When Rabbi Neal Borovitz first heard Harold Benus talk some 10 years ago about a project to unite Jewish organizations, thus making it easier and cheaper for Jews to join them, he was one of only a few who paid attention.
Now the Kehillah Partnership is moving ahead with a number of pilot projects, including a single-fee membership program between Borovitz’s Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge and the Bergen County YJCC in Washington Township, of which Benus is executive director. The idea, according to organizers, is to create a system where a single membership fee covers multiple Jewish institutions and programs.
“What we’re doing is not looking to just a source of connection to the YJCC but to the broader Jewish community,” Benus said. “It is providing affordable ways to reach out and have more opportunities for people to find meaningful connections to the Jewish community.”
A regular general family membership to the YJCC costs $1,160. An individual membership costs $1,105. Under the pilot program, members of Avodat Shalom can sign up for YJCC memberships for only $360. The program, which began in November, has so far attracted more than 70 of Avodat Shalom’s approximately 500 member families. Fewer than 10 previously belonged to the YJCC, according to Benus.
“So far we consider it a success, but we’re also looking to examine all different aspects of it,” Benus said. “This is just one piece here of a much larger approach to community-building. We are trying a number of different approaches to see which ones are going to be successful overall.”
On the surface, it may appear that the YJCC stands to lose thousands of dollars a year if more members sign up for the reduced rate. On the contrary, according to Benus; the program relies on a high volume of participants, which would offset losses from the discount.
“Yes, the Y has some … risks it is taking now, but the benefits are not just to come to the Y but to Jewish community overall,” Benus said.
Steve Allen, executive director of the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne, said his Y is in discussion with Benus about the one-fee program and possibly duplicating it in Wayne.
The Kehillah Partnership is in the third year of a seven-year plan to explore a number of projects.
The Kehillah Partnership Cooperative, a utilities cost-sharing program, has saved participating Jewish organizations a half million dollars to date. The partnership recently set up a branch of the PJ Library, a national program that mails Jewish children’s books to families to encourage family togetherness and Jewish literacy. Benus will participate in a national PJ Library conference in April and hold up northern New Jersey as a model of how the program can benefit a community.
Kehillah Partnership programs are reaching into schools, as well. Eight synagogue Hebrew schools brought together their seventh-graders last month at the YJCC for a program on tzedakah with the founder of jchoice.org, a social network that encourages young philanthropists. Meanwhile, teachers from 10 synagogue schools are working on another pilot project to introduce art programs into Israeli curricula.
“The end goal is to have a vibrant and exciting community where individuals and families will be able to participate in a wealth of programs and activities where there will hopefully be a one-fee concept so that Jewish life becomes more affordable,” Benus said.
Borovitz credited the country’s economic downturn for convincing Jewish organizations to consider sharing services and costs.
“To a great degree, until this recent economic crisis, most people who would hear Harold’s vision or hear me talking about Harold’s vision would probably smirk after we left the room,” Borovitz said. “The economic crisis has created an opportunity for cooperation that didn’t exist when everyone thought the funding pie was a constantly expanding universe.”
For more information on the Kehillah Partnership, visit www.kehillahpartnership.org.