Wednesday, July 18, 2012


This fall, Rabbis of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism are joining with Reform, Reconstructionist and Orthodox colleagues to take the FOOD STAMP CHALLENGE organized by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger. We have created two weeks around which we will focus this project, the week before Rosh Hashanah (September 7-13) and the week before Thanksgiving (November 11-17). I am writing to urge you to support this effort by creating your own Food Stamp Challenge web page and inviting other colleagues, congregants and friends to join us. Here is the background: In the midst of economic turmoil and threats of severe cuts to government programs to address our nation’s debt and deficit, hunger in America has reached historic levels with no relief in sight. Recent studies by a number of agencies and organizations highlight this disturbing trend: between 2007 and 2009, the number of households struggling with hunger increased more than 33%, with nearly one in four U.S. households with children unable to afford enough food. And the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the U.S. poverty rate rose to 15.1% in 2010, with one out of every six Americans, or 46.2 million, living in poverty. Not surprisingly, enrollment in federal food and nutrition programs is dramatically on the rise. In April 2012, SNAP/food stamp participation rose to a record level of more than 46.2 million Americans – an increase of more than 1.5 million people compared with one year before. Yet even as the number of Americans enduring the gnawing pain of hunger increases, proven federal hunger relief programs such as SNAP are being targeted for significant cuts and potential restructuring that would irreparably limit the government’s ability to bring relief to millions of Americans suffering from hunger. Sadly, there is a deafening silence when it comes to protecting programs that serve the poor, the hungry, and the downtrodden. Here is what you can do: In response, Rabbis across the country will join together to take the Challenge and for one week live on the average food stamp allotment of $31.50, or just $1.50 per meal. For more information on the program and how to register visit my personal food stamp challenge web page: /my/donate.jsp?supporter_my_donate_page_KEY=4806 To multiply the impact of the Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge, ask your congregants, family, and friends to make a contribution to support the JCPA’s anti-hunger advocacy work and denominational anti-hunger efforts in honor of your participation in the Challenge. Donations will support the advocacy work of the JCPA and the efforts of the Masorti movement in Israel to fight hunger and food insecurity. To help you: We have created a participant handbook, the Food Stamp Challenge website (, and other resources to make it easy for you to participate in and contribute to this meaningful anti-hunger effort. Your engagement will make a difference. More information about how to participate in the challenge and prepare a week of meals on a limited budget can be found at: Thank you for sharing this information and joining our campaign.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Growing through Parnterships: A new model

Myself and Rabbi Daniel Berman at the training for USCJ sponsored SULAM FOR EMERGING LEADERS in New York. My Congregation, Mishkan Tefila in Chestnut Hill, MA has a wonderful history, a central location, a large parking area, a large Sanctuary and building and an equally large campus setting alongside a nature reserve. We also have a fully subscribed pre-school program. That said, we are not in a high growth area or an area with many unaffiliated younger families, and our Religious School and Youth programs have not been growing in recent years. So, the question is how do we grow? Is membership growth the best metric for measuring success? How does one measure vitality? buzz? impact? For the short term we are embarking on a strategy of growth through partnerships. That is, by putting out the welcome mat and trying to maximize the use of our building on Sabbaths and holidays as well as on weekdays, we are trying to build our reputation, bring in new audiences, and from there plan for increased member satisfaction, donations, and EVENTUALLY growth in membership. First steps have included welcoming a small Reconstructionist Havurah into our building for High Holiday services and some Shabbat morning services. We will partner with them for Simchat Torah, Purim and a Hanukkah party. Their rabbi will teach adult education with us and lead a number of Friday night services during the year and have an office in our building. We are also hosting LIMMUD Boston for the second year in a row and a special Friday night on the eve of Limmud. We are planning joint Religious School and Youth programs with neighboring congregations, and a joint summer study program and Selichot service involving synagogues of other denominations in the area. And we are working towards a regional Tikkun Lel Shavuot next year. We have begun conversations with a non-denominational Jewish after school program about moving into our building. And most recently, we have reached out to the Boston Jewish Music Festival about hosting a Friday night service, a Jewish salsa concert and perhaps a concert of classical Jewish organ music. All in all, an ambitious program to grow our program without investing large amounts of our own capital and limited professional resources. More to come as we continue on this path.