For the past eight years, JOI has focused its programming efforts on outreach—which we define as a methodology rather than a target population—going out to where people are rather than having them come to us. The latter posture remains an unfortunately dominant approach among many institutions in the Jewish community. As more wonderful buildings are being built to serve an increasingly small inner core, the refrain seems to be “if you build it, they will come.”
Over the last year, JOI has been working with STAR (Synagogue: Transformation and Renewal) in a project which we appropriately named Call Synagogue Home (since this is the welcoming posture that we believe is the only way to build synagogue life). The project is designed for congregations of all denominations to use life cycle events to reach out to interfaith families. Congregations can use these events, which range from the traditional, such as birth or marriage, to non-traditional, such as receiving a driver’s license or a job promotion, to nurture the relationship (and retention) of those who are already part of the synagogue community.
This project is a radical departure for JOI in that it represents our first formal foray inside the synagogue. We like to call it “integration after outreach.” The project is successfully operating in synagogues in Atlanta, Los Angeles (the five valleys) and Philadelphia. In these communities, congregations are working on creative, innovative projects that involve interfaith families and the important moments in their lives. These congregational projects evolved following intensive training sessions led by project staff members and emerged out of program manuals that were designed to incorporate these life cycle events.
While the project is very specific, the work has already begun to change synagogue culture and attitudes about interfaith marriage in specific synagogue communities. We intend to expand this project into at least three communities in the upcoming program year. If you are interested in joining the project, please be in touch with us.
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