If you’re involved in a Jewish organization, Ron Wolfson wants you to know that “programs are not enough.”
“Don’t depend on programs to engage people,” said Wolfson, who will be in Ottawa, May 30, to lead a morning workshop – “Transforming the Jewish Community through the Power of Relationships” – sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa for staff and volunteers of Jewish community agencies.
“Programs are good, but, if that’s all we’re doing, we’re not building relationships. We do a pretty good job when people show up and build a relationship with the Jewish experience, but successful organizations are moving from a transactional model to a relational model. Transactional is being engaged for a particular purpose and when I’m done using you, I’m out of there … Relational is building communities. We Jews have always been a relational people, and a relational community. It’s all about relationships,” he told the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin from his home in Los Angeles.
“In my book, Relational Judaism, I lay out the challenges we face in the 21st century, where we have been using 20th century solutions, particularly in institutional life,” said Wolfson, the Fingerhut professor of education at American Jewish University in Los Angeles.
“I’m not worried about the future of the Jewish people,” he said, “I am worried about the Jewish institutions. If we don’t find the way forward, we’ll see an eroding of commitment to membership organizations.”
The millennial generation, he said, has a healthy scepticism about institutions generally and “they are not joining like my parents did.”
Wolfson will share best practices from other communities.
“Luckily, we’re seeing some real success stories,” he said. “I have six case studies in my book of organizations that do a good job … and the book has 12 principles of relational engagement.
“We’ll also look at the very first step in building a relationship in your organization – a warm welcome. Every institution believes it’s a welcoming place. But, while it is for the regulars, it can be intimidating for newcomers. If they don’t feel welcome, you don’t have a chance of building a relationship.”
And, after they are warmly welcomed, “it’s building a loyalty, getting to know people, knowing their preferences,” he said.
Wolfson said he’s looking forward to the workshop in Ottawa.
“We’ll have a lot of laughs, a lot of learning and a lot of good ideas to immediately implement,” he said.
“I don’t lecture. This will be an interactive workshop with a lot of opportunity to meet each other, to model relational Judaism, and to think about what it means moving forward. I like to tell stories. It’s a lot of fun to do. I find Canadian communities are great fun to be with.”
The workshop takes place on Tuesday, May 30, 8:30 to 10:30 am at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre. It will be preceded by refreshments at 8:15.
Space is limited. To attend, contact Sarah Beutel at firstname.lastname@example.org.