High Holy Days: Engaging Congregants Starts Now!

My apologies that this week’s Blog Post is a day later than usual. The High Holy Days kind of got in the way.

As we all just experienced in the past few days, many people – beyond the core group of synagogue leaders – are in a synagogue frame of mind.  They have come together to worship, and to gain strength from being a part of a sacred Jewish Community.

So what can we do in the coming days and weeks to sustain this special feeling?

Here are some suggestions you may wish to consider discussing with your board and putting into action as quickly as possible:

EMAIL EVERYONE. The president and rabbi should send out an email blast to the entire congregation sharing with them how great it was to be together and that you look forward to greeting them next Tuesday evening for Yom Kippur. Not as joyous a holiday as Rosh Hashanah, but a time when the community always comes together nonetheless. Being together as a community is the key point to emphasize.

USE YOUR FACEBOOK PAGE. If your synagogue has a Facebook page, begin a discussion about any number of issues related to the High Holy Days. Ask people to share memories they have of celebrating the High Holy Days with their families. How can they insure that their children have similar positive memories? What did they like best about Rosh Hashanah worship? So many congregants – as well as their children – are using Facebook and other social media.  You should be using your synagogue’s Facebook page as a means of engagement.

Having an overall strategy regarding the use of social media is something for every synagogue to consider. Take a look at the Social Media Policy Workbook that was created by Darim Online. But creating such a policy will take some time, well beyond the timeframe of the High Holy Days. For right now if you have a Facebook page – if you don’t, you can create a Facebook page very easily – put your Facebook page to use and engage your congregants.

CALL NEW MEMBERS. Board members should personally call every member who became a member of the temple this year or last year. Thank them for coming to Rosh Hashanah worship.  A number of congregations encourage board members to reach out by phone to every congregant and wish them a Happy New Year before the holidays. What I am proposing takes this idea takes this one step further. Engage them in a short discussion about High Holy Day worship.  You also have to be prepared that some people might offer constructive criticism.  Such calls are also opportunities for engagement. And 5 minutes with this group of new congregants will certainly be worth everyone’s time and effort.

SUKKOT AND SIMCHAT TORAH. And let’s not forget about Sukkot and Simchat Torah. Invite a small group of new, and even veteran members and their families for dinner with the clergy and president in the Sukkah. Check out these programming ideas for Sukkot. And these programming ideas for Simchat Torah.

SHABBAT, SHABBAT! Our creativity and enthusiasm can’t start with Rosh Hashanah and end with Simchat Torah. You need to be thinking about Shabbat. The synagogue needs to be the place to be on Shabbat evenings and mornings as Shabbat itself does not have the same emotional and historical pull as the High Holy Days do.

I don’t want to get too specific here with a myriad of Shabbat ideas. I will save this for blog posts in the coming weeks. And I do want the focus of this blog to be about money issues, I have always believed that Prayer and Torah go hand in hand with financial challenges. If congregants are feeling engaged in a Sacred Community through meaningful worship and study, money will not really be that big of a problem.


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