Plan “B” for Rosh Hashanah, Day 2! – more “tuchases” in the seats with YPs

An invitation for Rabbis to get more “tuchases” in the seats, and build for the future.

As Rabbis throughout North America, and the world, make their last revisions to their Rosh Hashanah sermons, what will they say this year on the challenge of connecting future leadership, particularly post-college age young adults?

We see that the numbers of young adults coming to Rosh Hashanah services are quickly dwindling. “Conventional wisdom” in Jewish leadership circles is that synagogues are looking at their demise in the mirror. The big ones may survive for a while longer, but what about the smaller shuls, and those in the hinterlands without a strong membership base of support?

I think the answer is in the “invisible” population of young adults who still attend Rosh Hashanah services with their parents, or perhaps work away from home and find a service at a local Hillel. They may also be taking advantage of Synagogue Connect with a network of a thousand US synagogues that provide free High Holiday services to young adults.

Why are the Young Professionals – YPs – an “invisible” population? Because from the Bima the Rabbi, the Cantor, the synagogue president sees them only as part of a family unit, not as a key element of a peer group that can be an active part of the shul’s array of programming. Until last year there has not been a concerted national effort to identify and engage these young adults who attend Rosh Hashanah services.

American Friends of Kaplan Medical Center (AFKMC) began the project last year of a Rosh Hashanah “10-Minute YP Meet-Up at the Israel Shoe-Box.” AFKMC supports a little-known hospital in Israel that should be better known. Kaplan Medical Center is a general hospital with more than 700 beds, and recognized excellence in major departments. It serves more than a Million Jewish and Arab Israelis in the center of the county, in Rehovot.

The “10 Minute YP Meet-Up” presents a message of Israel saving lives through cutting-edge Medical Miracles. It is a backdrop and invitation for young professionals to be “foot soldiers” to help build the largest Hi-Tech Cardiac Center in the Middle East. AFKMC’s national “Heart & Sole” project currently includes seventeen major US Jewish and Israeli partner organizations who have joined in the common effort to get these YPs together on Rosh Hashanah.

To most Rabbis, there is no “band-with” for an extra project on Day 1, so it may be considered for Day 2. By simply making an announcement for the 2nd Day Rosh Hashanah “YP Meet-Up,” shuls can get more “touchases” in the seats and use it as a low-effort practice-round for 5781. Or perhaps by announcing a YP Meet-Up for Yom Kippur services, synagogues can grab the young professionals as they escape shul during the Yizkor service and allow them a planned short meet-up.

Ten minutes is a minimum commitment for YPs, and for a rabbi, assistant rabbi or another staff member. It is a simple program to produce. Taking less than 3 minutes to read the background information to “get it” and decide if it fits your goals. It takes 5 minutes to set up a table with apples and honey. The program guidelines are on-line, and a 5 minute phone orientation is available for those who need it. All else that is recommended is to provide a shoe collection box, or order one from the designated shoe recycling center. The box return labels are free. Synagogues can be e-mailed the latest updated poster of Israeli Hi-Tech Medical Miracles, and the poster can be printed at the local quick print shop. This Israel medical awareness project is easy, it’s not brain surgery.

Like Nachshon stepping into the Red Sea, Andy Borans, AEPi’s former top Exec., and now head of the AEPi Foundation, was the first national leader to come on board at an AIPAC conference a few years ago.

Andy opened the door to other key Jewish leaders, like Rabbi Joe Potasnik, Executive VP of the New York Board of Rabbis.  Rabbi Joe also saw the value of putting a focus on Israel hi-tech medical miracles, as an important message for young adults getting together.

By the way, did we mention that YPs as “foot soldiers” would play an important role in the effort to enable new Israeli solutions for Heart Disease, the number one killer in the West, of Americans, and particularly Women?

Rabbi Potasnik introduced AFKMC leadership to Rabbi Ron Brown, co-founder of Synagogue Connect. His organization has created a network of 1128 synagogues in 31 countries, with nearly 1000 synagogues throughout the US that allow Free High Holiday services for young adults without a ticket! With the “10 Minute YP Meet-Up” Rabbi Ron said that “Synagogue Connect will get them in the doors, and key partner organizations will engage them as future leaders.”

Heidi Krizer-Daroff, North American Director of the Israel Forever Foundation (IFF), is a recent Jewish leader who has taken a key role with the “10 Minute YP Meet-Up” project. IFF is a Jerusalem based organization that provides an excellent education web portal on multiple issues and topics related to Israel. Through Heidi and IFF Executive Director Dr. Elana Heideman, the IFF website hosts synagogue registration for the “10-Minute YP Meet-Up” project. Further, IFF allows participants to become “virtual citizens of Israel.” Through IFF the newest partner organization of the “10 Minute YP Meet-Up” is March of the Living.

What are some of the key benefits to Rabbis and Synagogue Presidents? As Rabbis look for ways to engage their Board leaders and encourage more financial support for the shul, what would be more valuable than giving a parent or grandparent on the Board a sense of relief that the shul is doing something to engage THEIR young adults?

As the YPs gather around the Apples and Honey table and meet each other, it is an astounding sight that these future leaders are meeting under the roof of the shul. They can be a source of future membership, and perhaps the rabbi will be seeing them in a few years and officiating their “Simcha” under the Chuppah. The “10-Minute YP Meet-Up” comes with professional leadership development assistance from Young Jewish Leadership Concepts (YJLC) which has been providing YP Leadership programs continuously from 1986, for more than three decades.

Jewish tradition gives us the best lesson and rationale for developing YP leadership. In the “Shema” we are instructed on how to demonstrate a love for G-D: We “love G-d with all our heart, all our soul, and all our might … by teaching it to our children, when we walkest by the way, when we lie down and when we rise up!”

As the final revisions of the Rosh Hashanah sermon are being composed, think of including a last-minute Rosh Hashanah “10-minute YP Meet-up at the Israeli Shoe Box.” Or register after Sukkot for Rosh Hashanah 5781, September 19, 2020.

About the Author
Lou Balcher served from 2004 - 2013 as Director of Academic Affairs to Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region. He also served as Education Director for Congregation Tifereth Israel in Bensalem, PA, and as administrator and teacher for Gratz College's Jewish Community High School. He is a former Membership Director for the Philadelphia and Cincinnati regions of B'nai B'rith International. For three and a half decades, he has coordinated post-college young leadership programs for Young Jewish Leadership Concepts. From 2014 - Spring 2021 he consulted as National Director of the American Friends of the Kaplan Medical Center, Rehovot, Israel which serves more than one million Israeli citizens. In the Spring of 2021 Balcher and a team of national leaders inaugurated the American Foundation Creating Leadership for Israel (AFCLI) - "the newest voice for Americans for Israel."