One of the ways we at JOI measure success in outreach is through increased participation. Getting someone to attend a program or sign up for a mailing is one step – engaging them in the Jewish community for the long term is our desired goal. This gets harder in places that already have a small Jewish population – there are fewer resources, fewer institutions, and a fewer number of Jews to help establish a community. Furthermore, there are more unaffiliated and interfaith families. That was a problem for the Jews of Park City, Utah. But, according to a feature in the Jerusalem Post, they have found a way to grow and strengthen their Jewish community, and they have the numbers to prove it.
There is only one synagogue in town, Temple Har Shalom, and over the last ten years their membership has grown from a few dozen families to more than 300. One reason for the expansion is a larger overall population in Park City. Another reason, according to Adam Bronfman, who helped establish the synagogue, is because “we open the doors. We let people in.”
Bronfman and many others in the Park City Jewish community believe that the future of the Jewish community lies in their “template for drawing Jews in rather than turning them away.” This is especially true in a time of greater diversity within the Jewish community than we have ever seen before. The philosophy behind the synagogue, Bronfman says, is to provide a place where people can explore Judaism on their own terms. The article explains:
The experiment, he says, is to create “an authentic Judaism that opens the doors completely, that doesn’t have a threshold, a litmus test, a bar which one must step over to come in the door,” elaborating that interested participants of any denomination, observance level, sexual orientation, socio-economic level and not necessarily Jewish background are invited in.
Even Rabbi Benny Lau, from the Modern Orthodox movement, acknowledges that while the approach won’t work for the Orthodox system, there is something positive in the methods of Temple Har Shalom. “They found 300 families that were lost. They found them. That’s a miracle.”
People will always disagree on the best way to guarantee Jewish continuity, but one thing is clear – Temple Har Shalom has found a template that works. It took the whole community to help make this work, but Adam Bronfman played a key role. Through his family’s charitable foundation, The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, he has helped create a working example of successful outreach in Park City. For his commitment to the unity and growth of the Jewish community, JOI is honoring him on October 27th at our annual tribute dinner. He exemplifies everything we believe in – and we are proud to have him as a partner as we embrace intermarried families and unengaged Jews, and encourage their increased participation in Jewish life.