We are affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the association of Conservative congregations in North America.
The CJC Board and I have been discussing a book together: Relational Judaism, by Ron Wolfson. I recommend it to anyone who cares about the future of the synagogue.
Wolfson presents a number of key principles for revitalizing synagogue life. All of the principles are aimed at building personal relationships. Instead of counting numbers to measure success, he urges us to be on the lookout for signs of wellbeing and connection.
Let me summarize his main principles, and tell you what we are doing to make them come alive here at CJC.
1. Personal encounters: Creating opportunities for our staff and leadership to build relations with our members.
Our Board made Rosh Hashanah phone calls to the congregation, not to raise money, but to say hello. We promise to keep checking in with you to see how you’re doing.
2. Telling stories: Encouraging each other to talk about who we are, where we’re from, what we value, and what we hope for in our congregation.
For example, our exciting “Morning to Remember” program in December. Coming soon: Coffee klatches with the rabbi in members’ living rooms (you’ll receive an invite).
3. Learning together/Doing together: Learning, socializing, and doing mitzvot as part of a group is much more meaningful than doing it alone.
As proven by our weekly Mussar study group and monthly B’nai Mitzvah family get-togethers. And by our Tikkun Olam task force, with over 25 active participants!
4. Connecting: Caring about each other in times of sadness and times of joy, greeting people we don’t know, and emphasizing what we have in common.
I’ve noticed that people here don’t rush to leave when services are over. They talk to one another—not only about the weather, but also about what’s happening in their lives. We plan to have more Friday night dinners and Kiddush luncheons, so we can have more of these interactions.
5. Experiences: Sharing content and emotions, food and participation, action and celebration can be just as important as the program.
How true! What people get from their synagogue involvement seldom has very much to do with the actual activity in which they are engaged. What they enjoy most of all is the fellowship.
6. Volunteerism: Asking members to identify their talents, abilities and passions and to respond to a personal appeal to get involved on a team.
I want to ask you: What are the most valuable ways you contribute to our shul —your personality, your perspective, your skills, your activities, your character? Don’t be humble; this is important information! Some of you have shared this with me. I’d like to hear from more of you.
7. Follow-up: Asking is the first step of engagement but the second step is to sustain the relationship by further contact.
We need to look at how we “track” our members, if we track them at all. It’s not enough to count the number of people who come to an event. How are people changed by coming to a program here? Are they deepening their relationships?
8. Transition points: from shul shopper to member, from primary school to religious school, from bar/bat mitzvah to young adulthood, from child-rearing to empty nesting—just because one stage in our lives has ended doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t transition to the next one.
I have been given a small budget that will allow me to invite our teenagers out for dinner with the rabbi, so that we can talk about their transitioning to Jewish adulthood. I want to explore with them how the synagogue might be of use to them.
9. Re-engagement: Reaching out to those who were involved before and personally inviting them to get involved in a different way that can give them a new sense of meaning and purpose.
When I decided not to renew my subscription to a magazine, I got a bunch of letters and emails asking me to change my mind. Can we reach out to those who were once involved here, but have fallen away? At the very least, can we invite them to speak with us about why they decided not to be active anymore? What might we learn from them?
In short, in the words of Ron Wolfson, we need to “broaden our vision…to find meaning, purpose, belonging and blessing.”
Best of life,
Rabbi David Klatzker