LCJC releases findings from yearlong synagogue study
The Louisville Council of Jewish Congregations (LCJC) has released its findings from a yearlong study on synagogue sustainability, which contains some ideas and goals for Jewish religious life in the Derby City. Among those ideas were for three synagogues to share space under one common governing board, hiring a professional with experience in engaging millennial Jews, and a variety of ways to revamp K-8 religious education and increase engagement across the community. LCJC Facilitator Matt Schwartz believes the biggest takeaway is not the report, but the relationships built between community leaders. Synagogue administrators have told the LCJC that they are talking to each other more. That could lead to something positive, he predicted.
The results of the study, which was done by Rosov Consulting, with offices in Berkeley and Jerusalem, were released in three parts: a brief summary, drafted by Schwartz, and two extensive memos from the Feb. 25 and June 11 breakout meetings with LCJC members and other “stakeholders” – community professionals and volunteer leaders. The study also identified a few “red flags” facing the synagogues. It cited “much frustration and mistrust of each other” and “the magical belief that money will solve everything.” The red flags outlined must be addressed, the report concluded. “The ability of the LCJC … to focus and direct everyone’s efforts in this regard will be critical.” Rosov also spent last November and December meeting individually with stakeholders and getting to know the community. The memos addressed three priorities for the synagogues: space sharing, re-envisioning K-8 Jewish education and increasing engagement across the community. The findings, which are based on the work of the breakout groups at the sessions, include few recommendations from Rosov itself. Instead, they consist mostly of bulleted goals, obstacles and ideas that the participants identified. That was the purpose all along, said Rosov Director Pearl Mattenson. “From the start, this was designed as a consultancy in which Rosov would guide and advise but not ‘tell’ the community what they needed to do,” Mattenson said. “In our experience, that approach does not lead to lasting communal change.”
Here are some of the findings for each priority:
Shared space and millennials
Stakeholders at the February meeting, discussed the idea – not a formal proposal or recommendation – of Keneseth Israel, Temple Shalom and Anshei Sfard “cohabiting” (not merging) in a shared space, possibly on the new J campus. That space could also hold one or both religious schools and be governed by one board consisting of two members from each synagogue. Since then, events have overtaken the report.
The Temple has proposed a space-sharing arrangement to Temple Shalom, which would create a Reform Judaism campus on Lime Kiln Lane. The Temple members have signed off on the proposal; Temple Shalom congregants are expected to vote in August. Meanwhile, Anshei Sfard has completed the sale of its Dutchmans Lane building to The J and has moved into a suite at Shalom Towers. Anshei Sfard members have expressed a desire to purchase or build a new synagogue that better fits its needs. Keneseth Israel continues shared programming with Adath Jeshurun, including a joint Tisha B’av observance in August.
The stakeholders also discussed space sharing for the two religious schools, intergenerational space that could include a youth engagement center, a future community-wide Hebrew school and “tikkun olam/chesed component.” And they addressed the need to engage millennials, many of whom reject traditional synagogue affiliation. “It will be critical to hire a professional who has experience with and knowledge of this generation – likely from outside the Louisville community – who would sit outside existing institutions but would work closely alongside lay leaders,” the report said. The stakeholders also suggested cultivating “ambassadors” to promote and convene communication with individual millennials, and seek a partnership with Hillel.
Re-envision K-8 Jewish education
Citing education models from around the country, the stakeholders proposed:
- Whole-family, intergenerational learning to integrate parents who “drop their kids and run;”
- Education in the homes and public spaces (bookstores, cafes);
- Creative use of technology to offer flexibility and accommodate busy schedules;
- Help for children and parents to understand that being Jewish is not something that happens only in the synagogue or the home but “in all spaces in the world.”
The stakeholders also weighed advantages of institutions creating their own education programs versus a single K-8 effort. Separate schools could be based on each synagogue’s ideologies, traditions and cultures. They could use existing staff and volunteers, be more flexible to change, become feeders for youth groups of the movements each congregation, and be more intimate. But a combined school could unify the community by fostering relationships across the movements. There would be more opportunities to attract professional Jewish educators. It would be easier to offer specialized programs. It would be easier to attract unaffiliated families. The community could spend less on education in the long run.
Increasing community engagement
This priority goes beyond synagogue sustainability, according to the report. Among the goals that were put forward:
- Proactive collaboration among organizations;
- Encourage volunteering among 25 – 45 year-olds;
- Connect more teens to Jewish youth movements;
- Lower the average age of participants in communal events from 60 to 40;
- Increase financial viability for all Jewish organizations;
- Double the number of kids going to Jewish camps or traveling Israel.
LCJC Facilitator Matt Schwartz said the members are studying the findings and continue to hold meetings. The Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence, which paid for the study and participated in the process as a stakeholder, has been approached about keeping Rosov involved in the process.
Source: “LCJC releases findings from yearlong synagogue study,” Jewish Louisville, Lee Chotiner, July 26, 2019