Helping Baltimore’s Synagogues Become More Relevant

As synagogues and Jewish institutions face challenges on how to engage community members in meaningful ways, they are seeking new outreach approaches.

Last month, Alan and Bunny Bernstein established a two-year matching grant to help area synagogues and other Jewish institutions become more welcoming and relevant to the community.

The grant will support the second phase of The Engagement Partnership, which was spearheaded by The Associated. During the first phase, the Engagement Partnership worked with six area synagogues – Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Beth Am Synagogue, Beth El Congregation, Beth Israel Congregation, Chizuk Amuno Congregation and Temple Oheb Shalom – to enable them better understand the needs of their congregants through in-depth listening campaigns.

The first phase was funded by a two-year grant from the Kolker-Saxon-Hallock Family Foundation. The initiative, a partnership with JOIN for Justice, which along with the Darrell Friedman Institute for Professional Development at the Weinberg Center (DFI), provided training.

In recent years, many synagogues have seen stagnating or declining memberships and/or synagogue attendance due to a number of factors, including a declining interest among community members toward institutions and a feeling that these institutions are not relevant to their lives. Recognizing these concerns, the Engagement Partnership worked closely with these synagogues to train professionals and volunteer leaders to take a more “people-first” approach.

“This grant will allow the synagogues to continue the process they started, to hear from more congregants about how they can contribute to their synagogue experience and to train board members on relational conversations to further engage and build leaders,” said Cindy Goldstein, director of DFI which is overseeing this project.

Some of the projects completed during the first phase included:

  • Baltimore Hebrew Congregation held Congregational Conversations with congregants. They discovered interest in more social action and a desire for more empty nester and senior opportunities.

  • Beth El Congregation used the tools to help develop its new Center for Healing and Spirituality.

  • Temple Oheb Shalom met with more than 175 Baby Boomers to listen to their needs. They organized two successful Baby Boomer Shabbat services followed by small group sessions. They also formed three grassroots action teams, based on interests expressed, around contemporary issues, food and tikkun olam.

  • Beth Israel Congregation talked to families with young children, pre-and post-B’nai Mitzvah families, empty nester/baby boomers and new members.

In addition to the work with the synagogues, the matching grant funded by Alan and Bunny Bernstein, will provide additional training for professionals at The Associated as they invest in creating a deeper, relational culture throughout the community. The goal is for professionals and leadership to intensify relationship with donors and potential donors, listening to their interests, understanding what talents and skills they can bring to the table and engaging them in ways that are personally meaningful.

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