You Shall Pursue

January 24, 2013

Building Relationships: One Way to do Jewish Community Well

Filed under: Jewish Communitty, Rabbinical School — Tags: , , — marleyweiner @ 3:40 am

This week, I’m taking a mini course about community organizing. While I was expecting a lot of instruction about how to be radical and political, all of today was about learning how to share your stories and passions in such a way that it builds relationships and common understanding. According to our instructor, the best way to effect social change is through making people talk to each other. Now, after years of talking about relationship building in the Jewish community, I feel like I’m finally developing the skill set I might need to make it happen.

I feel like we as a Jewish community keep talking about how to attract members, how to convince the members we have to take leadership positions, and how to get people to invest financially. And yet it is really rare to hear about rabbis or executive directors sitting down one on one with the average congregant (as opposed to the people already in leadership positions) and ask about why they are passionate about synagogue life, and what they hope to get out of their membership. Relationships are ongoing, built person to person and network to network, and if we don’t meet with people on a personal basis, how can we inspire in them the feeling that they should invest in the organizations that we have built?

The other important and deeply challenging piece of community organizing that I learned today is the importance of sharing stories. It’s not just about listening to the stories of others, but about opening up and feeling comfortable enough in your vulnerability to share stories of your own. Part of learning why people are passionate about an organization or a cause is sharing your own passions, interests, and worries around that cause. An organizing relationship is still a relationship, and relationships are a two way street of sharing and vulnerability.

What an amazing thing it would be if rabbis made time every summer to sit down for coffee with as many of their congregants as possible and talk about what attracts people to staying a member of the community? If the leaders of the congregation would share one-on-one the specific moments of triumph that keep them invested, whether that is a Bar Mitzvah, a meaningful adult education class, or a challenging question from a congregant. Think of how many people would feel more engaged, more welcomed, and more heard in that simple act of opening up and sharing.

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