By Michele Salomon
Congregation Keneseth Israel
“How do we identify and attract non-affiliated Jews?”
“How do we get Millennial Jews to join a synagogue?”
These are top issues for Jewish organizations. A variety of sociological and demographic trends are at play with fewer people being affiliated with religion at all and the fast growth of the “just Jewish” variety of Judaism.
What if there was an answer to these questions? What if religious and lay leaders of Jewish institutions could do something to change the direction of these trends and engage, re-engage and reinvigorate Jews about their Judaism?
It’s within our grasp, according to Dr. Ron Wolfson, professor of education at American Jewish University and author of “Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationship to Transform the Jewish Community,” but it will take new approaches and new thinking. It will take a change in perspective, away from programs and toward people, and a new meaning of success, away from the number of people who attend programs and toward newly formed relationships. It will also take new meanings and understanding about Judaism: away from Jewish identification and toward a full and varied Jewish identity; away from a transactional approach and toward a relational approach, one built on connection and relationships with ourselves, with our families, with our communities and with God.
Dr. Wolfson will be coming to our community the weekend of April 1 through 3 with a program titled, “Envisioning the Relational Synagogue of the 21st Century.” His visit is being sponsored by Congregational Keneseth Israel, Temple Beth El and Muhlenberg College Hillel. Wolfson will participate in services at both temples and work with religious and lay leaders from all the sponsoring institutions to help bring the principles outlined in his book to the Lehigh Valley and to give our community the tools to become “Relational Jews,” Jews who view their Judaism as impacting virtually all of their relationships.
In the introduction of the book Dr. Wolfson reminds us, “What really matters is that we care about the people we seek to engage. When we genuinely care about people, we will not only welcome them; we will listen to their stories, we will share ours, and we will join together to build a Jewish community that enriches our lives.” Throughout the book, he presents practical strategies and case studies to transform the old model of Jewish institutions into relational communities. He sets out 12 principles of relational engagement to guide Jewish lay leaders, professionals and community members in transforming institutions into inspiring communities whose value-proposition is to engage people and connect them to Judaism and community in meaningful and lasting ways.
To learn more join with Congregation Keneseth Israel, Temple Beth El and Muhlenberg College Hillel at Friday night Shabbat services (KI), Saturday Shabbat services (Beth El) and for a Saturday evening event at Beth El. Two of Dr. Wolfson’s books, those used as the framework for the weekend programs, “Relationship Judaism” and his recent memoir “The Best Boy in the United States of America: A Memoir of Blessings and Kisses,” are available at discounted rates at KI (610-435-9074) or Beth El (610-435-3521). You can learn more about Dr. Wolfson here.