The following post is from JOI intern Allison Poirier. We all loved working with Allison and while we are sad her time with us has ended, we wish her luck in all of her endeavors.
During my junior year of college at Barnard, I was fortunate enough to pick up where the last lovely JOI Intern, Addie Cunniff, left off. Thanks to all of Addie’s hard work, one of my first tasks was to write and distribute follow-up surveys to all the participants in the fall Color-Me Calendar program. As a new intern, I was extremely impressed by the number of participants and the very large number of people they reached. Over the rest of my time at JOI, I learned that while these numbers are important, outreach is not only about quantity; outreach is not just an event you do once a year or even once a month to boost membership numbers; and outreach is not something you can put on your to-do list to check off once you’ve finished. Outreach, really, is an attitude.
Many of the JOI blogs reflect on the idea that simple little things can make a huge difference. This is so true. As a college student I often find myself in new and different Jewish situations, and my feelings about these situations depend on who comes up to say hello to me or welcome me. I frequent a synagogue on the Upper-West side largely because of the warm welcome I receive every time I enter, even though the rabbi and congregants are older and of a different denomination than I am. On my first three visits, the rabbi came over to where I was standing to introduce himself and to welcome me personally. On another occasion, a friend I was with was invited to lead one of the services that evening even though he is not a member of this congregation. Both of these gestures were small, but they meant a lot to me and my friends.
By now most people in this synagogue recognize me by face, if not by name. Most of them probably also know I do not pay dues there and that, as a student, I don’t really have the money to start paying in the near future. But no one ever asks, and I’ve never been made to feel like it’s important to them. Their lack of concern with my dues payment does not come from the fact that they are an extraordinarily wealthy congregation– they are not. Rather, it reflects an attitude that this synagogue understands and embraces: the Outreach Attitude. They, like many of JOI’s partners, know that outreach must extend to every corner of their community in order to work effectively. They cannot just talk the talk of welcoming newcomers at outreach events, they must also walk the walk of using inclusive language at all events, and of welcoming people with sincerity.
I’ve been attending this particular synagogue since the middle of my freshman year, and I have always felt welcome there. After working at JOI, I truly understand the great steps this congregation has taken to welcome me. They have made sure to attend to all the same little things that JOI trains and advocates about, and they have done this with an attitude of sincerity that ensures that all these little things appear everywhere in their community. They do this genuinely and continuously.
I started as an intern at JOI knowing that outreach was important, but not understanding how important it is to do outreach in every aspect of your community. Working at JOI has taught me about the outreach attitude, and about the importance of a genuine sustained approach to outreach. I hope my neighborhood synagogue will continue to promote this welcoming atmosphere, and that other communities will join them in sending a truly positive welcoming message. Embracing the outreach attitude is one big thing we can all do together.
I am so thankful to everyone at JOI for giving me the opportunity to learn this lesson and be part of the effort to bring a welcoming aspect to all of our communities. I feel so fortunate to have spent time working with these dedicated and passionate leaders of the Jewish community.