At the Jewish Outreach Institute, we often focus on engaging intermarried families and unaffiliated Jews by bringing Judaism out to where the people are. But we have also long worked to bring people in (most recently with our STAR partnership and Big Tent Judaism initiative). Our goal is to connect unengaged Jews with Jewish institutions by helping communal professionals and lay leaders open their doors and welcome everyone who wants to be a part of our family.
This is the spirit behind the initiative of Rabbi Lawrence Sernovitz at the Old York Road Temple – Beth Am. As reported in the Jewish Exponent of Philadelphia, Sernovitz, a former JOI rabbinic intern, is turning to “inreach” and outreach to show that his congregation is an inviting and friendly place where new and potential members will find a warm reception.
Sernovitz believes one reason people don’t come to synagogue more often is because of the intimidation felt in an unfamiliar environment, and a recent study by the Union for Reform Judaism backs up that claim. One of the themes of the study was “what synagogues can do to make themselves more welcoming to potential members.” In response, several Beth Am congregants will host Shabbat meals for interfaith families, with the intent of introducing them to longtime affiliates.
Sernovitz is also utilizing our Public Space Judaism program to “reach out to interfaith families and unaffiliated Jews on more secular turf.” Beth Am’s outreach committee chair Neal Welsh said “new life” has been given to the synagogue’s outreach efforts with the arrival of Sernovitz.
The week before Thanksgiving, the rabbi read stories to 50 or so children at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore in Jankintown, down the street from the shul. At such public events in neutral arenas, “we don’t ask them to join or anything,” said Welsh. “We just want them to know we’re there.”
We are thrilled to hear that Rabbi Sernovitz is effectively employing the outreach methods of JOI. It seems our message has inspired him to reach out and reach in, and we hope to inspire many more to do the same.