Temple Israel creates exciting Outreach Program with Synagogue Federation Grant

by | Mar 22, 2013 | Other News

Temple Israel’s Outreach Program is not your mother’s outreach.

The newly launched series of events that are part of the innovative program are mostly offsite, not necessarily religious, yet still provide a context that shows the warm and welcoming nature of the Conservative synagogue located on Granby Street in Norfolk.

“Our goal is to reengage current members and also to attract unaffiliated members,” says Melissa Kass, the young adult temple member who is overseeing the program.

“It’s a totally new concept that has allowed us to extend ourselves in a different way. We’ve brought our programming outside the synagogue—making it easier for people who have a certain perception of what belonging to a temple means, and allowing them to rethink that it’s not just all about services. There’s a community aspect to the concept, showing that Temple Israel is made of people you can lean on in good times and in bad times.”

Getting people to come to a Temple Israel event that they enjoy outside of the synagogue grounds is translating into increased comfort and intimacy when they do attend a service, a Shabbat dinner or holiday programming, Kass says.

Kass and Temple Israel board members began exploring the idea of an outreach program when they learned of grant funding offered through the Synagogue-Federation Partnership of the Tidewater Jewish community, supported by the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, the Tidewater Jewish Foundation and the Simon Family Foundation.

The Temple group put together a list of events they thought sounded interesting and came up with seven for the year. The programming is diverse; to date, events have included a Locavore Chanukah dinner using locally sourced foods at the Oceans condominiums, a trip to Ocean Breeze Waterpark in Virginia Beach, bowling at the AMC Lanes in Chesapeake, and coffee with Temple Israel’s Rabbi, Michael Panitz, at Café Stella in Norfolk.

Funding provided by the grant has enabled Temple Israel to open the programs to the entire community at minimal or no cost. Families, singles and older empty nesters are attending.

“We find that when people make that first step, engaging in one thing, it’s easier to engage in the next thing. We want to engage people where they are, so we take our programs outside the synagogue, find something they enjoy and it’s easier to take that next step to even greater engagement,” explains Kass.

“It helps Temple Israel, and it’s good for the greater community, too, for a couple of reasons,” says Kass. “Once you’re involved in one thing, it really does make it easier to become engaged in more things, and, for the community, to have a Jewish person engaged in something Jewish is great, no matter what that something is.”

Philip Walzer, president of Temple Israel, expresses admiration both toward Kass and the Synagogue-Federation Partnership grant.

“We appreciate the generosity of the Jewish Federation, the Tidewater Jewish Foundation and the Simon Family Foundation,” Walzer says. “This series has been a huge success, thanks to Melissa’s leadership. We’ve attracted a wide crosssection of congregants and non-members with a range of entertaining and innovative programs, and I’m looking forward to the remainder in the series, from our hike in First Landing to our Friday night Shabbat dinner.”

Future events include Havdalah Under the Stars at a member’s house on April 27, A Day at the Park at First Landing in Virginia Beach on June 2, and Shabbat with Friends at Temple Israel on August 16. For more information, email melissakass@gmail.com, or call Temple Israel, 757-489‑4550.

by Laine Mednick Rutherford