A project of the FJMC
Suggestions for Increasing Engagement
Winter 2015 Issue No. 2
What is FJMC Keruv? In Our Own Words... The FJMC KERUV Initiative is about Welcoming, Accepting, and creating Jewish families. It is a journey of understanding how the various pieces of the puzzle fits together. The more we learn, the more our efforts are modified and change. This initiative composed of volunteer men and women is available to rabbis and synagogues who wish to work with us. Some congregations have affiliated FJMC clubs. Others don’t.
We have been engaged in this process since 1998. More than 250 Rabbis and recently Cantors have participated in our 24-hour clergy think tanks. Approximately 200 lay people have attended our 2-3-day lay training seminars. Keruv is related to but not connected with conversion. Keruv is concerned with what we believe is the most pressing issue in the 21st Century for North American Jewry. This is our passion.
The KERUV Initiative is FJMC’s gift to the Conservative Movement. This is the second of three newsletters designed to provide congregational decision makers with tools to increase welcoming, expand consciousness, and assist you to strengthen your communities.
Charles Simon, February 2015
Ideas to Take out of the Box
Joshua Kohn, Chair, FJMC KERUV/INTERMARRIAGE Initiative
Creating a welcoming environment entails more than simply having “Greeters” at the door. In order to be successful it involves thinking about each and every entry point of congregational life. And remember, everything that occurs in a congregation is a welcoming point. What follows is a description of the ways congregations make themselves more welcoming. It is followed by three ideas that could be employed in any congregation. Each has the potential to have a lasting impact.
When reading them, imagine the gestalt of all three of them if they are all integrated into one congregation after one has considered the implications of both culture and infrastructure. The first example focuses on how to build Shabbat morning service attendance, the second how to deliver an important and often overlooked message to the congregation on Shabbat morning and the third focuses on a way to add joy to the Thursday morning minyan. The last section adds another piece to the puzzle and how the clergy should be positioned.
Our Steps to Improve Community
In the past decade, Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El of Wynnewood, PA has transformed itself from a synagogue that was not known as welcoming to a synagogue that is among the most forward thinking and welcoming in the Western Philadelphia suburbs. When I am discussing our synagogue with prospective members, there are two angles that are both equally important to communicate - infrastructure and culture.
Infrastructure - A potential new member needs to see certain things to know that they will be welcomed, especially as a non-traditional family. We have changed the bylaws to include family membership for interfaith families. We publish ALL Mazels in our bulletin. We let interfaith families know that their entire family will be on the Bimah for their life cycle events. And we just recently formalized our acceptance and support for same-sex marriages in our sanctuary.
Culture - That infrastructure lays the groundwork for welcoming, but we can only be a successful synagogue if we have a culture where people want to join. We have created bonds among families from the local day school and the religious schools through class Shabbat dinners. We have two rabbis who confidently speak from the pulpit about inclusion and acceptance. And we have significant demographic diversity on our board and advisory committees.
We are building our community literally one family at a time. That is how synagogue loyalty is built.
What are our Strengths?
I am constantly amazed and impressed with how far the Conservative movement has come over the past decade. But I am also still surprised and disappointed that our message has not reached enough of the greater community at large. Websites, Facebook, Twitter do matter. When people look for a synagogue, they need to know loud and clear what are the core values it embraces in more detail than "egalitarian, warm, …."
I had a discussion with a prospective member the other night, who expressed his concerns to me very clearly, before I even got a chance to speak. "I am in my low 30's, married to a Catholic, with two kids below the age of 5. Someone told me you were a good person to talk to. I know I can’t come to your synagogue because it is Conservative, but do you know of any communities where my family could find a home?"
On the one hand, I was very upset with his misperception that my synagogue could not provide him what he is looking for. On the other hand, it was a chance to educate him, and offer him the opportunity to see what my synagogue was all about.
As the conversation continued, I explained very clearly to this man why I am here. In my prior community in suburban NYC, on the first day we arrived, the cantor introduced herself to us, followed by the rabbi. Without hesitation, when I described my family, the rabbi put his arm around us and told us that he wanted us to be here. He told us there weren't many like us (yet), but things were changing. And he was right.
I am more committed to the Jewish community today because I am intermarried, not despite the fact that I am intermarried. My goal is help create an environment where when this man and his family walk in to our community, which they want to join, and will relay that message to others.
Step 1 is getting the word out. Step 2 is backing up our words with actions.