An Innovative Experience in Synagogue

What did a group of 75 staff and volunteers from 10 synagogues do after successfully holding a number of crowd-drawing, people-connecting Synaplex™ Shabbats during the year?

They came together to "Celebrate Synaplex™ Philadelphia" – along with synagogue members interested in holding such services in the future, at Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen on May 17. The event was sponsored by the Jewish Outreach Partnership, which coordinates the two-year pilot project, offering help with program planning, training for marketing and finding volunteers, exchanging information and evaluation.

JOP's partners in this new program are the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Center for Jewish Life and Learning, which provided a $62,000 grant; and the national organization, Star (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal Effort), which started the movement and coined the term "synaplex," implying that there's something on the menu for everyone.

"Our partnership with JOP and STAR carries out the initiatives of the Center for Jewish Life and Learning to build Jewish identity, create kehillot and support gateways to do outreach," said its director, Adam Kessler. "As gateways, synagogues play a critical role in these efforts, and Synaplex™ provides them with a strategy to revitalize."

For Synaplex™ Philadelphia, each synagogue created its own flavor," said Rabbi Philip Warmflash, JOP director.

Synaplex™ is a tool to bring in more people into local synagogues on Shabbat. They come – some synagogues increased attendance at these special Shabbat programs by two-thirds – to find something new and comforting for all ages.

The "Celebrate Synaplex™ Philadelphia" at Beth Or began with a musical group playing in the background during registration. Hors d'oeuvres and wine-tasting was next, followed by learning sessions, such as studying calligraphy with local artist Mordecai Rosenstein.

The whole group then came together to celebrate Synaplex™, and the hard work of staff and volunteers, with the music of Rabbi Shawn Zevit; learning with Warmflash; hearing from Kessler and Rabbi Haym Herring, executive director of STAR, as well as Kathy Elias, JOP director of Synagogue Partnership; and watching a performance by Theater Ariel. During this time slot, synagogues usually hold a Shabbat service, preceded or followed by a Shabbat meal.

Another 50-minute learning experience followed. The evening closed with dessert, networking and information on how synagogues can enroll in the project.

"Synaplex™ gives synagogues the opportunity to explore change and renewal in a nonthreatening way within its context," according to Warmflash. "It also benefits the infrastructure and system of the synagogue because it's not just a program, it's an approach – a way to look at what they've done to this point and then tap into different energies."

Rabbi David Glanzberg-Kranin's synagogue, Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park, has held three different kinds of Synaplex™ Shabbats this year, and will hold another on June 24.

"We had tremendous feedback," he said. "There was a diversity of offerings and time to be together."

Dorothy Ancona, 80, longtime member of Beth Sholom and the chair of the 15-member "Meet, Greet and Guide" committee, helped "make sure that every person felt welcome.

"Everybody I talked to was enthusiastic about the experience," she said. "One man said he never felt so at home."

From attending the "Celebrate Synaplex™ Philadelphia," Susan Kaspar, synagogue director at Tiferet Bet Israel in Blue Bell, said she could "see how putting together these elements could enhance the spirituality that already exists at our synagogue. We are applying to participate next year. Our rabbi, David Ackerman, is in favor of bringing it here and excited about its possibilities."

For more information, call 215-635-2877.



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