|Putting Principles into Practice for the High Holidays
Highlights from the BTJ Conference Call, September 2, 2009
|During the High Holidays, when we see our synagogues and Jewish institutions filled to capacity, we have an amazing opportunity to connect and engage with many unaffiliated folks in the Jewish community. As members of the Big Tent Judaism Coalition, we should ask ourselves a few questions as we prepare for the holidays. How do we make sure we are doing everything we can to welcome all who approach? How are we applying the various principles of Big Tent Judaism at this time of year? How can we maximize the impact of High Holidays to successfully engage those on the periphery (and our own members) beyond two or three days a year?
Eva Stern , Director of Training for the Jewish Outreach Institute, recently held a conference call for Big Tent Judaism member organizations to discuss last minute tips for marketing, and ways to make sure our interactions are as welcoming as possible. Many thanks to those who participated. For those who weren’t able to join us, or if you did but just want a reminder of what we discussed, here are some highlights:
On the High Holidays, how do we address…
BTJ Principle #1: Welcome All Newcomers
Many congregations need security guards, but for newcomers, this can be intimidating. Having a greeter beside the security guard with the sole task of welcoming can help people feel more at ease. Another option, though less effective, is to put up a sign that communicates: “Our security guards help keep the community safe, but we look forward to welcoming you as soon as you step inside.”
If there is a line of people waiting to get in, you could have ushers walk along the line to welcome people and serve as friendly resources. One participant shared the practice of having a plate of apples and honey, offering samples to taste! Often, greeters stand in one place, but you can help by training them step forward to greet people and interact. Once inside, if an usher’s first contact with a newcomer is telling them to be quiet and wait to enter the sanctuary, it can make a person immediately feel nervous. Have your ushers imagine what they would like to hear to make them feel comfortable in a new place if they were a newcomer.
You can also put up an information table with greeters in front of it (not behind it) to help newcomers learn what to expect in the service.
BTJ Principle #2: Celebrate Diversity
In the advertising and marketing material for your services, don’t assume every Jewish family is Caucasian and heterosexual. Try to have your material and public images reflect the diversity of today’s Jewish community balanced with the reality of your organizational composition.
Even before a newcomer comes to your door, they might check your website first. JOI suggests you make it very clear on the website what to expect: What to do, how to get tickets, etc. If there’s no information, they might stay away. Also on the website, insider language such as Hebrew or Yiddish words or acronyms can be barriers. Be careful to translate and use language that can be easily understood.
BTJ Principle #3: Offer Free Samples
Leading up to the High Holidays, give people a taste of what your community has to offer and advertise your programs and services by going where people are. JOI shared information about an apple and honey tasting as well as JOI’s Color Me Calendar program (contact Eva Stern at EStern@JOI.org for more information on those programs, including free resources).
If you are going to hold a program for children, find places like a pediatrician’s office or a nursery school to display your marketing materials. Holding an outreach event in the weeks before your High Holiday services might convince people to explore on a deeper level the Jewish community.
BTJ Principle #4: Deepen Jewish Engagement
Deepening Jewish engagement can help maximize the impact of the High Holiday season. We can think about services as the beginning of a relationship. Who is coming and how we can show them that we want to connect with them and meet their needs? Here are a few steps to help continue the relationship with newcomers who attend services:
- Welcome everyone to your community;
- Thank everyone for coming;
- Learn about the people in your community;
- Invite them to events that suit their interests.
These are simple ideas, but they show that you’re a community that is interested in who people are and want to connect them to programs that suit their needs. Use other local organizations to share advertising for High Holiday events.
Many communities have a High Holiday appeal. JOI’s alternative suggestion is to put a card on the seat that gauges their interests and asks them to fold down tabs that notes what they’re interested in. When you ask them to look at the card, you can emphasize that you’re there to serve the community and meet their needs. (JOI has free sample cards for you to use in your community this year. Contact Eva Stern at EStern@JOI.org to learn more.) Use the cards to help you do targeted follow-up that’s related to what they’re interested in as opposed to adding them on a general email list. Put the information into a database so it’s easy for you to connect people with programs that will interest them.
BTJ Principle #6: Lower Barriers to Participation
For some, there can be the emotional barrier that arises from negative associations with Jewish life or concerns about the location: maybe a past experience with Judaism was negative. Understand that this experience might be their first in a very long time, and that the warmth with which you welcome them can help to determine how they feel about Jewish life in the future.
Many folks who contemplate coming to High Holiday programs and services worry that their lack of formal Jewish background might make participation a challenge. On any material advertising your services, add applicable messages such as “No prior knowledge necessary,” or “We welcome people of all backgrounds.” This can help people feel more at ease.
During the service itself, there are opportunities to lower barriers. Try to avoid assumptions that everyone attending knows how to follow the service. Remember to explain what is going on and to translate or explain terms or references periodically, especially during a sermon. Making sure to announce page numbers is a common practice, but for institutions comfortable with merging technology with High Holiday services, a PowerPoint display can help people easily follow along. One community is even going to try open captioning for deaf or hearing impaired participants.
BTJ Principle #8: Creating Partnerships
Synagogues often have a spike in attendance during the High Holidays, but family services and JCCs might not. To follow the BTJ principle of creating partnerships, take into account other local community organizations when you’re thinking about how to make referrals for newcomers. What other services and organizations might suit their needs? Prepare a list of other local High Holiday services and offerings so you can easily refer people when they call for referrals – and make sure the people answering the phones at your organization know how to point people in the right direction. This is an opportunity to share what’s happening in other communal organizations. If for example a JCC can help a synagogue advertise their High Holiday programs, the synagogue can then in turn help the JCC events coming up in their community as well.
For more information on events, programs or best practices listed, please visit www.BigTentJudaism.org or contact Eva Stern at EStern@JOI.org or 212-760-1440.
Thanks, and have a great High Holiday season!
|High Holiday Sermons on Inclusive Judaism
|Over the past few months, the Big Tent Judaism Coalition has been collecting think pieces and sermons that incorporate our principles of welcoming and inclusion. This year, if you write, present or hear a High Holiday sermon that incorporates any of the principles, we invite you to contact Paul Golin to post it on the BTJ website and share it with the entire Coalition! In the meantime, you can find themes and inspiration from the voices of your colleagues.
|Big Tent Judaism in the News!
It's a Big Tent Out There
The San Diego Jewish Journal
If you've ever moved and had to search for a new shul to call home, or even become a practicing Jew after years of inactivity, then you know how uncomfortable it can be to take that first step and seek out a shul with which to affiliate. Will you mesh with the new group? Will your religious views or lifestyles clash? What if you're treated differently because you just don't know as much about Judaism as you'd like to? These concerns are valid for unaffiliated Jews - and Jews on the periphery of their communities or those who are intermarried - and they're a large part of why outreach is so important to every shul.
Through outreach, once-unaffiliated Jews come to find comfort in communal Judaism and grow in their religious and cultural knowledge. Like Abraham and Sarah's tent, the walls of the Jewish community should be open on all four sides to anyone who approaches. This idea spurred the Big Tent Judaism Coalition, an organized approach to Jewish community created through the Jewish Outreach Institute in October 2007.
According to JOI’s Web site, www.joi.org/ bigtent, only 35 percent of American Jews are affiliated with a synagogue at any given time.
Of those, even fewer participate regularly. For a religious group whose hopes for growth hinge on the next generation of Jews staying active and involved, these numbers are grim. That’s why those at JOI, including Associate Executive Director Paul Golin, felt they needed to do something to increase the effectiveness of Jewish outreach when they began the Coalition.
“We felt [the Coalition] was the missing piece of advocacy that was needed within the organized Jewish community,” Golin says. “It serves as a platform across denominations and institutional organizations to say we agree on certain principles.” The principles may seem obvious to any outreach professional, but when combined, they form the core of the Big Tent Judaism approach.
Briefly, they include: Welcoming all newcomers; celebrating diversity; offering “free samples”; deepening Jewish engagement; providing quality “customer service”; lowering barriers to participation; increasing points of access; creating partnerships; enlisting active members for outreach; and bettering best practices.
The coalition is free to join and includes all synagogues and other Jewish communal organizations who strive to fulfill the Coalition’s 10 principles of Big Tent Judaism to create a more connected, unified Jewish community through partnership, communication and advocacy. The Coalition also provides Jewish professionals and lay leaders with skills and sensitivities they need to be more welcoming to unaffiliated Jews and become a unified voice across denominations and organizations.
Unlike the last century, when the Big Question was how to be Jewish and so much of organized communal Judaism was created, the issue this century is getting the Jewish population to be a part of that community.
“I think the biggest challenge for the Jewish community in the 21st century is answering the question, ‘Why be Jewish?’” Golin says. “These days we’re not giving compelling reasons, especially in the context of the Jewish community. You have a lot of folks who feel strongly Jewish but don’t feel they have to express that in the community, so why should folks do it? The most celebrated holidays of the Jewish calendar are Chanukah and Passover because you don’t need a community — they’re family holidays. For the High Holy Days, it’s an amazing opportunity to connect with folks who are only in shul a few times a year, but rather than showing them the value of connecting with the organized community, we bore them to tears.” Getting interfaith couples and families, unaffiliated and non-practicing Jews and Jews-by-choice excited about community involvement, about being active members of a shul, is what the Coalition strives to do. But striving and actualizing are not the same. At two years old this month, the Coalition is still relatively new, and as a young organization that spreads primarily through networking, it is still working to get its name on the map.
“We’re still in the stage where we’re recruiting organizations to join,” Golin says. “It’s a challenging economy, and we face the same challenges all Jewish communal Jewish organizations face. We launched without any direct support for Big Tent Judaism, but we felt it was a really important thing that had to be out there.” Currently, the Coalition has 300 members who have committed to follow its 10 principles, including branches of the United Jewish Federation and Jewish Family Service, Jewish Community Centers, synagogues and smaller groups. In San Diego, of about 60 Jewish congregations in San Diego County, only four (Temple Beth Sholom of Chula Vista, Congregation Beth El of La Jolla, Temple Adat Shalom of Poway and Congregation Beth Am of Carmel Valley) have joined the Coalition. (California as a whole boasts 38 organizations.)
Four is a good start, but it’s certainly not ideal. If only a third of all Jewish households nationally are engaged in communal life, something’s not working right, and Big Tent Judaism might hold the answer. But convincing Jewish organizations that it’s a worthy program is a challenge.
One issue — that many congregations already employ different outreach resources through other organizations — may be keeping them from exploring what Big Tent Judaism has to offer.
Sharon Stanford, who coordinates outreach at Poway’s Adat Shalom, signed her temple up for the Coalition in April 2008, but she says they had previously used outreach resources from the Union for Reform Judaism, which already has an established set of outreach-oriented idea books. Perhaps, Stanford says, Big Tent Judaism is best for young shuls that haven’t done a formal outreach program before. In fact, Big Tent Judaism’s resources are as helpful, though perhaps not as extensive, as those of more established programs.
According to Golin, Coalition members receive numerous useful resources, including “All Are Welcome” decals to post near entrances, free outreach consultation, national networking, free quarterly professional training conference calls, wallet cards of Jewish terminology for newcomers and other tools.
Alyssa Goldberg, membership director at Congregation Beth El, says outreach professionals at Beth El have taken advantage of the listserv, conference calls and terminology cards, but involvement hasn’t gone beyond that. Lackluster participation seems to be the trend among all four local Coalition synagogues. Perhaps it’s just because the Coalition is still so new. Says Goldberg, “We haven’t been that involved in the past, but I think it can be good for us.” And it can be good for them, according to Golin.
“I believe all synagogues in the Big Tent Judaism Coalition, and even the non-synagogue organizations, recognize that we as a community have to do more,” he says. “The principles of Big Tent Judaism are intended to help remove the unnecessary barriers we’ve erected that keep many people from participating in communal life.”
|Share your FREE High Holiday activities and resources!
Do you offer anything for FREE during the High Holiday season? Whether its services, meals or childcare, we want to hear about it!
Send us your FREE High Holiday programs and resources and we will share them with the Coalition! Email Paul, PGolin@JOI.org
|New Organizations Under the Tent
|West Island Jewish Community Centre, Quebec: Our programs are open to all and everyone is welcome
We are committed to welcoming, empowering, respecting, learning from and developing the leadership of Jews of every intimacy constellation.
Beth Shalom of Lake Norman: We are dedicated to developing a meaningful Jewish life for our members and our community.
Pardes Levavot (Orchard of Hearts): Our name expresses the spiritual blossoming of each individual heart within an inspiring and nurturing orchard.
Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center: We are a year-round non-denominational Jewish retreat center that creates, hosts and offers programs built on environmental sustainability, intergenerational community and spirituality.