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  • Dr. Tussy Shnider

Relational Judaism-What we've Learned

Updated: Aug 1, 2019

Relational Judaism, known here (Temple Shalom in Naples, Florida) as One Family, has been quite a learning experience. Both our One Family Initiative and our L’Shalom Pledge System (replacing standard dues and building fund contributions – see Chapter Five in my book) were values-based. (The book is available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.) We described our Jewish values as lovingkindness, social justice, inclusion, diversity, respect, equality, and the sacredness of relationships.

As I reported in the previous blog, we have experienced an unusually large increase in membership (46% as of the end of the 2018-2019 fiscal year in June) since beginning One Family in 2014. We continue to work toward integrating our new members in Temple life. This, too, is a learning experience. How does our One Family Team convey a warm welcome to over 250 new member families (units)?! We have provided name badges with new member stickers, wine and cheese events prior to Erev Shabbat services, introductions in our monthly bulletin, phone calls and personal notes from various Temple leaders, interviews with our Membership Engagement Coordinator (Concierge), assistance with making connections to the committees and activities that interest them, blessings at Shabbat services, and a New Member Shabbat complete with a potluck Shabbat dinner. Of course, we are open to new ideas…We would love to hear what other congregations have done to welcome and engage new members!

The Relational Judaism experience at Temple Shalom has provided learning experiences for the Temple leaders.

(1) Explaining the projects and the changes in terms of Jewish values and Torah appears most meaningful to members. It clarifies “why” the changes are being made and “why” they should get involved.

(2) Small group activities provide greater opportunities for members to connect with one another. Small groups such as Shabbat dinners, bake days, classes, and affinity groups offer time to connect with other Temple members.

(3) The amazing increase in membership is not just a numbers thing. In some cases, it is an indicator that there were Jews in the Naples area who wanted to be a part of a Jewish community but found the financial barriers prohibitive. The removal of such barriers has opened the door of participation for many of our co-religionists in Southwest Florida. For others who had an “unfriendly” experience at Temple Shalom prior to One Family, the change in our culture was clear enough to bring them back for another “look-see.” We are so pleased that they gave us another chance.

(4) Not all of the projects undertaken in the name of One Family will thrive. Some do…and some don’t. It is not always clear why some projects don’t work out as expected. But it is important to continue moving forward, taking pride in those projects that are working.

(5) Changing congregational culture takes time and patience. We expected this to be a slow process. So, we were pleasantly surprised when we started seeing real change after only two to three years.

(6) The changes may be subtle (the willingness of individual members to get involved) or they may be obvious (the use of name badges and the on-going participation as a Shalom Chaverim greeter).

(7) Members are often willing to provide financial support for specific projects (e.g., name badge expenses; installation of a hearing loop). It is important to learn their passions, what is important to them.

(8) It is important to listen to members and give real consideration to their suggestions. That is how several of our One Family projects came into being (e.g., streaming video, hearing loop, tribute garden). Members approached us, the chairs, with their ideas and we responded with the necessary organizational support to bring their ideas to fruition. Listening during meetings and brainstorming sessions also brings new ideas to the table.

All in all, the Relational Judaism experience, the One Family Initiative, at Temple Shalom has been an amazing undertaking. The support from the leadership, both lay and professional, has been exemplary. Most importantly, the response from the membership and our guests has been outstanding. Our “journey of change” has succeeded beyond our expectations in enhancing relationships at Temple Shalom.

To see more about the Relational Judaism experience at Temple Shalom, go to our website at https://www.drtussyshnider.com. One Congregation’s Journey of Change: A Guide to Enhancing Relationships in Your Congregation (amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com) is designed as a “how-to” book to assist other organizations of all faiths that might want to embark on a Relational Judaism process. It includes an organizational best-practices readiness checklist, samples of marketing materials, and carefully constructed letters to the congregation. I can be reached at tshnider@gmail.com


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