Taking Outreach and Engagement to the Next Level: The Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates Program

by Zohar Rotem and Amanda Kaletsky

There’s a growing recognition that dues-paying membership is no longer the best – and certainly not the only – measure of Jewish engagement. Jewish organizations are seeking new ways to increase participation and demonstrate the value of engaging in Jewish life. Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) offers a new training program for Jewish communal professionals to help revitalize and reinvent their programming to better find and serve more Jewish households, particularly less-engaged Jews and unaffiliated intermarried households, called the Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates program. In the fall of 2012, JOI “graduated” its first ever cohort of 16 Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates, and just released an evaluation of that pilot cohort (click here to download a PDF of the report).

The Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates program is JOI’s formalized outreach and engagement training curriculum for Jewish communal professionals. It is part of JOI’s strategy of deploying an “army” of outreach professionals throughout the North American Jewish community to better share the meaning and benefit of participating in organized Jewish life with those not currently engaging with the organized Jewish community, and to open the Jewish tent to all those who wish to enter, including previously marginalized populations like interfaith families.

The Professional Affiliates training program offers a variety of content areas, from understanding the needs and vulnerabilities of those on the periphery of the Jewish community, to the best practices of implementing Public Space Judaism(SM) programs in secular spaces (that is, outside the walls of a Jewish institution, where they are accessible to the widest range of individuals), to evaluating outreach programs. Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates enjoy one-on-one coaching, program implementation guidance, and the support of a national network of like-minded Jewish communal professionals.

The small pilot cohort of 16 dedicated professionals was able to engage 8,000 individuals in outreach programs over a 12-months period, of which 5,000 were Jews who are unengaged or under-engaged with the Jewish community and non-Jewish members of interfaith households. With new cohorts already formed and undergoing training, those numbers will grow exponentially in 2013.

JOI offers its Professional Affiliates free access to its time-tested Public Space Judaism(SM) programs (such as Color-Me Calendar for the Jewish New Year, Hands-On Hanukkah, and Passover in the Matzah Aisle), including the training, materials, and on-site support necessary to implement them successfully. Professional Affiliates are also encouraged to develop their own innovative programs and to modify existing programs with outreach best practices. They understand that such programs are designed as entry points to greater engagement with Jewish life and the Jewish community. Each Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliate follows up with the participants he or she identifies through these programs in order to steward them through a continued journey of meaningful and increasing Jewish engagement.

Analysis of data provided by the pilot cohort shows that while the Professional Affiliates did implement JOI programs, the majority of their reach was through programs that the Professional Affiliates modified or created on their own, inspired by their Big Tent Judaism training. This is a testament to the soundness of JOI’s outreach strategy. There is an old adage: if you give me a fish I will eat for a day; if you teach me how to fish I will never go hungry again. JOI’s approach is to “teach how to fish” – to equip Jewish communal professionals across the country with the know-how, skills, tools, and ongoing support to do the best outreach work they can do.

JOI continues to grow the Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates program and is currently training scores more Professional Affiliates in both national and local cohorts. In some cases, cohorts are recruited around common professional specializations (e.g., young adult engagement, outreach to families with young children, etc.); in other cases participants bring an array of professional experience and needs. The goal is to not just open the tent of individual Jewish organizations, but the North American Jewish community as a whole, creating a welcoming community for all who wish to enter.

Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute welcomes inquiries about joining future cohorts of the Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates program from all Jewish communal professionals interested in widening the tent. The training is made available at no financial cost to Jewish communal professionals, thanks to the generosity of JOI’s supporters. 

Zohar Rotem is Director of Program at Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute, Amanda Kaletsky is Communications Manager at Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute. For more information on the Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates Program, please contact Amanda at AKaletsky@JOI.org or 212-760-1440