2017-09-27 / Home

Visionary Ron Wolfson urges synagogues, organizations to foster sacred relationships

By DAVID PORTNOE
Voice Editor


The Jewish Federation, through its Center For Impact & Innovation’s Federation Leadership Institute (FLI), and the Jewish Community Foundation, through the Life & Legacy program, hosted Ron Wolfson, author of “Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community.” Welcoming Wolfson (top photo, center) were Federation CEO Jennifer Dubrow Weiss (left) and Amy Deren Milgrim, Jewish Community Foundation (JCF) executive director. Wolfson (bottom photo, right) also shared a moment with (from left), Federation Leadership Institute Chair Missy Wayne, Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey CEO Jennifer Dubrow Weiss, and Cong. Beth El Rabbi Andy Green, a former student of Wolfson’s. The Jewish Federation, through its Center For Impact & Innovation’s Federation Leadership Institute (FLI), and the Jewish Community Foundation, through the Life & Legacy program, hosted Ron Wolfson, author of “Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community.” Welcoming Wolfson (top photo, center) were Federation CEO Jennifer Dubrow Weiss (left) and Amy Deren Milgrim, Jewish Community Foundation (JCF) executive director. Wolfson (bottom photo, right) also shared a moment with (from left), Federation Leadership Institute Chair Missy Wayne, Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey CEO Jennifer Dubrow Weiss, and Cong. Beth El Rabbi Andy Green, a former student of Wolfson’s. Dr. Ron Wolfson brought his high-energy presentation on “Relational Judaism” to Southern New Jersey, when the visionary educator and co-founder of Synagogue 3000 spoke about using relationships to transform synagogues and organizations. His talk was co-sponsored by the Federation Leadership Institute (FLI) and the Jewish Community Foundation’s Life & Legacy program. Earlier in the day, Wolfson spoke to early childhood, religious school, and day school educators at a community professional development day held at Kellman Brown Academy. The KBA event was organized by the Federation’s Center for Impact & Innovation.

In an amusing, interactive talk filled with humor and a little singing, Wolfson told a community audience that the key to transforming synagogues and organizations is to build sacred relationships. Opening up with a look at Psalm 131 (Hinei Mah Tov), he pointed to the Hebrew word “Yachad” (together)—face-toface relationships, people who will be there through good times and bad.

“That is what we must be about—people who will be there, places that offer meaning, purpose, belonging and blessing,” said Wolfson. In order to do that, he said that we must be warm and welcoming.

Wolfson told a story about being a scholar-in-residence at a synagogue, arriving, taking a seat, and someone telling him that he was sitting in his seat. Wolfson, who added that 750 of the 800 seats were empty, said the person should have said, “Shabbat Shalom, why don’t you sit with me.”

“What we are trying to do is make Jews,” said Wolfson. He added that we should not be afraid to tell people that we will change their lives.

Wolfson went through different levels of relationships and ideas for building relationships, including helping people find their group, their particular community, and helping people have a sense of Jewish peoplehood. He said that everyone has a role to play. “It’s not just up to the clergy and professionals. It’s up to everybody,” he said. Wolfson added that nobody should be ignored and that greeting people should be done in an “enthusiastically friendly” way.

Wolfson also advised organizations to build affinity groups within the larger synagogue or organization. There are many possibilities, including small groups of people of the same age, pre-school families, people who live in the same neighborhood, minyan people, and others. He said that one synagogue had organized a minyan made up entirely of people named David.

Wolfson closed his talk by referring back to the “Henei Mah Tov,” and a comment on the Hebrew word “Gam,” which comes before the word “Yachad” (together). The Zohar says that “Gam” refers to G-d. When we are all together, G-d is with us. As Wolfson led the audience in the Jewish Community Campus’ Lahn Social Hall in singing “Henei Mah Tov,” people linked arms, sang, and swayed to the music. 

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