Synagogue Leadership Initiative

Kindling a Healthy Partnership with Synagogues

By Aviva Roland, Outreach Director

Israel programming, social justice campaigns, rabbi leadership missions… these are just a few of the many ways Federation has actively worked with area synagogues for years. But with the launch of our new Synagogue Leadership Initiative (SLI) in 2015, we are taking this relationship to the next level.

The nearly 90 synagogues — serving every denomination and unaffiliated as well — are the epicenters for igniting Jewish identity in our Greater MetroWest community and for keeping those flames burning. And while they differ vastly in their size and scale, there are many common challenges that these institutions all share. Federation has the ability to act as a community convener, bridging the gap between the synagogues to create the kind of culture that is needed to ensure the future of our Jewish community and to respond to the varied challenges we face.

Our new Federation Strategic Initiative identified a productive partnership between the synagogues, and between Federation and the synagogues, as one area which needed improvement. Our goal was to help synagogues explore common issues, concerns, and trends in synagogues life and to help synagogue leaders, both lay and professional, develop important leadership skills. With that came the launch of the SLI.

To get the ball rolling, in February 2015 we convened a committee called the Synagogue Leadership Council, chaired by Jamie Ramsfelder and comprised of representatives of every denominational affiliation and location. Most are past presidents of their synagogues and federation leaders. To determine the synagogues’ common challenges and struggles we held two town-hall style meetings in which nearly 20 synagogues participated, and from that we planned and scheduled the first year of workshops and programs. Topics covered included synagogue security, alternative dues structures, overcoming resistance to change, dealing with membership challenges, and how to treat members as investors. The level of participation and engagement was encouraging.

Gerry Gross, Executive Director of the Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael (MJCBY), says, “I find these programs very pertinent and timely to the needs of MJCBY as well as the greater Jewish community. The topics are important to us all and the program presenters are highly knowledgeable and know how to make the most of our valuable time. We usually leave an event both knowing more than when we entered and with seeds planted to share with our fellow leaders and board members. Also key to these sessions is meeting members and leaders from other synagogues and agencies allowing us to share both problems we face as well as potential solutions.”

As we approach the end of our first year, we look forward to convening the committee in February to review our progress so far and to plan for and even better year two of the program. Our hope is that more and more synagogues will see the value in this program and will get involved.

Upcoming programs for synagogue lay leaders, professionals, and clergy (All programs are in the evening at the Alex Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus, 901 Route 10, Whippany) include:

  • March 7 – The Ask with guest speaker Jennifer Paquette Galloway. How do you get over your fears and ask for money? This class will focus on direct solicitations – how to ask, who to ask, how to follow-up. This will be a participatory class that will boost your confidence and competence in this area.
  • April 4 – Finding Members Where They Are with guest speaker Rabbi Shawn Zevit. This session will share practical ways of applying your community’s values to positively affect both internal engagement (celebrating your members’ lives beyond lifecycle events) and creative outreach to potential members.
  • May 2 – Fundraising Strategic Planning with guest speaker Bernie Goldblatt. How many times each year do you ask your members for money? Stop nickel and diming them. Develop a fundraising strategic plan for your community.

To learn more about the Synagogue Leadership Initiative, visit our webpage.