Philadelphia Congregations Invite Interfaith Families to Call Their Synagogues Home

Despite it being the morning following Selichot (the only Jewish religious service of the year which traditionally takes place between midnight and dawn), and on the same afternoon as the first Philadelphia Eagles game, dedicated lay leaders and professionals from Philadelphia area synagogues nevertheless came out for a full day of training on September 9 led by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, Executive Director of JOI, as part of the Call Synagogue Home project.

Philadelphia, PA is one of the three pilot communities (along with Atlanta, GA and Los Angeles, CA) participating in this new initiative to engage interfaith families in synagogue participation through important lifecycle moments. JOI’s work on this project is made possible by the Samuel Bronfman Foundation and is part of our partnership with STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal). Participants who attended this training will now embark on a year-long process as members of a team that will examine the current practices of their congregation, and work to make their synagogue a more welcoming and inclusive place where more inferfaith families can feel at home.

Upon our review of the training day’s evaluation forms, we at JOI were very pleased to learn that participants were inspired by the training to think in new ways and to begin this very important work. Among the list of aspects of the program that participants found most useful:

  • “Rabbi Olitzky made me think about issues I haven’t yet addressed…”
  • “…stimulating, opened ideas in areas not thought about before”
  • “Helping to change the way we think about how we can help interfaith families feel comfortable”

Even more poignant for us were the new ideas that participants listed as things they identified that they would like to put into practice:

  • “To look at how we are viewed from the outside”
  • “Understand the commitment that a person of another religious background has made to the Jewish community”
  • “The need to think outside the box in terms of meeting people where they are”
  • “Training our staff to better understand our interfaith families”
  • “Never think you know where someone is on their journey”

The ideas generated by these synagogue teams were motivational for us at the JOI office, with the feedback that our message of inclusiveness rings true to the representatives of the community. We are looking forward to serving as a resource and guiding the synagogue teams throughout this process through our consultation services, and we are confident that together we will reach our goal of making the Jewish community a more accessible and comfortable home for all who wish to enter.

1 Comment

  1. Having been a part of the design and implementation of training, I can definitely agree with Amy’s observations. Additionally, at STAR, we’ve come to understand how powerful a shift in mindset can be in developing an inclusive relationship with interfaith families. Often, our first response is to highlight what interfaith families can’t do. We begin with the question, “Within the bounds of your congregation’s policy, what else can interfaith families do?” This kind of thinking helps us view interfaith families as potential assets and challenges us to think about how our actions can limit or maximize their involvement.

    Comment by Rabby Hayim Herring — September 20, 2007 @ 9:12 pm

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