How Marketing Transformed My Work in the Jewish Community

Inside Leadership

How Marketing Transformed My Work in the Jewish Community

Welcome written on a wooden sign with flowers

Thanks to a grant we received from the Union for Reform Judaism to help offset advertising costs for A Taste of Judaism® at Temple Sinai in Reno, NV, we held the first of the course’s three sessions just after the High Holidays. My students and I sat in an open circle facing one another, and a feeling of awe-struck sacredness emerged as each person told us their name, background, and reason for joining the class. Their reasons were as diverse as they were.

Some were new grandparents whose adult children had married Jews and wanted to be knowledgeable in their support of Jewish grandchildren. Others were in interfaith relationships with Jewish partners and wanted to explore Judaism as the religion of their future family. Two or three had recently returned from Birthright Israel trips and wanted to explore their Jewish identities more deeply. Several had heard an ad for the course on Reno’s local NPR radio station, and simply wanted to become more culturally aware and educated by learning about Judaism with a rabbi. One individual had recently discovered from a DNA test that half her ancestors were Ashkenazi and she wanted to explore her newfound heritage. Several were individuals from different faith traditions and cultural backgrounds who had expressed interest in converting to Judaism. Some were Jews-by-birth, but had not been part of a Jewish community for 30 years. Two were transgender people looking for a spiritual community that would accept them for who they are. And finally, one man, Olivier, was the adult son of a child survivor of the Holocaust.

Fast forward to our annual community Passover seder at which, I wanted to reinforce the portion of the Magid that teaches: “In every generation one is obligated to see oneself as one who personally went out from Egypt.” So, I asked Olivier, for whom this was his first seder, to share his personal story of liberation. Olivier told us that his father survived the Holocaust by hiding with a family in France, but he did not raise his children with commitment to Jewish life. Like others, he had heard about the course on the radio and signed up. After completing A Taste of Judaism®, he enrolled in Introduction to Judaism right away. He also joined the synagogue and began attending Shabbat morning services and Torah study regularly. This spring, he attended our Israel-themed Shabbaton at Lake Tahoe. For Olivier, finding a Jewish community and reclaiming Judaism – the religious identity of his grandparents who did not survive the Holocaust – was his personal liberation.

We now have nearly 40 people in Temple Sinai’s 18-session Introduction to Judaism class – half of whom started with our Taste of Judaism® class, and almost all of whom came out in the first place because of the ad they’d heard on NPR. Designed as an experiential class, Introduction to Judaism has transformed the radical hospitality of our community in incredible and meaningful ways. Participants have engaged in congregational life – attending our Tu BiSh’vat, Purim and Passover celebrations, joining with our youth group in community service projects, and forming a new contingent within the Temple Sinai family. Whether they convert and/or affiliate with our community, all will remain our friends and ambassadors for years to come.

Without a doubt, our URJ grant for advertising the course has transformed my work within the Reno community. It is building and enriching new relationships in individuals’ lives and strengthening the welcoming and hospitable culture of our congregation.

The deadline to apply for a grant to help with advertising costs and teacher honoraria for Taste of Judaism® is June 16, 2017. Links to application materials can be found in The Tent.

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Rabbi Ethan Bair is the solo senior rabbi of Temple Sinai in Reno, NV, a post he has held since 2012. Under his leadership, the congregation’s membership has grown by 30 percent. Ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles in 2011, he is a graduate of the first cohort of the Schusterman Rabbinical Fellowship and the Clergy Leadership Incubator through CLAL. His rabbinate focuses on strengthening intra-denominational partnerships and inter-faith spiritual community to promote social change.

Rabbi Ethan Bair

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