Healthy Jewish Collaboration, Courage, Creativity and Reciprocity

We need courageous, risk taking Jewish leadership, especially in communities with ridiculously low Jewish engagement and significant Jewish populations.

by Jennie Starr

Jewish collaboration requires a courtship to understand synergies and opportunities, overcome pitfalls, and create mutually beneficial collaboration. It’s about creating something new and great neither organization could do themselves. We reach new people, build different and better programming, or simply help nurture and support each other’s existence. This kind of authentic collaboration is the Holy Grail of greater engagement of the Jewish people. It’s what makes the difference in good to great, in rote vs inspiring and it’s what feeds our Jewish soul and invigorates us.

I love our Jewish partners who work hard, take risks, sharing their resources but also planning reciprocal programs and marketing the benefits for both of our organizations. They are committed, courageous, and have an enthusiastic desire to see an improved landscape of Jewish experiences. They make doing this volunteer work worthwhile. They’re the best of the best.

It’s true, that Foundations and Grants often encourage collaboration, but there is no roadmap that suggests best practices on how to do it. Without the training or best practices to guide us, many Jewish organizations simply don’t know how to pave the path. Last year, the Tarbuton collaborated with over 22 Program Partners, had 11 Marketing collaborations and worked with nine National and/or International Jewish organizations for networking in our field. We’ve had successes but we have had failures too. Knowing the pitfalls and also looking carefully at examples that work can help pave a path towards successful collaborations.

Collaborative PitfallsDon’t Let Them Get You Down!

Each of the following represents pitfalls that are surmountable. Like love and marriage, it takes work to make collaborations successful. It also takes two willing and interested parties.

FUD: Fear uncertainty and dread. We might lose members, we can’t afford that. Maybe they’ll like the other program better or like their Rabbi more. Answer: We need courageous, risk taking Jewish leadership, especially in communities with ridiculously low Jewish engagement and significant Jewish populations.

Scarcity of Resources: We’re too busy to work on that, to give them attention. They have to pay big money to be a Partner. We have costs to cover. Answer: Use your staff better; let them impact more people. Use your building better; Jewish buildings were meant to be full of Jews. Develop a reasonable rental plan or better yet, in kind use with a plan for collaborative or joint programs.

Programmatic Differences: We’re different; because of the languages we speak together, levels of observance, culture or age. Answer: Encourage mingling; it’s healthy and good to meet and learn from each other. It’s interesting and healthy to build bridges; to be with people speaking Spanish, Hebrew, Russian; hearing and experiencing their Jewish cultural traditions. Some of your members want to make new friends, help them.

Marketing: Just send out our event flyer/fundraiser; but oh by the way, we can’t reciprocate and share yours. Our Board won’t let us, my boss won’t let me, and/or we don’t think our people will be interested in yours. (Translation: We just want to use you, not collaborate with you.) Answer: Healthy Jewish collaboration requires reciprocity.

Courtship and CollaborationThis is the Fun Part!

With the enormous number of unengaged, and the expense of running programs, buildings, and staffing it goes without saying we should be leveraging our resources better. Let’s face it. Some programs have a great Rabbi. Some have a great building. Some recruit and produce great programs. Just like in dating, this is the fun part. This is where you get to see what’s great about each other. Plan how to share resources and expenses respecting each other limitations, appreciating the strength in each others’ staffing or experiences and getting creative about offering better programs together. Then establish a respectful and reciprocal marketing plan for the joint program, creating exciting pieces that share the joint event, proudly sharing the relationship, your enthusiasm for the other and cherishing the benefit you bring together to the community. You don’t have to agree to spam your respective databases with every event the other does. Work hard on a few joint events and promote those like crazy.

From Good to Great! Collaboration Stories

The Israeli-American Council (IAC) asked us to help them launch their amazing Sifriyat Pijama b’America program, the Hebrew version of PJ Library. We sent registration forms to every Israeli and Israeli-American family and market the program. We use the books in our supplementary school program and offer Free Hebrew story times using the books in Public libraries and on our campus. The IAC promotes our collaboration on their Sifriyat Pijama website and subsequently also funded infrastructure projects for our Supplementary School program.

The Ken Jewish Community which manages the Maccabi youth group locally and services the Latin Jewish Community makes enormous contributions to the Jewish community, and has a rich history of an incredible Purimon. This year they invited us to collaborate and sweeten the event adding the Tarbuton’s rendition of the Megillat Esther. The Tarbuton brought new participants to the event satisfying the Ken’s goal to open the event to the Community giving back to the community beyond their Latin membership.

Habonim generously sweetened Tarbuton youth programming bringing a Madrich from Los Angeles to offer their incredible Rabin seminar and lending their local Madrichim to our Pesach Community event to help run activities. Leveraging the resources of both organizations for a community wide event, the Tarbuton was thrilled to collaborate too with Jewish Family Services who brought their Single Jewish Parent program to celebrate with us. Everyone learned about each other’s programs; Habonim Gilboa Summer Camp and their local youth group program too. Joint events were marketed prominently by all the organizations in their newsletters, Facebooks and websites, showing deep and authentic appreciation for each other’s identities, efforts and the relationship.

Several Synagogues generously offered us low or no cost meeting space when we began and we created beautiful Jewish experiences together, memorable Sukkot dinners, and Shabbat evenings. We introduced a lot of Jewish friends and a few families seeking traditional bar/bat mitzvah found their way to Synagogue membership. I still believe the most successful Synagogue collaborations will continue programming collaborations and include the Tarbuton sweetening their educational programs with Israeli style classes and strong Modern Hebrew, but admittedly, we have yet to succeed in building this kind of relationship. As I write, we are “courting” three Synagogues with this in mind. I hope to follow up this post with success and share lessons learned.

Looking Ahead

The Leichtag Foundation invited us to join their Hub to collaborate with others to build Jewish life together in the North County area of San Diego. They provided us with shared office space and a collaborative setting with amazing potential Partners, such as Moishe House Without Walls and JDC Entwine. Together, we’re working to reach young adults, exploring ways to engage more Jews in service work and outreach to those who are not engaging in Jewish life for various reasons. With this post, I encourage each Jewish organization that might read this near, or far, to make the time to work with potential Jewish partners, to be courageous, generous, creative, and patient and to engage more Jews nearby every day. It’s exciting to be a part of a creative, collaborative process. Together, collaboratively, we’ll enrich our Jewish communities and ensure our Jewish future and connection to Israel.

Jennie Starr is the Founder & Director of the Tarbuton, Israeli Cultural Center. The Tarbuton was recognized as a Slingshot Top 50 innovative organization in 2013. The Tarbuton is also a member of the Covenant Foundation’s after school network, Nitzan. The Tarbuton is supported by the Jewish Federation of San Diego County, Innovation & Planning Center, the Leichtag Foundation and the Israeli-American Council.