What Happens if there is no Jewish community or the one that exists is not for you?
It is difficult to be Jewish by yourself. The great Rabbi Hillel said, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am for myself alone what am I?" We need community in order to pray, to study, to celebrate and help one another. But you’ve moved to a place with;
a synagogue with an exclusively elderly population
a synagogue whose religious orientation is not congruent with your own
a synagogue with no Hebrew School
a synagogue with exorbitant dues
a synagogue where no one talks to you
a synagogue with no adult education
a synagogue with no pre-school program
a synagogue with no family programming
a synagogue with hundreds of families
a synagogue whose physical plant is bursting at the seams
a synagogue with no teen programming
a synagogue that is spiritually unfulfilling
Shaking up the System
You have moved to a new town with your spouse and kids. You join the synagogue, the only game in town. You attend services, which seem OK. People at the kiddush seem nice. You receive the synagogue bulletin and realize there are no programs that fit the needs of your family. You speak to a member of the board. He is demoralized…"We tried having adult-education, but no one came!. We tried having a community Shabbat dinner, but no one had the time to organize it properly and so it was a disaster. Only twelve people in the Synagogue ever come to Simchat Torah services or to hear the Megillah being read. It’s always the same people who do all the work, we’re burnt out." You have two choices. One…work to change the institution, two, quit and start either a Chavurah or a new synagogue.
It is somewhat less traumatic to shake up the system than to leave. Encourage your Rabbi and Board to undertake a self assessment. This is a way to identify the needs and interests of the congregation. It is also the method of determining its demographics, religious background, and geographic distribution. Statistics can be collected on the percentage of your membership that are in their twenties either single or newly married, families who have Pre-school or Religious school age children, single parents, singles (over 35), families with teen agers, empty-nesters, seniors, interfaith families, Jews by Choice. Important to this process is looking at the community that surrounds your synagogue. Is it a stable community with few houses on the market? Are large numbers of older folks selling their homes to families with young children.? It may be advantageous to bring in someone from the outside to be responsible for facilitating the process and evaluating the results. If your synagogue is a member of the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist movements you may be able to get a representative from the movement to do this assessment at no cost to your congregation. Should this not be a possibility, a great resource is "The Life Cycle of Synagogue Membership: A Guide to Recruitment, Integration and Retention" published by the UAHC Task Force on the Unaffiliated.
Once this self assessment is done, it will be pretty clear what the needs of your synagogue are. Gaps in service, unmet needs, interests, and under served populations will be revealed. You will have a road map for congregational growth and change. It will set your congregation on the road to developing a strategic plan for the future.
Don’t jump in to fill all the gaps in service right away. Prioritize. Deal with the most pressing need first…family education programs for the families of preschool children. Get a group of parents of pre-schoolers together to brainstorm, setting goals and objectives.. The more input you have the better the outcome will be. The more people you invest in the process the greater your chance for success. Choose the topic or theme for the first event. Ask the Board to set aside money to underwrite it. Have your committee create and refine the program. Allocate jobs to members of the committee. Send out invitations. Publicize the program in the synagogue bulletin, the town newspaper, the Jewish community paper. Make calls, Hold the program. After the program celebrate its success with a party for everyone who participated in its planning and execution. Hold an evaluation meeting. Have you accomplished your goals, achieved your objectives? What were the elements of the program that needed to be improved, eliminated? What was great? With the energy generated from your success, start planning the next event. Ultimately the excitement created by your programs will spill over into the whole synagogue community. The number of individuals willing to take leadership responsibilities and to volunteer will increase. You will then be able to address other needs of the congregation. You have stirred the pot.
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Mishpacha was initiated and funded by The
Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture.