Keeping BJ Members on the Same Page

By Jon Wood | Issue Date: May 2011

From left, Joe Antenson and Jeremy Hamburgh. Photo Credit: Jon Wood

In a community where the vast majority of our volunteers are women, two men, Joe Antenson and Jeremy Hamburgh, stand out, but not only because of their gender. Together, they co-chair one of our newest membership teams, the “Education and Communications Team,” and they’re making an indelible mark on our community culture. Motivated by personal and communal experience, Joe and Jeremy lead a group of people charged with keeping B’nai Jeshurun, a community of 4,000, on the same page.

A primary goal of this team is to ensure that pertinent information is effectively received by the community at large. To understand how to achieve this goal, Joe and Jeremy went into their laboratory, the BJ synagogue, to actively seek out any type of break in communication. What they found surprised them. Joe and Jeremy heard many members uttering non-English phrases with quizzical embarrassment. They also realized that many BJ leaders were unaware of each others’ involvement. They identified a need within the community, to connect members who are “in the know” both with each other as well as with members who are craving more information. This need gave rise to two projects: the creation of a glossary, and a forum in which to highlight rising leaders.

BJ serves as a spiritual home permeated by Jewish ritual and practice where we are urged to “daven” with “kavannah,” attend numerous events for “Tze’irim,” “Bekef,” and “Mekusharim,” engage in a new volunteering system called “Nadiv,” and focus on Jewish ideals such as “kehillah” and “gemilut hasadim.” This may sound wonderful and straightforward to some, but not to everyone. Native Hebrew speakers and those who have a fair amount of Jewish education under their belt can easily identify terms like kehillah and gemilut hasadim: “community” and “acts of lovingkindness,” respectively. But at any given Friday night service, or “Kabbalat Shabbat,” the sanctuary is filled with Hebrew and Yiddish phrases that can make a BJ newcomer “meshuganah.”

Thus was the BJspeak Glossary born.  “We wanted to create a quick guide to the most common words used at BJ so that everyone who comes to synagogue can understand what he or she is hearing,” Jeremy said. Creating this document was an organic process for the E&C Team, since many of the team members felt passionate about the goal and frequently found themselves asking similar questions. Jeremy noted, “None of us on E&C understands every word we hear at BJ. The glossary was an opportunity for all of us to have our questions answered.” He goes on to explain, “People cannot completely connect with BJ when they do not understand the meaning of the words being used around them. That is as true for newcomers as it is for longstanding members.” The BJspeak Glossary will be available on the BJ website, www.bj.org, as well as in print. Community feedback is encouraged, as this was created as a living document.

As the glossary idea was taking shape, Joe was also focused on helping members to put their finger on the BJ pulse. He explains, “It is a failure of communication when people say, ‘I didn’t know about that.’ A major challenge is connecting with members who are not being reached by traditional means of communication.” By highlighting rising leaders in articles available online and in print, Joe hopes that leaders be recognized by the whole community, and that networks among already-established leaders can grow and reach out to members seeking involvement. Jeremy explains, “Joe is spearheading this project because he is so passionate about inspiring new leaders and bringing more men into the fold. Our success hinges on improving the way we deliver information, which is what the E&C Team strives to achieve.”

As demonstrated by their multifaceted approach, the E&C Team is led by two dynamic men from our community. They have made it clear that this team is goal-oriented and that these goals come directly from our own needs. From translating Biblical Hebrew in our new BJspeak Glossary to transcribing HTML (or Internet code) to sharing the stories of active members, Joe and Jeremy are changing the way we listen.