In order to open up the "big tent" of our Jewish community to as many newcomers as we can, we must first understand their needs and recognize that individual Jewish organizations can never be "all things to all people." Therefore, collaboration is integral as we try to convey the rich resources and meaningful opportunities for engagement that our Jewish community offers.
Collaboration can mean partnering with other organizations on specific events, which is certainly important. But it can also mean creating a communications mechanism that allows us to better guide newcomers to the programs and services that will best meet their needs.
Through JOI's research in communities across North America we have found that organizational "gatekeepers" (people of first contact) are often unaware of the wider community's offerings. If their own organization cannot serve the needs being requested, nothing further is offered. The newcomer is "thrown back" into the vast sea of unaffiliated Jews rather than guided to the organization that can meet his or her needs.
If Jewish communal professionals were to communicate more regularly with one another about programmatic offerings, and provide gatekeepers with event listings and contact sheets of key people at other organizations, we would catch many more of the newcomers swimming toward us.
Here are some tips to get started:
Promote a culture of communication and collaboration.
Create a list of programmatic offerings based on interest or target population for gatekeepers of all organizations in your community.
Referring someone to a neighboring synagogue still provides a positive interaction with your organization.
If your community already has a central calendar, on a Federation website for instance, print it out each month and place it by the telephone directing all who answer the phone to familiarize themselves with these offerings.
Create a list of contact persons in your community for different needs; know the strengths of each organization and be ready to refer elsewhere when appropriate.
For example, a newcomer might call your congregation inquiring about a Seder to attend for the first night of Passover. Your congregation might not offer a Seder on the first night of Passover, but you know the congregation down the street does. Make the referral.
Don't forget the scene from that great Jewish movie "Miracle on 34th Street," when Macy's Santa Claus sends a child dreaming of a certain pair of ice skates to Gimbel's, a rival department store. Macy's benefits from overwhelming consumer good will and the child promises to do the rest of his shopping at Macy's!
Collaboration through communication with other Jewish organizations in your area allows you to serve the needs of all who approach the Jewish community without expending significant resources. It may also help reduce duplication of services (or create better "product differentiation") when organizations become more aware of what others offer. And collaboration can also lower a sense of competition, once it becomes apparent that a rising tide raises all ships. The more newcomers the community as a whole welcomes, the more each individual institution benefits.
Make program information from other organizations accessible to newcomers and existing members.
Create a more welcoming environment for your own "insiders" by recommending relevant opportunities throughout the community. This is especially relevant for those individuals from diverse sub-groups such as intermarried families, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) households, multiracial families, those with special needs, etc. Would you be able to provide information about relevant offerings for these target populations, whether offered at your organization or elsewhere? Do you know the contact information of professionals at other organizations who can address these diverse needs?
Collaboration is usually not easy. There are challenges to address ranging from logistics to turf issues. But the payoff is a more welcoming Jewish community to those on the periphery. Perhaps more importantly, collaboration is worth doing because it's the right thing to do.
If you would like to learn more about successful models of community-wide collaboration, we invite you to join us at this year's JOI North American Conference where we will discuss relevant topics including Organic Partnerships, Clergy Collaboration, and JOI's Concierge Model.
Each month this column will feature tips for implementing a particular principle of Big Tent Judaism, from BTJ Coordinator, Rachel Gross.
|Fifth Cup of Wine for the Newcomer
Add a Fifth Cup of Wine for the newcomer to your Seder table. JOI has created this bookmark for Big Tent Judaism Members, complete with a blessing for the newcomer and the work of welcoming all.
Click the photo to bless the newcomer and receive your bookmark(s).
"During Passover, it's a tradition to open our doors and welcome the stranger to our Seder table," said Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky, Executive Director of the Jewish Outreach Institute. "Just as we were once strangers in Egypt, it's our obligation to include the newcomer and all those on the margins of the Jewish community. But it shouldn't be limited to Passover. At a time when we welcome guests into our home, we must remember to do the same 365 days a year at our communal institutions."
All Are Welcome: Transforming the Jewish Community Through Outreach
JOI's North American Conference
Philadelphia, PA June 7-9, 2009
Stuart Matlins is founder, editor-in-chief and publisher of Jewish Lights Publishing.
Stephanie St. James has been singing and performing every since she could talk. Born to a Russian-Jewish mother and father from Ghana, she has traveled the world extensively performing in major musicals and theatrical productions including, Oprah Winfrey Presents The Color Purple.
Maya Escobar is a Guatemalan-Jewish interdisciplenary artist and educator. She has taught performed and exhibited work in Germany, Spain, Gautemala, Puerto Rico and the United States.
Peter Pitzele Ph.d is the Dean of Faculty of Storahtelling, Workshop director for the intergenerational theater company Roots&Branches and Faculty Member-at-large with the Institute for Contemporary Midrash.
Sessions on "How to be a Big Tent Judaism organization":
Learn how to implement the principles of Big Tent Judaism
Welcome all Newcomers: JOI Director of Training Eva Stern
Celebrate Diversity: An experiential and inspiring workshop to reflect on your organization's ability to affirm and celebrate the diversity of the Jewish people. With DNAWorks Co-founder and BTJ member, Adam Mckinney
Deepen Jewish Engagement: Explore effective models and best practices for deepening Jewish engagement and providing meaningful experiences. With Birthright NEXT Executive Director, Rabbi Daniel Brenner
Lower Barriers to Participation: Learn how to lower barriers for those with special needs in, or on the periphery of your community. With Shalom BBYO Special Needs Director, Limor Hartman
Create Partnerships: Sessions on clergy collaboration, organic partnerships and successful collaboration models
Additional Session Highlights:
Fundraising for Outreach: Funding and fundraising for outreach in an economic downturn
Decision Making for Change:Are you trying to create change in your organization? Working through cultural, political and moral decisions that weigh heavily on your ability to engage those on the periphery?
Integrating Intersecting Identities: Panel Discussion on racial, ethnic, and sexual identities in the Jewish community
For more information and to register, Click Here.
Big Tent Judaism Coalition members receive a discount on registration!
Are you intermarried/interpartnered or an adult child of intermarriage working as a Jewish communal professional?
Join a conversation about intermarriage and Jewish communal service. JOI is acknowledging the unique struggles and triumphs of those who are intermarried/interpartnered or adult children of intermarriage working to enrich the Jewish community amidst judgment and inequity. The Jewish Outreach Institute has created an online discussion forum to serve as a safe space for all to discuss their experiences, find solidarity, support and seek or provide advice.
We invite you to join the conversation! If you are an adult child of intermarriage or your spouse or partner is of another religious background and you identify as a Jewish professional, email Rachel Gross (RGross@JOI.org).
The Big Tent Judaism
Coalition is coordinated by the Jewish Outreach
Organizations Under the
Congregation Shir Ami: Our mission is to promote the commitment of individuals to Jewish life and Judaism; to learn, provide spiritual and personal growth, friendship, community, active participation and the continuity of Jewish life and Judaism, and to do so in an open, full and meaningful way.
Congregation Shirat Yam: We are a welcoming, inclusive congregation, affiliated with the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation. We invite everyone to join our community.