The San Jose area is a lovely community, one of the most charming in the United States. As a result, it attracts many people to the entire Silicon Valley. So I was delighted to be invited back—following a general presentation to the community last year—to spend the day with lay leaders and Jewish communal professionals discussing the challenges of reaching people on the periphery of the Jewish community. The community boasts of a beautiful new campus which houses most of the local community agencies, including a day school, Federation, JCC, and JFS. (In between meeting, I even snuck in a run in their world-class fitness center around which the entire JCC and much of the campus is built.) While the national average of those who are affiliated hovers at 35-40%, in this area it is markedly lower. Thus, the challenge is higher—especially with a large American Israeli population.
So what do they—and others—do? We believe that there are two answers to the question that gets at the heart of what we teach at JOI. First, we focus on making the inside of the community a warm and welcoming place—and offer specific techniques and programs to do so. We want to make sure that once outreach is effective—which brings people to the gates of the community—that the institutions are able to deliver on the promises of inclusiveness made by the outreach effort. Then we focus on a different kind of outreach—a methodology not aimed at a target population. This is about bringing the Jewish community out to where people are, most notably through program models that we call Public Space Judaismsm.
We are thrilled that San Jose is warming up to these ideas. They are already beginning to introduce them into the community. We also look forward to taking the next step together with them. They have a great community with a lot to share, and we want to make sure that lots of others know about these ideas as well.