4 Tips for More Engaging Jewish Programming at Rosh HaShanah and Beyond

September 15, 2017Deborah Fishman

If it’s time for inner reflection, it must be… the High Holidays! As an entrepreneur, I find the practice meaningful as part of the iterative cycle of innovation and reflecting on results, which leads to further innovation. As a network-weaver and community-builder, I find it meaningful to consider not only what would move the dial for each of us individually, but what has the power to transform our community.

I’ve spent two years running FED, which brings New Yorkers together for dinner parties full of gourmet food, inspirational ideas, and the company and creative energy of dinner companions; I also have 10 years prior experience of active hosting and creative community-organizing in the Jewish community. As I reflect on all of it, I share some ideas to spark thought and conversation about Jewish engagement.

I believe that the foremost challenge – and opportunity – facing the Jewish community in America today is how to embody inclusivity, openness, and diversity from a position of strength within the Jewish tradition. At the very moment when Abraham’s tent went into business, welcoming all wayfarers by being open on all its sides, these values not only became embedded into our heritage, but also became our imperative for action.

The truth is, Abraham was onto something.

Network theory shows that innovation comes not from within the most highly connected center of a group of people who talk to each other all the time, but rather from its periphery – from the people whose thinking you are not exposed to every day. Technology presents us with unprecedented chances to connect with people vastly different from us around the globe and all the time.

Yet how often do we embrace those opportunities? Or do we become siloed in an echo chamber only with those who agree with us?

It’s easy to talk about diversity, but pulling it off can be elusive. I offer reflections about what has worked for me – and might work for you!

1. Be welcoming of everyone – not just Jews.

When I talk about my ideal Jewish community, I don’t mean a community just for Jews. The reality of today’s world is that our communities are and need to be interwoven in order to be strong, compassionate, and thriving.

What sets FED apart from other meal-based Jewish engagement programs is that its network of attendees is curated to host artists, entrepreneurs, professionals, and other awesome people who want to be fed – period. This feels different than targeting a Jewish audience, however welcoming you may be toward others who also join.

2. Get to know your guests in a real way.

Invite them to not only experience your traditions but also to show you theirs. For instance, I’m hosting a Muslim-Jewish Interfeast in partnership with the Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee for expressly this purpose.

3. Manifest the Jewish spirit in ways that are creative, meaningful, and unleash the potential of Judaism.

Many FED events are held on Shabbat and Jewish holidays and offer such creative experiences as a jazz violinist performing Avinu Malkeinu for Rosh HaShanah, an immersive homespun spiel for Purim, or salon-style Shabbat with exhibitions ranging from stew-making demonstrations to comedians to musical performances.

Make it musical, make it spiritual, make it dramatic. Judaism is a platform for creativity and realizing our potential both as individuals and collectively. We can make it happen!

4. Offer quality in-person experiences.

People are tired of the narcissism and polarization of digital communications. FED is successful because it feeds into contemporary trends, such as the rise of the dinner party and social clubs, which afford opportunities to be present and connect in a real way with those around us. At FED, you have uncommon conversations with those from different backgrounds that wouldn’t necessarily have occurred otherwise, as your most authentic self.

This is made possible through the act of breaking bread together, which, when combined with inspirational ideas, becomes the fodder for deep dinnertime conversations. Food is a unifying force. And here’s one more tip: Good food works even better!

I invite you to try these tips around your Rosh HaShanah table this year – and in the spirit of inclusivity, if you’re in New York City, I also invite you to join my holiday table at these upcoming FED dinners, which include a Rosh HaShanah dinner hosted at East End Temple and a Shabbat dinner with a creative Tashlich meditation. Shanah tovah!

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