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Building Connected Congregations

What brought together nearly eighty Los Angeles synagogue leaders from all branches of Judaism to The Jewish Federation this past Monday night? The big draw was the chance to connect with others who are working to strengthen our synagogue community, and the opportunity to hear from renowned Jewish educational consultant Dr. Beth Cousens at the latest event of our Synagogue Leadership Workshop Series. The series is part of our Federation’s Synagogue and Rabbinic Initiative and is designed for both professional and lay leaders of our diverse community to learn from experts in the field who are addressing issues critical to the sustainability and growth of synagogues.

Dr. Cousens is the co-author, with Cantor Adina Frydman, of a research study examining the way synagogues are funded and how they are addressing the challenge of increased reluctance of congregants to pay annual dues or even to become synagogue members in the first place. Citing examples from synagogues around the country that are trying different models, the audience was asked to think about the issues they face and the options that they could consider in meeting the expectations of new generations.

Dr. Cousens’ presentation, The Connected Congregation: How to Sustain a Purpose-Driven Congregation, focused primarily on two topic areas: 1) the concept of “membership” as opposed to seeing the synagogue as a partnership of lay people and clergy in building a meaningful community; and 2) the lack of transparency synagogues have about their need for money and the budgets that they require to be effective and stable. She also asked us to consider why so few synagogues post their financial statements online or share with congregants the details of how funds are spent.

The presentation and ensuing discussions were lively, and the comments from participants indicated how important it is to address these topics in a group setting so that we can learn from one another, as well as share successes and failures in pursuit of our shared goal of a strong synagogue community in Los Angeles that will thrive well into the future.

Our next Federation Synagogue Leadership Workshop will be held on Thursday, April 3rd with Dr. Eric Gordon, who is paying a return visit to our community to present a model for synagogue engagement using an interactive platform developed by the Game-Lab at Emerson College. For more information, please contact Dr. Beryl Geber, Senior Vice President for Synagogue and Rabbinic Initiatives, at BGeber@JewishLA.org.


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