Jewish Learning Venture’s mission is to inspire and empower people to make Jewish life, learning and community relevant and meaningful. Every month, we’re featuring a story from one of the synagogues whom we work with that are engaged in making systemic change.

In May we are delighted to share about Germantown Jewish Centre’s participation in our Harold and Renee Berger Synagogue Network for Families with Young Children and what has changed at their congregation as a result. The Berger Network was developed to allow Jewish Learning Venture to encourage and support congregations to develop and implement significant, systemic approaches to attract and engage Jewish families with young children in their congregations and into Jewish life.

Francine and Pete Engaged

Program Director Kate Lawn answered our questions about the impact of the Berger Network on the GJC community.

JLV: Please describe the change, innovation, or transformation that GJC has achieved.

KL: Germantown Jewish Centre’s J.A.M. (Jewish Arts and Movement) programming, sponsored by the Harold & Renee Berger Family Engagement Endowment Fund, and supported by the Stanley R. Wolfe Foundation, brings families with young children together for creative and engaging experiences around Shabbat and Jewish holidays throughout the year.  Each year, a series of unique, hands-on programs, targeted towards children age 1 to 5, offers families the opportunity to explore Judaism together in a kinetic, whole-body way, singing, moving, dancing, creating, listening, thinking and connecting.

Relationships are at the heart of synagogue engagement, and this initiative, now finishing its second year, marks a new way for our congregation to connect young families to our synagogue.  From its initial vision to a group of JAMbassadors committed to creating an atmosphere of welcome and inclusion at each program, J.A.M. is providing a solid foundation for families to build meaningful and lasting relationships with each other.  At the core of recruitment and follow-up for these programs, volunteer JAMbassadors are the movers and shakers, greeters, and connectors between one event and the next.  They are active on social media, community listservs, and word of mouth, and many reach out to families who have attended J.A.M. events and invite them for Shabbat meals, park play-dates, and other informal gatherings.

The enormous success of GJC’s Jewish Arts & Movement welcoming practices has influenced the welcoming culture of our synagogue and provided the standard of how we evaluate whether we are being welcoming and inclusive in all of our programming.  The J.A.M. collaboration between volunteer JAMbassadors and staff has created a clear path for young families to influence GJC culture in a new and positive way.


JLV: How did Jewish Learning Venture help you achieve what you described above?

KL: When J.A.M. was first sparked by Judge Harold Berger’s desire to strengthen family engagement programming at Germantown Jewish Centre, JLV’s staff leadership provided crucial feedback on the program proposal which helped inform our program planning.  Jewish Learning Venture suggested that we vary J.A.M. programming to take into account children with sensory differences.  Our initial lineup of programs placed a heavy emphasis on theater and music.  After integrating JLV’s feedback, we began varying the lineup to include quality programs like storytelling, puppet shows and cookie decorating, which, linked to children’s Shabbat services, connect young families to Judaism and to each other.

JLV: What words of wisdom would you share with other organizations who are interested in making a similar change?

KL: Think creatively…JAM Dani - name removed

Synergy is the key – thinking about what families in your area are interested in and then see how you can incorporate that, Jewishly, into your offerings.

Building opportunities for connection is crucial.  Some of the most wonderful moments in our J.A.M. programming have been at the meal following the program, watching parents schmooze around the tables while children play.

Collaborate with your young families.  Involving families in the creative process allows them to have a voice, and offers them opportunities to connect, engage and become leaders in the synagogue.