At JOI, we are constantly looking for ways that people can share in Jewish experiences with few or no barriers to entry. We are very happy to see proof of a trend of more free High Holiday services being offered throughout North America this holiday season. We have read articles, announcements, and advertisements about free services, and we have heard from the professionals on our Jewish outreach listserve that many communities allow newcomers to join them for services without a commitment to membership.
Lowering or eliminating the financial obligation is a great way to start, but it takes a genuine and concerted effort to make High Holiday services truly welcoming to those on the periphery. Rabbi Leo Abrami, a retired rabbi in the Greater Phoenix, Arizona area, is hosting free services aimed at the Paradise Valley’s unaffiliated Jews. Rabbi Abrami’s services will be “Reconservadox, a post-denominational approach to Judaism” with egalitarian services chanted in Hebrew but interspersed with English explanations, comments, and readings. By making sure that there is no prior knowledge necessary for someone to understand what is going on, uninitiated participants will surely have a more valuable experience.
Through the generous support of our funders, JOI was able to offer a free training conference call to help Jewish professionals maximize the outreach impact of their High Holiday programs. One organization that participated in the call was Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City, Utah. Congregation Kol Ami is offering complementary tickets for High Holiday services to nonmembers. Danny Burman, Kol Ami’s President, actively invites people and made clear the community’s intention to include everyone in his announcement of this initiative: “At Congregation Kol Ami, every person counts and everyone is welcome. Jews by birth, Jews by choice and interfaith families are all invited to join with us as we worship, learn and celebrate Judaism in a dynamic and caring community.”
As these examples show, there are many levels of program design that contribute to attracting newcomers to the Jewish community and helping them to have a meaningful Jewish experience including cost, marketing, and program content, to name a few. The most important element of outreach, though, is the personal relationship that is begun by welcoming people into a comfortable environment and nurtured through further, personalized invitations and opportunities for connection. This holiday season and the Jewish New Year are wonderful and natural opportunities to take the first step toward inclusion.