JOI’s First Outreach Professional’s Network (OPeN) Meeting in the Bay Area

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“Go west, young woman,” they said, and so I did. To the San Francisco Bay Area, where I met with a group of committed and inspiring outreach professionals gathered for JOI’s first Outreach Professional’s Network (OPeN) workshop on Lowering Barriers to Participation held in the Berkeley-Richmond Jewish Community Center on June 22. We discussed some of the barriers that exist in the organized Jewish community that we need to overcome in order to welcome, invite and engage the diverse population of independent Jews and their families — the Jewish majority today.

Some of the barriers to Jewish engagement that we discussed included the relatively high cost of “doing Jewish,” the use of inaccessible language in marketing programs (such as Hebrew or Yiddish), and the holding of programs in Jewish institutions (and sometimes only marketing within those institutions, meaning that the wealth of programming remains the Bay Area’s best kept secret). So, what did we resolve?

Well, cost barriers can be diminished. In fact, some outreach professionals have already made strides to reduce the cost barrier, such as the courses offered by Project Welcome, which are free and low-threshold educational experiences for anyone interested in finding out more about Judaism. Intercultural couples and all individuals are welcome (and Karen Kushner at Project Welcome is a great person to contact if you’re interested in participating).

To reduce the language barrier, we joked (but with a kernel of seriousness) that if a Hebrew or Yiddish word hasn’t been used on Seinfeld, then America doesn’t know it. And if America doesn’t know it, we can’t assume that Jewish Americans will either. Also, if we want to reach out and invite everyone to join us, then we should use those exact words and not put the burden of interpretation on individuals to come to us and ask us if they’re welcome. As one participant noted, “it’s easier to ‘welcome in the stranger’ than it is for ‘the stranger’ to initiate a welcome themselves.”

To address the location barrier, we talked about holding programs outside of our institutional walls, to show a vibrant, positive and diverse face to the unengaged Jewish community. In fact, reaching out in public secular venues helps us to welcome in, and to share our resources with the community at large. It’s a first step to embracing all who might connect with us, and inviting them to yet more programming which is relevant to them, their friends, and their families.

It’s always inspiring to meet with outreach professionals and take a moment to celebrate the work we’re doing to bring the wealth of Jewish entertainment, education and social networking to everyone who might be interested. JOI will continue working in the Bay Area to help existing organizations and programs refine their approach to reaching out to unengaged Jews (be they single individuals, intermarried, single parents, multiracial, lesbian or gay, straight, and so on) where they are, outside of the walls of our Jewish organizations.

I’m looking forward to going back to the San Francisco Bay Area (and I’ll be back in the Peninsula and downtown San Francisco in September, so if you’re interested in attending a workshop, let me know!), and not just for the nifty car I got to drive. Next time, though, someone needs to remind me which way to point my wheels when parking on an incline!

(Actual model of my unexpected rental upgrade! ;)


  1. Don’t know how I missed this program since I spend a great deal of time with interfaith couples. Let me know, please, about future programs in San Francisco. Many thanks, jh

    Comment by Rabbi Jay Heyman — June 28, 2005 @ 9:55 pm

  2. Dear Rabbi Heyman,

    The good news is that JOI will be holding the same workshop (Lowering Barriers to Participation) in September in both San Francisco and the Peninsula. We want to lower barriers to professionals’ participation in these training sessions, too, by making them as geographically convenient as possible.

    Once we finalize the date, you will most certainly be invited to this workshop. It will be great to have Shalom Spiritual Resources present, and to hear more about your work in the Bay Area. JOI seeks to invite all outreach professionals to our workshops wherever they are offered, so by all means please feel free to invite your colleagues to come too, and to get in touch with us.

    In the fall, JOI will also hold additional workshops on deepening Jewish engagement of new outreach contacts. I’ll keep you posted!

    All the best.

    Comment by Ruth Decalo — July 1, 2005 @ 11:36 am

  3. we’re happy to commute over to berkeley for events but didn’t know about this one either…

    Comment by sarah lefton — July 6, 2005 @ 4:23 pm

  4. Hi Sarah! Camp Tawonga should have received an invite; I’m not sure why you didn’t hear about it. Well, I’ll make sure we give you a call ahead of time, too.

    Stay well, and I’ll look forward to seeing you at our upcoming sessions in the fall.

    Comment by Ruth Decalo — July 7, 2005 @ 5:41 am

  5. I definitely want to participate in September in SF and/or the Peninsula. Thanks, Cathy

    Comment by cathy taylor — July 7, 2005 @ 10:58 pm

  6. Hi Cathy,

    You’ll definitely be on my radar. And remember to send me contact information of any colleagues you’d like me to invite (you can write me at It was good to see you and discuss PASJE’s outreach capacity and initiatives, and I’m looking forward to our ongoing work together.

    All the best, Ruth

    Comment by Ruth Decalo — July 11, 2005 @ 6:54 am

  7. Hello,
    I was wondering if you ever do any outreach /attend and organize events at universities in Toronto or Montreal or at Queen’s University where I am based? Thanks

    Comment by Phil Burge — August 24, 2005 @ 2:59 pm

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