OU SENDS POSTER TO SYNAGOGUES WELCOMING NEWCOMERS AND URGING CONGREGATIONS TO ‘REACH OUT, CHANGE LIVES’
As the latest component of its Reaching Out, Changing Lives outreach initiative, the Orthodox Union has sent an attractive 12” x 18” poster to its member synagogues across North America declaring, “Welcome to Our Shul!” and advising, “Join Us in Greeting Everyone With Warmth and Friendliness.”
The poster, colorfully illustrated with a dove of peace and chirping bluebirds perched on vines adorned with roses, quotes from Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers (1:15): “Greet everyone with a cheerful disposition.” The outreach program in its entirety, and the poster as one of its components, are directed toward Jews whose ties to their religion are tenuous, and who, demographic statistics make clear, are in danger of losing their Jewish identity and identification entirely. But the program and the poster at the same time are directed at the current congregants of the synagogue.
OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb explains why.
“Too often, our synagogue members, who feel very comfortable in shul, fail to greet newcomers. By encouraging them to reach out their hands in welcome, we hope to foster a warmer and welcoming environment which will encourage first-time visitors to come back again and again.”
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, NJ was quick to put the poster on display. "We feel the sign conveys a message of inclusiveness, warmth, and friendship,” he explained. “Although we certainly refrain from effusive greetings during the davening itself, we believe strongly that before and after davening such expressions of friendship make our community closer to one another. And that certainly fosters a deeper relationship that can only enhance our Tefila b'tzibur (community prayers) and the recognition of our mutual obligations towards each other."
The poster is part of a growing series of approaches since the outreach initiative debuted at the OU’s Biennial National Convention in Jerusalem last Thanksgiving. At the Convention, OU National Director of Community Services and Special Projects Frank Buchweitz gave a well-received session on synagogue outreach and distributed a “how to” booklet on transforming the synagogue into a “home away from home” where everyone can feel comfortable and embraced. He has followed that up with similar seminars in communities extending from Fairfield, CT to Los Angeles. The OU has also sponsored efforts directed toward Purim and Passover outreach, and has awarded grants of up to $20,000 to three synagogues for developing unique outreach initiatives.
“Our program of outreach is to empower synagogues and their membership, through a structured approach, to be able to attract unaffiliated, marginally affiliated and those beginning their journey within Judaism,” explained Rabbi Weinreb. He noted that the outreach seminar in Los Angeles, held soon after Passover, drew more than sixty representatives of area synagogues and that comments provided in post-conference evaluations included, “We loved the shul welcome poster which the OU has distributed.”
Rabbi Weinreb added, “It is my hope that all OU member synagogues will display the poster on the door of their main sanctuaries. The poster is attractive, but the message is the most attractive of all: ‘We welcome you, we encourage you to come often, and we will work with you on deepening your knowledge and commitment to your Jewish heritage.’ That is what outreach is all about.”
For information on how your synagogue can become active in outreach, contact Frank Buchweitz at 212-613-8188, or firstname.lastname@example.org.