When I first arrived in Charlotte, I met hundreds of congregants through Welcome Events planned by Temple Beth El’s Transition Committee. During these events, I repeatedly heard similar stories from our members, particularly Baby Boomers and Empty Nesters. They told me that they felt deeply tied emotionally to our congregation and to Jewish life, but they also felt disconnected from one another and from a sense of community. They wanted cohorts of friends and community with which to connect, grow, learn with, and sustain each other’s lives. Further, they recognized that they must be stakeholders in building the future of our Jewish community. I quickly realized that our congregation has made huge strides in senior, young adult, and youth engagement but we have a large engagement gap with a significant portion of our members.
In the fall of 2016 Temple Beth El joined several Reform congregations across the nation in a Community of Practice dedicated to engaging Baby Boomers and Empty Nesters. Our working group, chaired by Holly Levinson, is a diverse group of more than thirty Temple Beth El members who have met regularly throughout the fall and winter to learn about dynamics facing this age demographic, explore principles of engagement, and plan and execute a Listening Campaign. We are thankful to the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte for funding this initiative through an Impact and Innovation grant. The team’s energy and excitement has been palpable as they planned and prepared to listen to our members.
On March 29, 2017, Temple Beth El held a Listening Campaign Kick-Off Event with over two hundred people in attendance. The evening was invigorating and included over twenty listening circles, facilitated by members of our Baby Boomers Working Group and Board of Directors. We listened to new members sharing stories with people who grew up at Temple their whole lives and people expressing the blessings and challenges of retiring to a new city. Members who are considering retirement, discussed the obstacles, fears, and excitement in the years ahead. Many people voiced a deep desire for genuine connections to community, Jewish spirituality, and meaningful learning.
The evening was a good reminder that it is in our homes, neighborhoods, and in our synagogues, where people form relationships that add substance, support, and meaning to our lives. I am proud that we created an opportunity for conversation and to learn from our members’ lived experiences. Most importantly, we have developed a dynamic and dedicated team that will help us to create a new reality through engaging our members. I want to share a brief preview of what we heard:
• Long standing members are proud of raising their children in the congregation and are now looking for their own place of connection and relationship.
• Baby Boomers are looking forward to many years of life and are interested in meaningful learning, developing personal spiritual practices, and strong social networks.
• Jews are following their children to Charlotte. People have articulated that coming into a large congregation, especially without professional networks or connections developed around school age children, can feel intimidating and overwhelming.
The kick-off event was a giant step in our commitment to leverage temple’s strengths and expand our current conceptions of what synagogue life in the twenty-first century can look like, both inside our temple walls and in the broader community.
To get involved or to participate, contact Candace Naliboff, Director of Member Services at 704-366-1948.