On May 23-24, Next Dor's six pilot sites and 10 of its affiliates from around the country joined together for a Next Dor gathering. Hosted by Temple Israel in Boston (home of the Riverway Project), these professionals spent two days delving into how best to build, sustain, and support 20s and 30s communities with the Next Dor team and each other. Here, Rabbi Leah Berkowitz of Judea Reform Synagogue in Durham, NC gives us her take on what she gleaned and is taking back to her community.
Rabbi Leah R. Berkowitz, Judea Reform Congregation, Durham, NC
The Jewish community in Durham and its surrounding cities (“The Triangle”) presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities for engaging young Jews. New people arrive in the area all the time as a result of job opportunities and graduate work. Many young people, especially couples, actually do set foot in our synagogue well before their counterparts in other cities, hoping to meet like-minded people and to connect to the Jewish community in a predominately Christian region.
A community of transplants, however, is a double-edged sword. Some people are here temporarily and do not put down roots, making it difficult to cultivate leadership and create a stable sense of community. Young couples soon become young families, posing a new set of challenges to engagement. Furthermore, many seeking a Jewish community find it outside of our synagogue: in the social gatherings of the Federation’s young adult programming, or in the CHaBaD House in Chapel Hill.
Whether they are on the membership roster of my synagogue or at the CHaBaD house, at the Jewish bar night or not doing anything Jewish at all, my question is: are they getting what they need to live Jewishly? And how can we provide it for them, even if they haven’t yet come through our doors?
These questions were on my mind when I attended the first Next Dor Converation last October. The work of the pilot sites they presented was brilliant and innovative (and most important, it was working!). However, the Next Dor leadership made it clear that there was no magic bullet for engaging Jews in their 20s and 30s. We couldn’t solve this problem with cookie-cutter programs, guilt trips about supporting the Jewish people, or even with discounts on membership (which my community already offers). We would need to create our own vision and our own strategy, based on a model of relational organizing.
I went home energized, encouraged my congregation to affiliate with Next Dor, and found myself faced with new questions: Where do I start? Do I use this model to engage our current young members, or do I focus my energy on those who haven’t yet walked through the door? How do I fit this piece into the puzzle of full-time congregational work? And how do I know if what I’m doing is working?
At our most recent Next Dor conversation, at Temple Israel of Boston, we began to address these questions. There was a lot of discussion between pilot sites and affiliates about tachlis (practical steps): what a “one-on-one” relational meeting looks like, how to find unaffiliated Jews, how to track data and measure success, how to get buy-in from the synagogue leadership.
We also took a step back to think about our visions of Jewish community. Too often, as Jewish professionals, we measure success by who is sitting in our seats and paying their dues. Being a part of Next Dor has reminded me to look beyond that definition, and to think about what we are really trying to accomplish: a generation of Jews who are empowered to live Jewishly on their own terms, a synagogue that both welcomes them and supports them where they are, and a Jewish future that is shaped and transformed by the conversation between the two.