Thank you for being along with me on a journey to launch CoHere, a new model for Jewish community affiliation.
People have asked me why I care so much that the majority of American Jews are “unaffiliated”. The very question tugs at my heart and has for many years. I have never liked the word”affiliation”. This is an insider term we Jewish leaders use to say who is financially supporting synagogues and who is not. It really does not tell us anything about how often a person attends services or how involved or engaged they are with their congregation. It only tells us if they are on the membership list at this moment in time.
Rabbis and other Jewish leaders are thankful for these people who see “joining” a congregation as a meaningful philanthropic act and/or as an important part of their lives for many different reasons. Having a place and an organization set up to provide life cycle ceremonies, education for all ages, gatherings to honor the Sabbath and holidays and a vehicle for social justice furthers a thriving Judaism able to leave its important imprint on our lives and on the world.
Many Jewish leaders try to avoid germs like joining and membership because it seems exclusive and like a club. It can be very expensive. However, wee do need to keep the lights on and pay salaries. We should not be shy about the benefits of supporting synagogues.
The reason I worry about the “non-members” out there is that I think it is important for our Jewish souls, our own psyches, our own families who want to raise children with Judaism, to know that they belong, even if that does not mean congregational membership. I think it is important for all of us to be counted in the efforts we are pursuing. I think it is important to feel that just because we do not belong to a synagogue that we are not hurting the Jewish landscape. I want to tell anybody who would affirm that they want to help perpetuate Judaism (which is not a euphemism for marrying someone Jewish, but rather means that you want to live with Jewish time, love Jewish sensibilities and with to share in the vitality of our diverse Jewish culture and thought) that you are enough, your Judaism and commitment to Judaism is appreciated and cherished and that you are connected, and counted and affiliated.
When Pew does a survey of American Jews and finds that 60% of Jewish adults live in a household where nobody is a member of a synagogue, I worry that many of those adults wish they were supported in their Judaism but feel they have no access to such support. We want 100% of people who care about Judaism to be able to see that they are connected to a rabbi, to resources and to support that works for them.
I think this mindset would change the way we think about our Judaism. I think it would change our behaviors and our attitudes toward Jewish institutions for the better. It would make us feel less clique-ish and like a private club. (Isn’t it interesting that a synagogue is meant to be communal while “renting a rabbi for a private bar mitzvah” is thought of as private, even though it involves a celebration with family and friends?) Feeling that you are affiliated and doing your part may make you more open to attending a Shabbat service at a congregation. It might give you more confidence to attend a lunch and learn. It might connect you to others with an outlook similar to your own who also want to bring Judaism into their homes or seek it in nature or through social justice or art.
CoHere is an attempt to say to people who want to be counted that you are and there are a myriad of ways to support you on your own Jewish path.