The High Holidays: Moving People from “See You Next Year” to “See You All Year”

The High Holidays mean different things to different people. For some, attending services is a social gathering – a way to catch up with friends you may only see at High Holiday services. For others, it is simply an obligation – the one “Jewish” thing they may do all year. And for others still, it may have deeper meaning – starting a new year with a clean slate on a deeply spiritual level. Across the country, this last group is often the smallest, causing synagogue professionals and volunteers to scratch their heads and wonder how to create a deeper and more lasting relationship with more of their community. They seek to make coming to synagogue a more frequent and meaningful experience, and to find ways to take “three-day-a-year” Jews, and help them become “all-year” Jews.

Last night, SYNERGY: UJA-Federation and Synagogues Together, hosted JOI executive director Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, associate executive director Paul Golin, and senior director of training Eva Stern for a seminar entitled “High Holidays: How to Move Three-Day-a-Year Jews from ‘See You Next Year’ to ‘See You All Year.’” Dozens of Jewish communal professionals and lay leaders from the Greater New York area attended in person or via web conference. The evening’s focus was centered on how to not only welcome newcomers during the High Holidays, but also to further engage current members—those who are affiliated, but are not active—and demonstrate the genuine meaning and value that engagement in their communities can provide.

Kerry began the evening discussing the current state of synagogue affiliation and engagement, highlighting that the model many synagogues currently follow needs some tweaking. The mentality that a synagogue’s members are there to support the synagogue needs to be turned around, so that the synagogue is there to support its members. Eva continued the conversation by providing concrete techniques to make the High Holidays not only more welcoming, but more fruitful in terms of future engagement. One suggestion was to look at the High Holiday services experience through the eyes of a newcomer. Many of us have attended the same synagogue for years, and know where to enter, where to sit, etc. But what if we were new? Would we know where to go, and would there be someone to ask? Answering these questions before the High Holidays could mean higher attendance, and more engagement down the line. Paul concluded the presentation by discussing the messaging communities transmit about the benefits in greater Jewish engagement.

The seminar was the beginning of a great conversation, with attendees brainstorming about new ways to reach out, welcome, and engage individuals and families in their respective Jewish communities during the High Holidays and lasting throughout the year.

If you are a High Holiday volunteer, ticket collector, usher, or lay leader, we invite you to join the conversation, by attending our webinar “Making the Most of the High Holidays”, on Wednesday, September 14th at 2 PM EST. For more information and for details on how to register, click here.

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