I was in Houston for the weekend recently, first to participate as scholar-in-residence for Congregation Beth Israel and then to participate in a Yom Limmud (study day) for the entire community. I always try to seize the opportunity to share ideas with folks from around North America. That Friday night, I introduced the congregation to some of our more progressive notions about reaching those on the periphery, especially the urgency of reaching those in interfaith marriages and their children. Following a Shabbat dinner, I participated in a Q&A session with the congregation regarding intermarriage in general. On Saturday morning, I led a Torah study session, which focused on a spiritual read of the weekly Torah portion. As is the case in so many synagogues, a group of adults gathers weekly to study the Torah portion in a liberal context. The key now is to help them attract even more people through the application of outreach best practices! To that end, later on Saturday evening, I met with members of the synagogue’s outreach committee. I was pleased to see that they, too, are dedicated to changing the status quo. Finally, on Sunday morning I made a presentation to the community about JOI’s signature program of Public Space Judaism.
While many communities across the continent share common traits, the Jewish communities of Texas are noteworthy for their unique aspects. Rather than copying what other communities are doing, Houston takes its own approach to building a Jewish community. As the nation’s fourth largest city, Houston has many advantages that can allow them to be successful, but it still faces many of the same demographic challenges that communities and their institutions are confronted with elsewhere in North America. And that is why JOI is so pleased to be able to be of help.