to synagogue leadership and invited to hold the Torah before saying a special prayer regarding their entrance into the community.

Another synagogue has held a program called Our Shabbat Table in which the congregation provided kosher meals for Friday night gatherings at local homes where families can interact.

As Rabbi Jonathan Blake of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, N.Y. is quoted in the article, “If the synagogue is not creating relationships, then it doesn’t have much sustaining power,” he said.

One congregation made the construction of the sukkah an exercise in community creation with students and their parents lending a hand.

“It became an opportunity for the whole congregation to come and celebrate Sukkot together,” Blake said. “When people are empowered to make it clear that this thing is not getting built without you, people show up. There is a sense of buy-in.”

Some Reform congregations have instituted a “proneg,” an oneg Shabbat done before services that acts as a “social hour” for congregants.

Rabbi Ze’ev Smason at Nusach Hari B’nai Zion in Olivette MO has had success by making Jewish customs and rituals more accessible to congregants. In addition to the regular Shabbat worship, he holds special learner’s services in English to introduce elementary concepts.

Former Winnipegger Rabbi Carnie Rose of Congregation B’nai Amoona near St. Louis is interviewed in the article. He says that his institution has worked hard to create connections and engagemen

 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.