While many synagogues generate creative ideas for growing their membership, they often lack the resources to implement them.
To address this issue, the Union for Reform Judaism has created the “communities of practice” program, bringing together 37 congregations around the country to share ideas and experiment with new strategies. Two of them are local — Temple Beth El of Northern Valley in Closter and Congregation Adas Emuno in Leonia.
Before focusing on our congregation, Goldrich first focuses on our sister shul in Closter. We'll skip over that part, but if you're interested, you can read the article in its entirety on the Jewish Standard website. And here's how it looked in the print version:
And now for the relevant section of the article:
Congregation Adas Emuno in Leonia has been selected for the young families initiatives. Its rabbi, Barry Schwartz, is excited about his congregation’s participation in the project.
“I think the URJ has come to realize that they need to put congregations that share the same needs and same challenges together,” he said. “That’s what this is about. Small congregations like ours have one set of challenges; large congregations have another.”
While Adas Emuno, founded in 1871, is what Schwartz calls “a wonderful little congregation,” with some 100 member units, it nevertheless embraces members of all ages, including 70 children.
But with no preschool—and with what the rabbi described as “demographic challenges”—it is not easy to attract young families with children.
“We have a declining number of young families because the Jewish population in this part of the county is diminishing,” he said. Still, membership has been steady, “and we want to keep that base. We’ve been around 140 years. We want to make sure there’s a generation to take our place.”
Noting that his synagogue serves people beyond the immediate neighborhood, Schwartz said the congregation is eager to attract families that are not yet affiliated with the community, including interfaith families.
School director Annice Benamy and congregational leader Rebecca Kind Slater will represent the synagogue in URJ meetings, traveling to Chicago later this winter to participate in the inaugural conference. Both, he said, are professional teachers.
“They’ll be talking to congregational staff and leaders with expertise in this area,” he said. “Why not learn some of the best practices?”
The rabbi said discussion of the issue has already begun, and the congregation has initiated a series of tot programs, including offerings on Shabbat and holidays as well as field trips. He said that young families particularly enjoyed the shul’s recent Chanukah party, at which he played guitar, “did a Chanukah rap, and showed them my dreidel collection.
“We’re trying to develop family-friendly programs,” he said, pointing out that the shul is employing different communications strategies, including social media, town listserves, local newspapers, and parenting publications.
“We have to grow more sophisticated,” he said. “We have to go out to where the people are.”
This year, the congregation’s Hebrew school launched a series of family enrichment activities. Once a month, the rabbi chooses a different grade and leads a discussion.
“Last Sunday I met with third-grade parents to do a Jewish family inventory,” he said. “I listed 20 material objects and 10 observances and each family did an inventory exercise. They scored themselves and compared scores. It led to a provocative discussion of what distinguishes a Jewish home.”
Schwartz said the URJ initiative will “help us come up with a comprehensive strategy [to be] an inviting institution for young families. But whether it will lead to the establishment of a preschool or day care or ‘mommy and me’ program remains to be seen. I’m supportive of the URJ’s efforts.”
The URJ's Communities of Practice program involved a competitive application process, and so we proudly congratulate our Religious School Director Annice Benamy and Trustee Rebecca Kind Slater for their successful efforts, and look forward to the fruits of their endeavor!