Synagogue Leadership Initiative: Creating community, one congregation at a time

Synagogue Leadership Initiative: Creating community, one congregation at a time

Monday night in Wayne, Shomrei Torah, a Conservative congregation, celebrated a milestone: the completion of a three-year process to help it meet its goals. It is now applying for a $10,000 matching grant for that purpose. The congregation’s rabbi, Randy Mark, credited the Synagogue Leadership Initiative for helping the congregation “to identify areas in need of improvement. SLI helped us implement changes that made us a stronger congregation,” he said, “to do the things we should have been doing and weren’t. The entire congregation got together to discuss critical issues we were facing. We choose five areas: finance, membership, youth programs, ritual, and leadership development. We weren’t doing things as well as we should have, and what we learned from SLI will make us a healthier congregation.”

Rabbi Randy Mark, left, Lisa Harris Glass, and Judy Beck

SLI, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey in partnership with the Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation, was created 13 years ago. It has helped 13 Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform congregations in Bergen and Passaic counties do strategic planning.

The program was conceived by the late philanthropist and Jewish activist Henry Taub, the founder of ADP, the payroll-solution company. Taub wanted to develop strong Jewish leadership in congregations in northern New Jersey. The Taub Foundation works with SLI to help with the strategic planning process via consultation, workshops, and seminars. According to the federation’s website (, SLI aims to

“¢ Help grow synagogues that are relevant and vibrant and enable them to reach their fullest potential

“¢ Develop synagogue leadership that is Jewishly knowledgeable and aware of the best practices of synagogue management

“¢ Build community on the intra and inter-synagogue level

“¢ Generate a force field of Jewish life in the [federation’s] area [that] will positively affect the lives of affiliated and unaffiliated Jews alike.

Said Lisa Harris Glass, director of SLI, “It’s a three-year process – we come in and convene focus groups to determine each congregation’s needs. In Year One, we write the action plan with 25 team members from the congregation. In Year Two, we implement the plan, such as it is. For example, if they want to retain members, people on the congregational planning team sit down and devise a plan to do that. And in Year Three, the congregation continues to implement the plan and applies to the Taub Foundation for a $10,000 matching grant to carry out a congregation-changing program or activity that came from it.”

Said Judy Beck, senior community strategist of Federation’s SLI, “We don’t come in with a cookie-cutter plan. Our goal is to work with each individual congregation according to its needs.”

Beth Aaron, an Orthodox congregation in Teaneck, grew so quickly that it turned to SLI to assist with plans for its capital campaign and other challenges. Temple Emeth, a Reform congregation in Teaneck, created a leadership development program and revised its governance structure. Temple Emanuel, a Conservative congregation in Woodcliff Lake, initiated a two-year training period to bring new members in as leaders, and each has a project to bring to fruition as part of that plan.

In June, SLI launched two community-wide initiatives. One is One Book, One Community, which invites the North Jersey Jewish community to study a book over a period of months. The program is free and comes with federation resources. A community-wide celebration, to be held at the end of the first study period, is tentatively set for late March 2012.

Then there’s the EZ Key: Unlock a Synagogue, Open Your World program. Participating synagogues will make High Holy Day tickets available to new families in their communities, and SLI is the facilitator and intermediary.

Harris Glass told the Standard, “We’re investing in search-engine optimization so the EZ Key program will pop up when someone searches the Internet for a place to pray in the federation service area. With us handling the search engines, there’s economy of scale, and it’s free to synagogues and participants. That’s courtesy of the Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation and the federation. We want to make it possible for each Jewish person in our community to find a spiritual and communal home and to strengthen Jewish identity and continuity.”

read more: