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Express Innovation Network: Creating the Highway

By Rabbi Jennifer Goldsmith


Recently the Express Innovation Network of Westchester got together for our monthly meeting. Our post/pre-learning assignment was to host a mini-social connector conversation. We had stressed in our previous meetings the importance of getting to know each other and create a cohesive community.  We also underscored the importance of creating buy-in and support for the work we do encouraging our lay leaders to be our emissaries- not only wanting them to participate and volunteer, but also to encourage their friends to do the same. This was the perfect opportunity to put a conversation in place that would lay the groundwork for making these types of connections, for creating our own communication highways.


The Self Selected Focus Group
Beth El Synagogue Center, New Rochelle

Educator Jen Vegh wanted to explore more deeply what the family experience at Beth El could look like. She decided to organize a conversation about family experiences from multiple perspectives to help her shape the future path. Not only did she ask a series of questions to the senior staff at her synagogue, she also reached out to her parents asking the same questions. She invited all parents of school aged children and was pleased to receive a solid representation that included religious school parents, day school parents and lay leaders. When the group came together she created a common language around her topic defining “family experiences” and “community of families” as a group. From there she asked the following questions: How do you define a family learning experience? How do you define a family social experience? These questions led to a rich discussion that helped elucidate the needs of the community.  The group generated ideas that were new as well as those that were already aligned with the goals of the family experiences as they currently exist.


The Idea Driven Group
Scarsdale Synagogue Temples Tremont and Emanu-El, Scarsdale

Each year the students in Scarsdale Synagogue’s religious school have the chance to participate in a mitzvah day experience. This year Rabbi Wendy Pein wanted parent input to make the day a richer experience for all involved. She will be holding her mini-social connector conversation to gather a group of committed parents to discuss their hopes and dreams for the day.  They will then articulate the lasting impact this experience can have on the students when the values that come up during the mini social connector conversation are returned to throughout the year.


The Age-Based Group
Westchester Jewish Center, Mamaroneck

At Westchester Jewish Center there is a regular group of families who attend Tot Shabbat. Education Director Aleza Kulp realized that the families that were most active were not always continuing their Shabbat journey by joining the junior congregation after aging out of the very popular and well attended Tot Shabbat program. She is bringing those most active in Tot Shabbat together for a conversation about both experiences, asking the participants to share ideas around outreach to help bridge the gap in the two age groups.  They will brainstorm ways to energize junior congregation as well as identify and address concerns as to why families might not be taking the next logical step in their Shabbat experience.



In each of these cases our educators saw an area of work that could use lay support, buy-in and input from the community to energize  the participants and create a more organic and responsive experience. By reaching out to parents and lay leaders they will have a chance to make personal connections and mobilize the group to then do the same with more parents helping them reach their social connector potential.




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