EZ-Key opens shul doors

EZ-Key opens shul doors

Federation programs helps newcomers surf the High Holy Day tide

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the shore for the last two weeks of summer – here come the High Holy Days.

Rosh Hashanah begins the evening of September 4. That’s the Wednesday night after Labor Day.

Yes, the Hebrew calendar seems to be running on the early side – until Purim, when a added leap month will make the holidays after it seem late.

It’s a calendrical quirk that will reach its apogee in November, when the first day of Chanukah falls on Thanksgiving – or, to give the older calendar its due, Thanksgiving falls on Chanukah. It is reported to be tens of thousands of years before this happens again.

Either way, the penitential month of Elul has begun, rabbis are drafting their sermons, and synagogue directors are expecting lots of last-minute holiday ticket arrangements.

For those of us who are planning to return to our familiar seats in our familiar (and maybe familial) synagogue, making holiday plans can slide into our back-to-school to-do list or be phoned in from the beach.

But what about newcomers to the community?

What about those who haven’t chosen a synagogue – and are hesitant to invest in shul membership without some deliberation?

In a special section that begins on page 27, some of our community’s many congregations introduce themselves to newcomers and prospective members.

And the Synagogue Leadership Initiative of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey is helping too.

For the third year, it is offering its EZ-Key program, which coordinates efforts by 34 area synagogues to make seats available for newcomers to the community for free.

Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox synagogues participate, spanning northern New Jersey from Cliffside Park to Wykoff.

It’s a great way to dip into the community’s spiritual offerings.

Participants can select from a particular participating synagogue. Or they can let Nancy Perlman, the synagogue initiative’s manager of community outreach and engagement, who oversees EZ-Key, make the choice, based on location and denominational preference.

But anyone who wants to sign up has to do it this week. Perlman has to start letting synagogues know who’s coming sooner rather than later, and the EZ-Key program ends next Friday, August 23.

For the participating synagogues, it turns out that often EZ-Key’s low-risk, low-stakes chance to test the waters is the beginning of a beautiful long-term relationship. Many of the 170 people who participated in earlier EZ-Key programs ended up taking the plunge and becoming synagogue members.

But that’s not the only measure of success for the program, Perlman said. “EZ-Key is the start of the conversation that can build a relationship between people and a synagogue.

“Building a relationship is key.”

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