In that moment when someone comes to the doorstep of the Jewish community – either physically or online – we have an opportunity and a duty to do all we can to welcome them in. But all too often these folks are left without guidance. Through our own studies of how communities respond to newcomers, we have found that people reaching out to the Jewish community are falling through the cracks. It’s time to make sure we fill those cracks. Writing for the website eJewish Philanthropy, JOI’s associate executive director believes we can to a better job of capturing and engaging newcomers if we make a conscious effort to “train ALL staff in welcoming best-practices.”
“The way newcomers are welcomed and engaged will be the key determinant as to whether a Jewish organization thrives, survives, or dies in the 21st Century,” Golin writes. He explains that this is what inspired a new advocacy campaign from our Big Tent Judaism Coalition to encourage synagogues and Jewish institutions to train everyone on their staff – not just those who answer phones or emails – on how to best welcome in newcomers. “Leaders of many organizations simply have no idea who is calling or walking through their doors because the intake of newcomers, one of the most important aspects of our work, is often left to the least-trained members of our staff or volunteers.”
Part of the challenge lies in trying to engage a wildly diverse cross-section of newcomers. Traditionally underserved populations include “LGBT Jews; multiracial Jews; Jews with physical or mental challenges; older adults without children; empty-nesters; divorcees; Jews with financial challenges;” and of course the non-Jewish spouses/partners of Jews. Though all are different, he says they all share one commonality – “they feel disproportionately less ‘welcomed’ – less able, less wanted, less enticed – to engage with the organized Jewish community.” We can continue to create programs that reach these different groups, or we can go even deeper and give our front-line staff the tools they need to better welcome and respond to all those who approach.
Golin also notes that many have turned towards creating “more engaging websites” and focusing on “social media tools like Facebook and Twitter” to try and build online communities. While this is a worthwhile goal, he believes we are “still a decade or two away from conducting all our interactions in the virtual world.” Until then, he believes “that a single face-to-face interaction is more powerful than a hundred Facebook status updates or a thousand Tweets, and that communal organizations should make training on welcoming a higher priority.”
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