What Do YOU Love About the Jewish Community?

Ruth Decalo (JOI’s Sr. Director of Program and Training) and I recently traveled to Los Angeles to debrief community institutions in the West Valley and Conejo Valley on the welcoming nature of their institutions—at the invitation of the Valley Alliance of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles. Our conversations emerged from the environmental outreach scan of their community JOI completed a few months ago. This was the second in a series of steps in JOI’s Community Transformation Initiative.

Following a long day of debriefing with institutions one at a time, we spent the next day training volunteer leaders and Jewish communal professionals in some of JOI’s signature outreach methodology. Among the many things that we did was help them understand the role of “gatekeepers,” particularly those responsible for answering e-mails and the telephone, to make sure that they are able to transform each contact into an opportunity for outreach. The front line is indeed the bottom line for these institutions, yet we don’t always recognize it.

Because I believe that we miss various opportunities to share the essential message of our institutions with those on the periphery who have yet to enter our institutions, particularly those who are intermarried, I asked certain questions that I often ask: What is the essential message that you want to communicate with those who have not yet crossed the threshold of your institution? And how are you doing so? What is it that you believe they will come to know if they only would enter your doors and spend time inside the walls of your institution?

So I ask our blog readers the same thing: If you are active in a Jewish communal institution, why? And is that institution taking that “why” and demonstrating it to those who have not yet joined you?


  1. Yes, our family is active in a synagogue. We do this to explore various aspects of our Jewish identity: social, spiritual, educational, being a part of a larger Jewish community. And this is an identity that I would like to provide to my children. I would say that our synagogue devotes quite a bit of effort to demonstrate the availability of these various options to prospective members in hopes of growing our community (and reversing our current trend).

    Comment by Jeff — January 23, 2007 @ 7:50 pm

  2. Would that other synagogues would follow your lead.

    Comment by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky — January 23, 2007 @ 8:08 pm

  3. Actually, from what I can see, most others in my area are also actively involved in marketing themselves to prospective members. Of course, there are varying levels of sophistication in how they market. But most conservative shuls are suffering from declining membership, so marketing is a necessity. And the reform shuls, where outreaching comes a little more naturally, certainly don’t mind takings steps to increase their numbers, even if it is not a necessity.

    Comment by Jeff — January 23, 2007 @ 8:28 pm

  4. Our approach may be a little different. We believe in marketing. But we believe that we have to engage people before we can talk about membership.

    Comment by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky — January 23, 2007 @ 8:44 pm

  5. for me, the motivation to participate in any jewish organization is that it provides a sense of meaning and of community in a jewish context. at the “door”, as it were, my favorite jewish organization implements this goal effectively through a strong commitment to being meaning driven in its activities (at least as experienced through the leadership). in conjunction, it goes to great lengths to make all of its activities accessible/comprehensible to newcomers who are on the threshold (also, though it should go without saying, to make the community itself warm, welcoming, and accessible).

    Comment by julie — January 24, 2007 @ 9:14 am

  6. And that is clearly why you are engaged with it. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky — January 24, 2007 @ 9:49 am

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