Strengthening Synagogues

With the mission of enhancing and supporting synagogue life, the OU Pepa and Rabbi Joseph Karasick Department of Synagogue Initiatives supports the largest network of Orthodox synagogues across North America.

The centrality of the synagogue to the Jewish people and its impact on Jewish life is paramount, and for many, the synagogue is the portal of entry into their Judaism. The synagogue, or shul, is the place where we encounter and connect with Hashem, each other, and ourselves.

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Photo on left: Volunteers pack food and supplies for the survivors and rescue workers of the Surfside building collapse. Synagogue Initiatives helped coordinate other organizations and volunteers.
daily calls to the Tehillim line, totaling 222,464 since 2020
proposals from shuls in 34 states submitted to the “Back to Shul” Challenge Grant, $1.7M funds requested
synagogue challenge grant for innovative ideas to invigorate and stimulate congregants to re-embrace synagogue life


What began in 2020 as a response to COVID-19, the OU Daily Tehillim and Chizuk call evolved into a powerful and popular tool for individuals throughout the world to learn Torah and pray together. Whether in response to terror attacks in Israel, natural disasters in America, or simply to connect with other Jews, the Tehillim call continues today with over 400 callers daily from North America, Israel, and Europe.


When crises hit our communities, whether they be natural disasters or other traumas, the OU stands ready to galvanize its resources to support communities in need. In the recent tragedy in Surfside, FL, the OU was in communication with all of the relevant stakeholders—from nonprofits and shuls to local, state, and federal agencies—to provide a comprehensive plan of assistance.

Grant winner Congregation Darchei Noam brought 3rd to 8th grade girls to shul to learn new skills that would be used for a joint chessed project.


With a focus on supporting and strengthening shul rabbanim—which ultimately leads to stronger shuls and stronger communities—a variety of programs have been developed. These include:

  • Rabbinic Chaburas: A program bringing together community rabbis from across North America for mutual support, to learn from one another and become a network. 10 chaburas with 74 rabbis
  • Leadership Consulting: Staff are available to consult with communal leaders on a wide range of issues including strategic planning, crisis management, and operations.


As our communities began to look beyond the pandemic, the department launched a “Back to Shul” challenge grant program. The program aimed at supporting congregations as they developed ideas to bring their members back to the shul campus. The OU awarded 32 grants of between $2,000–$5,000 for unique and replicable proposals. Over 300 submissions came in from 32 states, from tiny shteibels to large community shuls.