A Forkful of Judaism – A Synagogue-wide Approach to Young Family Engagement
A few years ago, the senior staff of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel (TSTI) in South Orange, New Jersey applied for a grant from Jewish Community Foundation to explore innovative ways to engage young families in Jewish life. The senior staff, being a team of creative thinkers, couldn’t agree on which new program to submit to JCF, so we did the next best thing - we proposed all of our ideas under one umbrella, entitled ‘A Forkful of Judaism; A 4-Pronged Approach to Young Family Engagement.’ Our overarching goal was, and is, to reduce the silos of the synagogue branches, as we consciously engineered our programs within this grant to span across generations, across schools, and across interest groups. In other words, we wanted to build a more cohesive community.
The Forkful of Judaism encompassed 4 interest area, or prongs: worship, mitzvot/tikkun olam, food, and sports to appeal to a wide variety of people and ways in which they would like to be Jewishly connected. We recognized that not all young families join a synagogue because they are interested in formal worship, therefore we looked for other ways to engage them based on current trends in our local community.
Using the grant, we offered opportunities for preschool families to interact with the religious school population, and for all families with young children to interact with the larger temple community. Our programming outline looked as follows:
Young Family Sharing Shabbats on Saturday mornings
PJ Library Worship experience on Friday evening in our campground
Young Family Holiday Worship
Young Family Mitzvah Program: 4 stations, each related to one of our 4 prongs, including:
Habitat for Humanity
Interfaith Food Pantry
Furry Hearts and St. Hubert’s Animal Shelters
WAE (Wellness, Art, Enrichment) Center
Ice cream Meet and Greet in local towns
Food for Thought---holiday cooking experiences
Attend men’s club softball game
Attend local minor league baseball team
Stroller-friendly Meet and Greet hikes
Within the overarching theme of Young Family Engagement, we also consider if our goal of a specific program falls under the category of Fundraising, Funraising, and Friendraising. Fundraising at TSTI is generally done only when money is earmarked for a specific item or program that will directly benefit the stakeholders. Funraising is a budgeted item that is purely social in nature, and Friendraising, while only a subtle nuanced version of Funraising, is focused specifically on building community.
When done with careful planning, any and all of these proposed ideas can be entry points for unaffiliated young families to get a Taste of Judaism in a way in that is relevant and meaningful to them.