Visioning BJ Membership: Strategic Planning for 2008-2013

By Belinda Lasky and Samara Minkin and Sarah Verity and Sofia Hubscher | Issue Date: April 2010

It was the summer of 2007, and Susan Kippur, then president of the BJ Board, challenged the Membership Committee to think hard about the future. That summer and fall we embarked on a visioning process that pushed us to articulate our mission: where we were, where we wanted to go, and how we were going to get there.

At the Membership Committee 2010 Tu Bishvat seder. Photo: Belinda LaskyA few months later, the Membership Committee hosted a Membership Shabbat and what would become the first of many Shabbat kiddushim to follow. The parasha was Yitro, named for Moshe’s father-in-law, who tells him, “The task is heavy; you cannot do it alone.” We are reminded that, even before we received the Torah at Sinai, Moshe learns the importance of community.

In honor of Yitro, members who had joined BJ between 1997-2002 were invited to participate in an aliyah. Of 500 members invited, 100 chose to participate. When the aliyah was announced, Roly asked participants to stand in their places rather than come to the bimah, but there was no stopping the BJ members. People were thrilled with the opportunity to be called to the Torah, and they streamed up to the rabbis en masse. The sight of 100 people being honored for their enthusiasm and commitment to our community was inspiring. The kiddush that followed was warm; people were happy to catch up with each other, and they stayed late. It was a wonderful Shabbat morning.

When the Membership Committee envisioned what BJ membership should look like, a host of characteristics were repeatedly mentioned. We would like to be a community that is inclusive, considerate, welcoming, intimate, and supportive. We value our intergenerational connections. It is important for us to be directed and intentional, to enable each other and ourselves, and to ennoble each other and ourselves. Perhaps more than anything, we yearn for connected-ness—to each other, to our best selves, to our larger community, to our history, and to our God and our spiritual tradition.

That initial Membership Shabbat embodied many of these traits. It allowed people to connect with each other and with the Torah portion. Participants spanned a range of ages and levels of engagement with the community—and included many people who did not regularly attend Shabbat morning services. Our vision for the future of membership at BJ includes programs and events where we have abundant opportunities for connectedness and the ability to live our lives according to the three tenets of BJ: prayer, learning, and social justice.

In order to achieve these goals, the Membership Committee has been working alongside the BJ staff to re-envision the structure and function of the Membership Committee. Our visioning process led to a five-year strategic plan for 2008-2013. The goal of the Membership Committee as a web of connections that runs throughout BJ, supporting all facets of community life, is beginning to blossom.

Thanks to our strategic visioning, the Membership Committee planned and implemented ways to maximize the congregation’s connection with its various member groups, specifically: potential members, new members, current members, and former members. The committee’s objectives are to identify and engage actively attending non-members; orient and segue new members into the community; enhance the experiences and deepen the connections of current members; and become informed of the reasons for former members’ decision to leave BJ so as to better address the needs of potential, new, and current members. To achieve these goals, the committee created teams to address each member group, each team co-chaired by two Membership Steering Committee individuals.

Each team, filled with energetic and active members of the congregation, manages ongoing projects and creates new initiatives to suit the community’s ever-evolving needs. Over the past few years, for example, the Potential Members Team has introduced a presence at Kabbalat Shabbat services to greet non-members and respond to inquiries about membership. It also hosted a membership Open House for families with small children and reaches out to new attendees at the Hebrew School orientation. The New Members Team continues to phone new members as they join BJ, organize intimate meet-and-greets, and encourage new members to attend the new member orientation programs. In addition, it has coordinated new members groups at synagogue dinners and other events. The Current Members Team has arranged for Shabbat morning aliyot for different constituencies (such as members who traveled on BJ’s international trips) and also organized a Member Recognition Shabbat to acknowledge past leadership. Finally, the Former Members Team has reached out to lapsed members via electronic surveys to solicit information about their departure from the congregation.

In July we will enter year three of our strategic plan. A benefit of our process has been the ability to capitalize on the skills of our community members. As we begin this phase of the endeavor, we will continue to ask more people to get involved with our Teams to broaden what we are able to do and to include more people in the work of membership. Our goals include expanding our teams to include a Community Research and Survey Team as well as an Education and Communications Team.

The Community Research and Survey Team will research demographics of target Jewish families in New York City for use in future membership planning. They will explore ways to capture information about the community and anyone who attends community events and will work with other departments to identify membership trends. The mission of the Education and Communications Team will be to raise the profile of the membership committees throughout the BJ community as well as inform the community about the obligations of membership at BJ, such as becoming an active volunteer and acknowledging the importance of prayer. Stay tuned to the Kol Hadash and Kol Jeshurun—perhaps you will see short teachings about community coming soon!

The volunteers and staff of Membership are dedicated to serving as a safety net for BJ members. Because we represent a cross- section of the community, no doubt you’ve crossed paths with us at some point. We can connect you to programs, events, classes, and new friends at BJ. Though 2013 seems far off, we are proud that we will have completed our five-year investment of time and financial resources engaging the whole community.

Sofia Hubscher and Samara Minkin are the co-chairs of the Membership Steering Committee. The following are co-chairs of each team: Potential Members, Joe Antenson and Judy Spivak; New Members, Harriet Goren and Andrea Newman; Current Members, Sheila Bleckner and Susan Fishman; Former Members, Barbara Simon. The Membership staff who support these initiatives are Belinda Lasky and Sarah Verity.