MWCOLLAB – A Jewish Communal Workspace in the Synagogue…

Danny (Rabbi at Temple Shir Tikva):

When I think about the Hebrew words for synagogue most of them feel insufficient. We are a Beit Midrash – a house of study, and we’re more than this. We are a Beit Knesset – a house of gathering, and we’re more than this. And we are a Beit Tefillah – a house of prayer, and we’re more than this. Ultimately, for me the best Hebrew word to describe a synagogue is Kehillah – a community. I think that at the core, we are in the “business” of creating, supporting, growing, and sustaining Jewish community and communities.

I feel passionately about this work because I believe that Judaism has so many of the answers to the challenges that people are facing today, and because I believe that people are in need of community now more than ever.

There are many ways in which people have aspired to build Jewish community in a synagogue context, but here at Temple Shir Tikva we have just begun to experiment with something new.

When I first started at the synagogue I remember visiting the youth room in the basement. At some point in the history of the synagogue this space may have been used by, and dedicated to, the youth of the synagogue. But it had largely become a dumping ground for things that didn’t have a home elsewhere. There were bookcases, random couches, a television and an assortment of materials and boxes that had made their way into this space, never to be seen or utilized again (this may be a familiar scene to others). While at first glance it looked like a disorganized storage room, it was clear that it held a lot of potential.

Soon after I arrived we began a conversation with the Jewish Teen Initiative (JTI) about how we might work together.

Brett (Associate Director at Jewish Teen Initiative of Greater Boston):

Jewish Teen Initiative embraces its role as a catalyst for collaboration, partnership and connection for teens and Jewish professionals in the Metrowest and North Shore communities of Greater Boston. With the support of Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP, Boston’s Federation) and Jim Joseph Foundation, we expanded to the Metrowest suburbs just over three years ago. As our relationships with local synagogues and agencies grew stronger, we identified the need for more than a table at the local coffee shop as our organization continues to grow and evolve. Our partners at CJP coordinate a number of networking and co-working events for teen education and engagement professionals which are well received in our community. Building on this foundation and vision, we worked with our partners at Temple Shir Tikva to envision a fresh approach to an old concept – creating a flexible space that can provide a comfortable work environment, serve multiple needs, host different types of gatherings and foster deeper connection, collaboration and partnership between Jewish professionals and organizations. We believe this model can easily be scaled and have a significant impact on the way our organizations and colleagues collaborate and communicate.

Danny and Brett:

We recognized that there were a lot of Jewish professionals in the Greater Boston area working for a range of Jewish organizations and nonprofits without dedicated office space to use. Most of these people were ending up in random coffee shops around town, in less than ideal atmospheres for working.

Over the last several years people have come to recognize the value of communal workspaces and the sector has grown significantly. An article in The Harvard Business Review entitled: “Why People Thrive in Communal Workspaces” (Sept 2015) suggested three main reasons why people thrive in these settings: it helps them find meaning, feel a sense of autonomy over their schedule, and most resonant for us, feel a part of a community. [1] As a synagogue and the Jewish Teen Initiative we are both in the business of building community and so we saw the potential in having a communal workspace in the synagogue.

Together we have renovated what was previously the youth lounge into what we are calling MWCollab – the Metrowest Collaboratory. The space includes private desk space for 7 people and a communal table in the middle that can accommodate another 12 people. Our hope is that Jewish professionals in the area and members of the synagogue will start to take advantage of this space, replacing their time in a coffee shop (free coffee is provided) with time in the synagogue and a space that supports their work.

Most exciting is that we believe having a variety of Jewish professionals together in the same space will provide opportunities for unanticipated collaborations, a cross-fertilization of ideas, and a chance for new partnerships to develop – in a space intentionally designed with our shared values and goals in mind. [2] The values at the core of this project include community, connection, creativity, curiosity, innovation and partnership, with our shared goal of elevating the Jewish community in Boston and beyond.

Outside of regular office hours the space will once again be used as our youth lounge (with nicer furniture and much tidier than it was before) and as a classroom for our Religious School. But during the workday we envision a hive of activity as people from across the community come together to work and to form a new Jewish community in the synagogue.

To find out more, visit www.mwcollab.com

Rabbi Danny Burkeman is the Senior Rabbi at Temple Shir Tikva in Wayland, MA. He is committed to making Judaism relevant in the modern world and always looking for new ways to engage people with Jewish community. He has a weekly podcast “Two Minutes of Torah” and was a member of the UJA Federation of New York’s inaugural Rabbinic Fellowship for Visionary Leaders.

Brett Lubarsky is the Associate Director at the Jewish Teen Initiative of Greater Boston, a national model for Jewish teen engagement helping to connect, empower and inspire teens and professionals throughout the Greater Boston community. He has been creating moments and spaces of meaning and connection for Jewish youth, emerging adults and professionals for more than 16 years, working extensively with congregations, summer camps and organizations throughout the country. Brett is a graduate of both the M2 Senior Educators Cohort with M²: the Institute for Experiential Jewish Education and Generation Now Fellowship (Cohort 1) with The Jewish Education Project and Jim Joseph Foundation.

[1] https://hbr.org/2015/05/why-people-thrive-in-coworking-spaces

[2] http://ejpprod.wpengine.com/building-community-efficiencies-and-jewish-life-why-we-should-grow-jewish-coworking/