One of the most important notions of outreach is to meet people where they are on their Jewish journey, both physically and spiritually. With our Public Space Judaism programs like Passover in the Matzah Aisle or Eight Days of Oil, we meet people in public places like grocery stores or malls to give them a taste of Judaism. A more challenging aspect of outreach is to meet people spiritually and find out what they need to make their path to Judaism more meaningful. But The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah in Overland Park, KS, has developed a new program that takes this challenge head-on – and they’re seeing some tremendous results.
Congregation B’nai Jehudah has developed a program called Individualized Jewish Path (IJP). The idea, said Rabbi Arthur Nemitoff, is a volunteer guide (or a see’ah) works one-on-one with either an individual, a family or a small group to “talk about who they are and what their passions are; what moves them and, quite honestly, what their fears are and what are the things they need or would like in order to have the most meaning in their lives.”
This is unique because it’s a bottom-up approach as opposed to the traditional top-down model. Normally, programs are designed and needs are assumed for pre-defined categories, such as interfaith families, converts, GLBT, etc… But the top-down approach is “kind of like throwing spaghetti against the wall,” said Rabbi Nemitoff. Seeing people as individuals first, and then determining their needs and interests before assigning them into a category is a great way for Jewish organizations to truly identify what people are looking for in their personal Jewish journey. This idea is being put to good use at B’nai Jehudah, and it also happens to be an important part of JOI’s outreach methodology.
Nearly 200 people have begun taking part in the IJP program since it began, turning their initial contact with the program into a deeper involvement with the community. The congregation has also learned from the program what people are most interested in learning about, making it easier to develop additional programs or educational series that speak to these needs.
Meeting people where they are instead of waiting for them to come to us is a fundamental element to successful outreach. Congregation B’nai Jehudah’s innovative approach is a great example of how we can go straight to the source – the individuals and their families – to find out what we can do to better engage them in the community and encourage greater participation in Jewish life.
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