By Joel Abramson
With the high holidays behind us, I can finally share my biggest secret. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and even Sukkot give me incredible anxiety! Passover does too, but not likely for the reason you think. It’s not because I’m worried about knowing all the traditions, or making enough food, and it’s not about sitting through hours and hours of service worrying about the meaning of it all.
No. What really stresses me out about the holidays are whether I’ll be invited to a dinner, or a break the fast, or a little gathering.
I’ve lived in a few different cities (as millennials tend to do), and this upheaval of my life to move to a city where I didn’t have built in connections was nerve-wracking. I remember having a beautiful Rosh Hashana dinner with my wife, and while grateful for all life had bestowed upon us, I was feeling very lonely. Don’t get me wrong, we attended a local synagogue, as well as the local young adult fundraising events, and swapped cards and phone numbers with people, but there we sat, alone.
So, what’s the message here?
People (old, young, singles, couples, families, gay, straight, trans, etc.) don’t care about your programs, or your childcare, or even your services. They crave connections to community. They want a chevre (close-knit group), that will invite them over for Shabbat dinner and holiday meals and make them feel included in something bigger than themselves.
There’s an assumption that people are only finally willing to join a synagogue when they have a life-cycle event and need the services of a spiritual leader, such as a Rabbi, and while that might be true, they would join if their closest friends were members too.
Learn who walks through the door, and if you can’t write it down, tell three other people their names so someone will remember them. Sponsor a kiddish at someone’s home (“You mean I have to leave my cozy sanctuary?” YES) and invite them over to eat and connect. Send an email to your entire congregation and ask them who might have space to host a couple or family in their home for a holiday with a follow up request to see if anyone needs a home for that holiday.
And I’m looking at you too JCC’s and Jewish Federations. Are your members/prospects finding a sense of community with their membership and philanthropy, or just checking a box?
People might give your agency money because of a fundraiser, or a sisterhood, but they will love being a part of your community because they feel a part of a family. Make sure no one is left behind.
Joel Abramson is the financial resource development officer of the Jewish Federation of Nashville and a graduate of the Hornstein MBA/MA program at Brandeis University.