As one of the most widely celebrated Jewish holidays in America, Passover provides a wonderful opportunity for reaching out to unaffiliated Jews and intermarried families. On January 31, over 20 professionals from around the country gathered on a conference call to think ahead about programming for Passover. On our call, we shared innovative program ideas and examined some of the barriers to participation.
Asking the question, “why are unaffiliated people not coming to our synagogues and JCC’s to attend the programs that we know and love?” We understood that it takes a lot to walk into a Jewish institution — a space that can feel foreign and intimidating if you are a newcomer. By programming outside those walls, in a place that is familiar to all, we can maximize Passover as an opportunity to reach out. Below are some more results of the call.
On our call, we introduced JOI’s Passover in the Aisles program model, which reaches out to Jewish families (including unaffiliated and intermarried households) in supermarkets right before Passover. Passover in the Aisles places outreach workers and volunteers right in the matzah aisle, in order to encounter people where they are: doing their last minute Passover shopping. We emphasized the program’s flexibility—there are many ways of engaging shoppers in activities and conversation, allowing much room for creativity and experimentation. Some highlighted components of the program included:
- Maximizing the role of food: Matzah is something that is familiar to many people, and curiosity-invoking, which makes it a non-threatening, relatively simple way of accessing the holiday.
- Locate the activity so that people can simply stumble upon it, while they are doing their shopping, rather than asking them to pre-plan attendence at an event.
We addressed many questions about planning such a program, including the following:
- Which locations/grocery stores are most appropriate?
- Is it best to choose one supermarket or more than one?
- How do you approach stores to encourage commercial cooperation?
We also addressed the questions below; here is a sampling of our answers:
Q: How do you advertise programs that take place in stores?
Along the same principle as programming “where people are,” we encourage advertising in print and other media where people are already spending their time; focusing on local secular papers and web media. Participants shared many of their own best practices in terms of effective advertising.
Q: How are these programs staffed? Who are the volunteers? What is their role? How much knowledge must they have?
We emphasized the importance that the outreach workers and volunteers represent your demographics, are TRAINED, and have sensitivity both in terms of language and prior Jewish knowledge. It is important that they not make assumptions in terms of Hebrew or Jewish literacy on the part of program participants.
Q: How do you follow up? How are connections made with participants?
Sometimes, especially when you are just beginning to run these programs, it might take a bit of time to get used to collecting names for follow up. But personalized follow-up is one of the most important steps in effective outreach. We emphasized that this program is not an endpoint in and of itself, but rather an entry point to other programs. This program is really about finding people, building connections, and developing relationships with people who might not be in our databases or on our radars (yet), and using an opportunity to engage them in deeper relationships with the Jewish community. Essential to doing this is the careful and strategic collection of information of attendees. We encourage people to collect names in creative ways, such as holding raffles, featuring contests, and/or offering exciting giveaways. We want to provide an incentive for people to give us their contact information. For a raffle to be effective, the prize has to be visible (or at least an image of it), prominently displayed, and desirable, such as Passover chocolate! We also don’t want them to feel that this collection is intrusive, but rather that it is part of the program. Their contact information must be treated with privacy and respect, and the follow-up must be personal and relevant.
Programmatically, we promoted the idea of some kind of social justice component into their program, thus bringing some of the values of Passover to the program and to help those in need.
These are all conversations that we hope to continue on our listserve, JOPLIN: Jewish Outreach Professionals Log-In Network, throughout the coming months. Stay tuned for more discussion!
If you are interested in bringing Passover in the Aisles or other Passover outreach programs to your community this year, or would like to sign up for the JOPLIN listserve, contact Eva at (212) 760-1440, or EStern@JOI.org ASAP for the tools to get started!