Idea no 1 - Make 2010/11 the Year of Synagogue Renewal

By Miriam Shaviv
February 26, 2010

As I explain in my column this week, every community can use new ideas - and ours is no exception.

So during the month of March, I am going to be running, on this blog, a new series: "21 Ideas to transform our Jewish community"*. Every working day I will be posting a different suggestion from a community personality. But I have also reserved the last couple of slots for suggestions from readers, so if you have an innovative, practical idea that could potentially change Jewish life here for the better, please email me (up to 350 words) at 

I hope that not only will the project generate significant debate, but that some of the ideas will be taken up. And we will publish the best ones in the paper at the end of the month. 

So, to kick off - here is my first idea: We should make 2010/11 the Year of Synagogue Renewal.

While many view the JFS ruling as an unmitigated disaster, it does contain at least one positive outcome. Under the new entrance system, all children applying to Jewish schools must make several synagogue visits, giving the synagogues an unprecedented opportunity to reach out to thousands of relatively unaffiliated families.

Because of the timing of the JFS ruling last year, synagogues had to handle the influx at very short notice. This year, we have far more notice - and we must take advantage. It is not enough simply to shepherd families into pre-existing services. By definition, current synagogue arrangements are not meeting their needs, otherwise they would already be attending.

We must put serious effort into making the synagogue experience as pleasant as possible - this includes making Certificate of Religious Practice instructions straightforward and welcoming; ensuring that children's services are not overcrowded - run in several shifts if necessary; and that there are appropriate services for parents who may not know how to daven.

Parents must pre-register their children so why not follow up with a welcoming phone call? Many 11- and 16-year-olds will require CRP certificates. If they are not familiar with the services, can another teenager be appointed to help them? Or, why not offer to set up families requiring a CRP for their child with another family for Shabbat lunch?

It would also be useful for the schools to follow up with new parents about their shul experience. Part of the reason so many families are treating the CRP's synagogue requirements casually is because they know that the schools themselves see it as a box-ticking exercise. If the schools took it more seriously, so would the parents.

More broadly, synagogues could survey members about what ideas they can adopt to speak more directly to the life of the average Jewish family.

For many, schools are fast replacing the synagogue as the engine of Jewish life. But if we managed to get even 15 per cent of non-shul attending families to return once the CRP requirements were fulfilled, this would rejuvenate Anglo-Jewry.

That's my idea. Now what's yours?

* Inspiration for this project comes from Daniel Sieradski and a group of US media outlets and charities, who have come up over the past couple of months with many thoughtful and innovative ideas of their own.


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