Temple Torah’s executive staff utilized Darim’s Social Media Boot Camp to strengthen the culture of welcome at our synagogue. Over 25 years, Temple Torah evolved from a seniors-only congregation to a full-service, multi-generational congregation. We now operate a pre-school and two after-school supplemental religious programs.
Our challenge is that there is a sense of bifurcation in the congregation and a lack of a holistic sense of community. People in different segments of the congregation often express a “fee-for-service” mentality. Furthermore, many feel that the expenditure of financial and human resources on one segment of the community means that other segments will not get served. Older people often complain that “all this money is spent on young families who never come to synagogue.” Younger families complain that they don’t feel welcome in other segments of the congregation and that programs and services offered outside of the school wing are not relevant to their lives. Our staff team sought to use social media as one tool to break down barriers and spark conversations online and offline that would increase the sense of community.
Initially, we sought to embark on this endeavor through short YouTube videos. We succeeded in making one video that re-oriented people to the main synagogue entrance in a post-Newtown, CT, concern for security. We were unable to sustain the energy, creativity and commitment to produce more videos, so we switched gears to focusing on Temple Torah’s Facebook page. The page had been under-utilized and was overshadowed by Facebook groups run by various arms of the synagogue.
It took some time for us to find a groove where people would like and comment on the page. Pictures of events that were posted received positive attention, but event announcements might as well have been invisible. In March, we fine-tuned our efforts to revamp our Facebook page with a contest asking people to share the manner in which people are welcomed at their seder. Whoever received the most likes would receive a prize. It seemed like a good question that people could relate to, yet we received only minimal response.
A couple weeks later for Yom Haatzmaut, we discovered a secret sauce: Constant Contact. We were able to drive much more traffic to the Facebook page by sending a Constant Contact email to the congregation, posing a question and directing them to the page. We received more lively online dialogue on why people love Israel.
Having discovered Constant Contact as an effective means to drive traffic to the page, we then went right to the issue of creating a culture of welcome at the synagogue. People were asked to complete the sentence: “My first time being welcomed to Temple Torah was…,” and there was great response. One older congregant was bold enough to post that she didn’t feel so welcome, but I utilized this opportunity to reach out to her publicly and privately, and she appreciated that. That same week, I gleaned from the discussion to deliver a “social sermon” on Shabbat, one in which congregants take part in the writing through their online comments before Shabbat. The sermon was then posted after Shabbat to allow the posting to continue.
For the rest of this spring, each member of our staff took a turn posting a question for discussion that was rooted in his or her area of expertise. The result is more traffic on our Facebook page and more interaction among different segments of our population. We hope to continue creative ways to drive traffic to the page, spark conversations and build real live relationships among our congregants.
Rabbi Ed Bernstein is the rabbi of Temple Torah in Boyton Beach, Florida. He also blogs on The Huffington Post. This year Temple Torah participated in the Social Media Boot Camp for Educators, a year long program generously funded by The Covenant Foundation. This series of blog posts this spring chart the learnings of the 10 teams in this year's cohort.