Engagement is a big buzz word in the Jewish world right now. Many Jewish institutions talk about engagement while some simultaneously struggle to truly engage their constituents. We create a warm welcome that makes people feel good when they walk in the door – that’s only if they make a choice to walk in the door. What’s next? At Temple Beth El, engagement is about creating relationships and deep connections that inspire personal growth and cultivate meaning. Engagement is about developing stakeholders, where members own their own Jewish lives and feel intimately connected to other Jews. Engagement is about building a vibrant, inclusive community, where we feel strongly connected to our congregation because we are actually connected to each other.
In Field of Dreams, one of my favorite movies, there is a famous line that I love: “If you build it, they will come.” In defining engagement, I would say, “If you build it with them, they are already there.” I love hearing our congregants’ accounts of how they have created bonds that keep them involved. I encourage you to think of your story and definition of engagement, connect with our community, make new friends, and put yourself in the driver seat so you can create and define your Jewish journey. If you would like to learn more about how we are making connections at TBE, contact me to discuss our endless opportunities for engagement.
Andy Harkavy, Director of Congregational Engagement, Temple Beth El
Two congregants share their stories of how they have become involved at Temple Beth El:
Engagement at TBE has been more than just brief introductions and handshakes. The congregants have taken a real interest in learning about who we are and what brought us to this community. They have gone out of their way to put us in touch with lay leaders and clergy so our needs are met. Individuals from this community asked me how I wanted to become involved at TBE and connected me with groups like the Porch, with which I now serve as a committee member.
It has felt easy to become a part of TBE. This community has been so open and welcoming to both my wife and me, and we are very fortunate to be a part of a congregation that sincerely wants to engage with its members, whether they are new to the region or have been here for decades. The personal connections we have made are a big part of that story.
My family’s engagement at TBE has grown exponentially over the years. As the mother of four sons, married to a Catholic man, Jewish engagement was never really on our radar. I always thought we would put our boys through Religious School, have a few B’nei Mitzvahs, and call it a day. Reality has been quite the opposite! Shortly after finishing Religious School at TBE, our oldest son was encouraged to go to a NFTY-SAR Regional Youth Kallah. I was raised in a very small conservative temple in New York and had no idea what a kallah was, but in our house we always had the “try it once” rule. If you try it once and hate it, you never have to do it again – but you always have to try. So, off our son went to Atlanta for our family’s first entrée into the world of Jewish youth activities! Needless to say, he attended more than one Kallah, attended Hebrew High, and participated in Confirmation.
We thought we had it all figured out, but then our second son became even more involved. As the parent of a very active teen/LIBERTY Board Member, I was asked to join the Youth Engagement Committee. Being the queen of never saying “No,” four years later I am the co-chair of that committee and I also serve on the Hebrew High Advisory Board. Our two younger boys have recently become B’nei Mitzvah and we watch with excitement as each takes his own path of Jewish engagement. Our rule about trying it once has never had such a huge impact as it has in terms of our sons’ involvement at TBE. Pushing our kids to try something new, something a little out of their comfort zone, something we didn’t necessarily always have the time or money for, turned into a connection which we embrace whole heartedly and it really enriches our lives.