The Ties That Bind

The Ties That Bind

Three years ago, the leadership of a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Westchester began looking for help in developing a strategic plan to help them better meet the needs of their members. Then someone mentioned UJA-Federation’s management assistance program (MAP).

“It was one of the best things we ever did,” Colin Goldberg, president of The Hebrew Institute of White Plains, said of the 11-month program in which congregational leaders participated with leaders of seven other synagogues of every denomination.

The course, given pro bono by McKinsey and Co., a well-known business consulting firm that does strategic planning for Fortune 500 companies, instructed the leaders in how to conduct focus groups with their congregants.

“We looked for ideas they might have about how the shul was going and what we could do to improve things,” said Goldberg. “It allowed us to define who we were, to get a sense of our mission, and helped us to articulate our goals and achieve them. … We’re now going back to UJA-Federation to investigate using their MAP program for leadership training. We’re trying to decide what training is needed and which lay leaders will be trained in leadership.”

The MAP program is one of several projects initiated by UJA-Federation in the last several years designed to develop a closer relationship with synagogues.

“There has been a deepened appreciation for the critical role our local institutions play in enabling Jews to connect powerfully to Jewish life, and one of the most central of them is the synagogue,” said Alisa Rubin Kurshan, managing director of UJA-Federation’s Commission on Jewish Identity and Renewal. “We are searching for ways to support synagogues as best we can.”

The latest effort is a conference Sunday at UJA-Federation headquarters in Manhattan for synagogue rabbis, lay leaders and executive directors. Two professionals from McKinsey and Co. will discuss forming a vision and mission statement for a synagogue, and there will be workshops ranging from fund-raising strategies, to board development, solicitation training and forming community partnerships. No advance registration is required for the free conference, which will run from 9:15 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.

Rabbi Michael Paley, executive director of synagogue and community affairs for UJA-Federation, said he hoped that representatives of the synagogues present would leave the conference with their own strategic plan. He said that representatives from at least 85 synagogues from all of the movements were expected to attend.

“We will also focus on how our agency network can benefit synagogues through programming,” Rabbi Paley said, noting that the Metropolitan New York Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty runs tzedakah projects for teenagers and that the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services operates mental health programs in synagogues.

“Our agencies have always seemed to be an arm’s length from synagogues,” he said, “but they are actually extremely involved in synagogue life. This conference is a way to learn about it and to hopefully take advantage of it.”

Kurshan said that for the past three years, UJA-Federation has conducted a study to determine the impact of a variety of experiences on one’s Jewish identity. The study, based upon questions posed to New York area Jews 25 to 45, “confirms and reinforces much of the research on Jewish identity that has been conducted in the last few years,” Kurshan said.

These experiences include Jewish schooling during childhood, Jewish summer camp, youth group involvement, Jewish studies in college, involvement in Hillel, visits to Israel and regular synagogue attendance. Kurshan said the study is expected to be released by the end of the year.

For the past several years, UJA-Federation’s Continuity Commission has awarded more and more grants to synagogues to pursue specific projects. Kurshan said that amount increased from $1 million last year, to $1.3 million this year and $1.6 million next year.Goldberg said his synagogue has a “very good relationship with UJA-Federation in terns of attitude and perspective. Because of their contact with so many other synagogues, they are able to tell us what is going on in the world in terms of programming [elsewhere].”

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