Guest post from Rabbi Aaron Spiegel. This post is part of a series on networks and network weaving.
Synagogue 3000 just released a report entitled “Reform and Conservative Congregations: Different Strengths, Different Challenges.” The report could just as easily been entitled something like “Synagogues are Fading Into Obscurity,” but that would be a little too provocative. The data is clear; the institution best positioned to provide the full richness of Jewish life is becoming irrelevant for most American Jews. More disturbing is that our research shows some 70% of young Jewish adults, those between the ages of 23 and 39, have no connection to the established Jewish community (synagogues, Federation, JCC’s, etc.). While many in the Jewish world talk about Jewish continuity and protecting the future of American Judaism, most of the proposed solutions have had little effect. The good news is we’ve also learned that this majority of young Jews are very interested in Judaism, just not the way we’re offering it.
While most in the congregational world talk about outreach, Synagogue 3000 learned that this moniker has a negative connotation. Outreach says, albeit subtly, “I’m reaching out to you so you can come to me and have what I want to offer you.” The community, particularly those young, single Jews who are our potential future are saying, “no thanks.” Instead of outreach Synagogue 3000 changed the conversation to engagement. Learning from the church world and community organizing, Synagogue 3000 created Next Dor (dor is Hebrew for generation) – an engagement program. Participating synagogues agree to dedicate a staffer, most often a rabbi, whose primary job is to meet young Jews where they are – physically, spiritually, and emotionally. These engagement workers are charged with finding young Jews, be they in bars, coffee houses, local gyms, etc., and finding ways of engaging them in conversation to create relationships. Relationships create trust, which creates other relationships, which creates opportunity for real engaging conversations about life and what Judaism has to offer. One of the key points is that this engagement and these relationships are l’shma, for their own sake. Synagogue membership is not the goal – connecting Jews to Judaism is.
While the goal is engaging young Jews in Judaism, several of the Next Dor partner synagogues are discovering tangible benefits. Next Dor D.C., a project of Temple Micah was one of the first adopters. Rabbi Danny Zemel, a proponent of this engagement model before Next Dor existed, knew that Temple Micah needed to engage this unaffiliated and disaffected population. As a Next Dor pilot synagogue, Temple Micah hired Rabbi Esther Lederman as their engagement worker. A big part of Esther’s job is having one-on-one meetings with young Jews, usually in coffee shops. Now in its fourth year, Next Dor D.C. has gone from one-on-one meetings to regular Shabbat dinners at Esther’s home to annual free High Holy Day services for young adults, led by Esther and Michelle Citrin. The results – young Jewish adults are joining Temple Micah.
Some have dubbed this approach “relational Judaism” which seems something of an oxymoron. Judaism is at its essence (at least in my opinion) all about relationships. Unfortunately, congregations have focused on other things like supporting infrastructure, b’nai mitzvah training, and programming. More than the first two, the focus on programming is the irrelevance linchpin. Rather than engaging Jews in what’s important in their lives, synagogues program based on anecdotal information. When numbers fall the default synagogue response is to seek better programming rather than forming relationships with members, finding out what’s really important in their lives, and being responsive to their needs. Interestingly enough, while Synagogue 3000 envisioned the relational approach targeting young Jewish adults, the Next Dor communities are discovering it works with everyone.
Is your synagogue willing to form relationships with people who might not become members? Is your rabbi really willing to “be known” by synagogue members? What are your biggest obstacles to moving from a program-based community to relationship-based? Relationships, it’s all about the relationships!
Rabbi Aaron Spiegel is the CEO of Synagogue 3000. The report was the result of Synagogue 3000’s participation in FACT (Faith Communities Today), the largest and most comprehensive surveyor of faith communities in the United States.
This post is part of a series on networks and network weaving that Darim Online is curating to advance the communal conversation about relationship focused Jewish communities. Thanks to UJA Federation of New York for supporting our research and this blog series. Click here to see other related posts in the series.
This is a video on how blogs build community created for the day school parents of Knoxville, TN, who are doing a training with The Jewish Ed Project’s Parent to Parent initiative. I was supposed to co-host a session with them, and had a last-minute conflict… :/ So, this is me "being there without being there." Hit me up with any questions!
Hi everyone, it's great to connect with you all, and I’m so sorry I can’t make it. I’m really looking forward to next time when we can have a deeper conversation about social media, and really dig in with strategies and fun tips and all kinds of goodies.
I love talking about blogging because it ties in so well with Jewish sensibilities about content and conversation. The Talmud was, arguably, the first blog - a conversation that takes place across time and space, bringing in many voices, contradictory opinions, and preserving it all. Even the format speaks to this. If you’ve ever looked at a page of Talmud (and not gotten completely intimidated, as I usually do), the main content is at the center, the comments in chronological order reverberating out from there. Folks comment on the main idea, then comment on the comments, then comment on the comments’ comments… Ah, Judaism, the ultimate obsessive-compulsive book club.
While blogging was hot news online about ten years ago, it’s still, i believe, at the heart of the internet. Blogs are where the stories live and breathe and grow. Think of it this way. If the Internet is a city, then Facebook is a college campus, LinkedIn is a convention center, Twitter is a series of cocktail parties in little, connected clubs, Pinterest is a shopping mall and an art gallery (in many ways), and so on and so forth, but blogs are often the homes. Blogs are where authentic stories come out. And people can visit your house, and engage in your story there, and that’s amazing and valuable. But more and more, as social media has evolved, it’s when those stories are brought into all those other places - the shopping mall, the convention center, etc. - that they become part of the bigger conversation. Sharing the story in your home, but then opening it up to this larger audience help create a sense of fluidity, of comfort, of community. Stories get set free when they’re shared in these larger spaces and the conversation around them gets hosted there. And the best part is, often, those stories don’t stay online; they influence the way people interact with one another in real life, then flow back into the online world.
So, blogs are a place for establishing a voice. For being your most authentic self, outside of proprietary social networks like Facebook and Twitter. But if you want people to join you in your home, to share in your story, you have to go out into the world and introduce yourself. Share that story. Ask questions. Visit other people’s homes and listen to what they have to say. Take this metaphor with you as you think about writing your blog post. And most of all, have fun! Please send me any questions you might have over email (or via Facebook, or Twitter, or LinkedIn…I’m all over the city), and I’ll see you next time!
As we come closer to the end of 2013, sites are releasing their obligatory "best of" lists. Here are a few of our favorites, for your inspiration...
First off, Tumblr's Year in Review is well worth checking out. Tumblr is a hip, funky, user-friendly and lightweight blogging platform that excels at imagery and attitude. Here's a bit about the "best of" list they're producing:
The retrospective starts Tuesday at http://YearinReview.tumblr.com with an exploration of 20 categories ranging from the most popular musical groups to the most interesting architecture of 2013. Boasting a plethora of images, the review will continue through December with daily posts that will culminate on New Year's Eve with the best fireworks displays featured on Tumblr during the year.
Our take-aways for the Jewish communal set?
- Scan the most-reblogged posts and people. What can you learn? What do these posts have in common? What kinds of images, what types of language, etc., really work?
- Are you using Tumblr? It's a great place to connect with teens. Tumblr is also flexible enough to be used to produce a full website, or can easily pop up for the sake of a single event, conference, or trip.
- Are there ways for you to capitalize on what Tumblr thinks is hip? What kind of connections can you make between "trending topics" and your work to help get the word out about your organization or cause?
And up next: we normally wouldn't re-post something from Buzzfeed, the site we all waste time on and love to hate/hate to love, but this one seemed especially apropos: the 21 Most Creative Instagram Accounts of 2013. Honestly, this post is not really about the photo-sharing service Instagram, or even about photos, but about the role of surprise and delight. Take a look at these accounts, what do they have in common? To us, they both surprise and delight their viewers. How can our social spaces do the same for our communities?
...and we'll close with some good ol' nonprofit video. Enjoy the winners of the 2013 DoGooder Awards!
What have been your web favorites lately? Share in the comments, or send them to Miriam directly, and they could be featured here next time!
Thanksgiving may be over and Chanukah is winding down, but it's ALWAYS a good time to show your organization’s supporters how grateful you are to have them onboard.
Just like receiving a handwritten note is a lot more special than a text message “thx,” getting personal with your supporters, and letting them know how each contribution is having an impact, is a great way to show them you really care.
There are so many creative directions to explore — but here are some fun ideas for going the extra nine yards in saying thanks to your biggest cheerleaders:
Personalized thank you video
Every year, charity: water staffers get in front of the camera to say thank you — dedicating videos to the class of 3rd graders who donate their lunch money and the bloggers who get the word out about their crowdfunding campaigns. It looks like they’re having a blast producing this series — and it’s a great way to retain supporters and keep them engaged.
Connect support to impact
A striking infographic is a great way to illustrate how the money you’ve raised this year is being put to use in the field. Connect the dots between clicking donate in your email inbox and tangible outcomes on the ground — and get ready to brainstorm some evocative analogies for your work.
A personal note
Bring your supporters together with the people who are seeing your impact firsthand. Maybe your organization works with refugees, or vulnerable children, or homeless families — let your constituents and staffers share, in their own words, how much the support of your donors means to them. You can forward their note in an email, or collect short video testimonials to share — like these messages from Nature Conservancy scientists around the world.
Saying thank you isn't just a nice thing to do — many organizations, like the International Rescue Committee, see a real return on investment when they share messages of gratitude with their donors.
We hope this gives you a jumping off point for putting together a heartfelt thank you campaign. And to all of our clients and friends of See3 and Darim Online, thank you, so much, for the work you do to make our world a better place.
What's the best thank-you you ever received from an organization? What made it so special for you?
It's time for our Monday web favorites, and there is much light to share over Chanukah...
First up: We love the #unselfie campaign! A bit of background...as of last year, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving has been declared "Giving Tuesday," to change the focus from buying and acquiring on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, to giving back and thankfulness. (Fun fact, this was started by the folks at the 92Y in New York.) Meanwhile, the term "selfie" was chosen as the 2013 "word of the year." This year, Giving Tuesday added this cool #unselfie campaign, to get people taking pictures of themselves (or of their faces behind a sign they made) saying/showing what they're doing to give back. Taking and posting an #unselfie could be a great activity for a teen group, for a family to do together, for a synagogue staff to do as a group. It's quick and fun activity to help share the light at Chanukah, and tap into a broader online campaign/conversation.
And our next selection: Another great opportunity has come up for tomorrow, this one on the professional development side. The talented and vivacious Deborah Grayson Riegel is offering a free teleconference on giving effective feedback, Dec. 3rd, 2-3pm Eastern. Click here for details and to sign up.
Finally: We've got one more example of a lovely campaign we wanted to share - Shira Kline, also known as Shirlala, is using the eight nights of Chanukah to run a "Be the Shamash" (the candle that lights all the other candles on the menorah) campaign. It's a great example of using your social media to highlight that sweet spot where the things you care about and the things that matter to your community come together and shine. Hosting these kinds of mini-campaigns on your Page, or through any social media outlet, helps keep you at the front of your community's mind. That way, when you're ready to tell them about an event or other offer, they're already listening.
What have been your favorite things on the web recently? Share them in comments, or with Miriam through email, and they could appear here next week! Happy Chanukah, everyone!
Top image credit: GivingTuesday Facebook Page
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