What do our synagogues want?

I’ve had numerous meetings this week in and about our synagogues. I’ve met with rabbis and synagogue presidents. The other day we held a very successful pilot program to train synagogue volunteers in security awareness and communication. There’s a lot more for us to do… but I’m proud that we’re doing so much right now:

  • In the last few weeks alone we’ve hosted two successful Synagogue Leadership Initiative programs, convening dozens of synagogues in our area in discussions about rethinking dues structures and synagogue security. (The next program on membership is Tuesday, July 21, and more events are already on the calendar for the fall.) This program invites synagogue representatives to participate in important conversations about issues that affect them, helping synagogue leaders strengthen their communities and better engage congregants in synagogue life.
  • We’re about to launch our annual MetroPass program, partnering with 30 synagogues to welcome newcomers to GMW with complimentary High Holiday tickets.
  • Synagogues get an array of services through our partner agencies, many of which (like the funding for social workers in some of our synagogues) rely on Federation funding.
  • MetroWest ABLE encourages and helps congregations create more inclusive and welcoming environments for those with disabilities, and awards them for their achievements.
  • Create a Jewish Legacy helps congregations through our Jewish Community Foundation and the Grinspoon Foundation to secure their financial futures by establishing effective planned giving programs.
  • Our CARES committee is helping congregations to work with Open R.O.A.D. to provide transportation for homebound seniors to religious services.
  • Our synagogues and community members benefit from an array of Greater MetroWest’s Chaplaincy programs.
  • Our rabbinic missions to Israel enable our community’s rabbis to bring fresh ideas, perspective, and resources back to their congregations.

It’s a long list. It’s not exhaustive. And at one point, a thoughtful and smart synagogue leader said to me, “You know, I always thought that what Federation does is Israel and that’s it. Which is nice. But we have all these problems here at home, too.”
Which helped me realize that we have two challenges here.
On the one hand, how do we explain to the community that our work isn’t a zero-sum game? That supporting Israel with funds and programs and resources doesn’t necessarily detract from the work we do to build up a strong, vibrant, energized Jewish community here in Greater MetroWest New Jersey? Our Israel and overseas work includes bringing ten amazing shlichim (emissaries) to work in our synagogues and schools and agencies. It includes missions to build Jewish identity and partnership programs to enhance our sense of peoplehood and meaningful Jewish life. It allows us to build powerful, dynamic partnerships that provide a swift response in times of emergency and times of opportunity. If you are proud of how we respond in times of war, in times of crisis… you should be proud of the relationships and partnerships we’ve built that allow us to move quickly and effectively in those moments of need. Working with our Community Relations Committee on supporting Israel, on building coalitions, on advocating and lobbying  ̶  all these efforts help us build community here.
But on the other hand, we’re not doing a good enough job explaining to our synagogues the vast array of services and programs that we offer to them and their congregants. All these services for the elderly and their families, individuals with disabilities, and young families, as well as counseling and resources for those in crisis situations, such as the loss of a job, financial difficulties, or domestic violence. They’re all services that Federation, through its partner agencies, provides to the members of our Greater MetroWest community. 
Why is this important? Because no synagogue is an island unto itself; no synagogue can fully address the varied needs of all its congregants. We’re all part of an intricate, complex, and wonderfully responsive network of community institutions that must support each other.
So in the year ahead we’ll try to embark on a road show to more and more of our 90+ synagogues. We need more dialogue, more partnerships, more collaborations with our synagogues. Because together we can ensure a stronger, even more vibrant, even more connected community.

We can do even more when we work together.

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