JOI Conference in Philadelphia

Yesterday, JOI concluded our three day conference titled All Are Welcome: Transforming the Jewish Community through Outreach. It was a tremendous experience with a range of provocative speakers, hands-on workshops and educational sessions all designed to give people the tools to create a more welcoming Jewish community and help secure a vibrant Jewish future.

The conference brought together over 150 Jewish communal professionals and volunteer leaders from across North America, all looking for new and innovative techniques to find and reach more intermarried families and unaffiliated Jews in their communities. This is particularly significant given the state of today’s economy, and it shows that even in tough times people want to hear news about the latest strategies and tactics for effective outreach. But it was also a time to think deeply about trying to answer the big question, “Why be Jewish?” We might know how to reach people, but helping folks answer that question is what will keep them, their families, and future generations involved in the Jewish community.

We were also able to continue in person a remarkable conversation that took place on our e-mail listserve for Jewish outreach professionals, JOPLIN. On the listserve, Rabbi Irwin Kula of CLAL had challenged all of us to rethink the labels we use and the boundaries of our community. We were happy to have him join us and lead a though provoking town-hall style discussion. Everyone at the conference had the opportunity to explore the issues initially raised online and discuss how the Jewish community identifies itself and how we can go even further in eliminating barriers.

Other highlights include: Dr. Peter Pitzele, who brought to life the Book of Ruth with an inspired and lively interactive reading; a presentation by Guatemalan-Jewish interdisciplinary artist Maya Escobar detailing her identity struggles; and a heartfelt keynote address by Jewish Lights Publishing editor-in-chief, Stuart Matlins. There were also late night salons, think-tanks, and a walking tour of historic Jewish Philadelphia.

Feedback from attendees has been overwhelmingly positive. Forty-eight hours seemed too short! People wanted even more time to talk and connect with other professionals to share best practices and discover new strategies for engagement. All we can say to that is we hope to see you at our next conference!

Photos from the conference are after the jump…

Participants register for the conference.

JOI staff greets conference attendees.

JOI’s Rabbi Kerry Olitzky kicks off the conference with a presentation on the five motivations of outreach.

Stuart Matlins of Jewish Lights Publishing and Rabbi Rachel Ain.

Drum Cafe leads the conference in an interactive drum circle.

Everyone gets ready to bang their drums in unison.

Kerry Olitzky gets in on the musical action.

Rabbi Lance Sussman leads a tour of Jewish historic Philadelphia.

An interactive display at the National Museum of American Jewish History. Visitors can leave their opinions about a series of important questions.

JOI demonstrated a new Public Space Judaism program to use during the High Holiday Season - Gourmet Honey Tasting!

Everyone enjoys some apples, bread and honey between sessions.

Rabbi Irwin Kula leads the attendees in discussion.

A panel discussion on how to facilitate direct partnerships between two or more local organizations so they can do outreach.

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