Providing a Jewish Community Experience for the Next Generation at Tikvat Israel

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Some of Tikvat Israel Congregation’s younger members enjoying one of the synagogue’s youth programs. Courtesy of Tikvat Israel Congregation

Tikvat Israel Congregation in Rockville is experiencing a huge shift in its membership and other programs as the result of a new dues model that has given young people a better path to join regardless of their respective financial situations.

The synagogue is shifting to a “Pay From the Heart” dues model where they looked at their costs and went to have one-on-one conversations with every member to show them what they previously paid in dues and ask them what they want to pay going forward.

“It’s really rooted in a place of not wanting to have to turn away any families or anyone who wants to be part of our congregation. We are ensuring they will be able to be a full part of our congregation and not have to go through the whole process of begging for reductions and forgiveness,” Aaron Chusid, Tikvat Israel’s executive director, said.

The system has been in the development process for around a year since it was approved by the synagogue’s board, and Chusid said they’re hard at work to get everything in place for full implementation by the start of the congregation’s new fiscal year on July 1.

And the new dues model will give Tikvat Israel members a lot of flexibility to be engaged with the community and allow them to enjoy their personal lives with their families while still having plenty of opportunities to participate in the congregation.

“This is going to help families really fit it in much more realistically to their situation and not be forced to decide whether they’re going to belong to our shul or take a vacation this year. I don’t think you should have to make that choice. I think you should get to spend time with your family and ours,” Chusid said.
And the change has spurred an upsurge in young people joining the congregation, where there have been more baby namings recently than funerals, according to Chusid.

Having these young families has been great for the congregation and allows them to get their kids into Jewish learning early.

“It [dues] is a large cost on top of everything else that goes into starting a family, so we don’t want them to wait until they reach Sunday school age to come show up. We want them to be here now,” Chusid said.

The congregation has also been putting in plenty of work to become more inclusive for everyone, and particularly for families, by offering babysitting services, programs where families can read books together, dancing activities and so much more.

They’ve also restarted their Sunday school program, which used to be a collaborative effort with a couple of other Conservative synagogues, giving them more opportunities to bring
families in.

“We restarted this year with a kindergarten to first grade program, and next year, we’ll be kindergarten, first and second. We’ve been bringing in new families through that,” Chusid said. “And it’s not just our members [that are benefiting from our educational programs]. The early childhood center is doing incredibly well.”

Chusid said that the preschool program, which isn’t made up entirely of members, recently received accreditation, which is incredibly rare for Jewish private schools in Montgomery County.

The program is doing so well that they have a waiting list and Chusid said that in the past two years, 11 families have become members after sending their kids through the program.

The focus on these programs and dues changes are part of a concerted effort by Rabbi Marc Israel and the congregation to provide a Jewish community experience for the next generation that the older members cherished.

“That’s such a core tenet of Judaism. Everything that we are doing should be teaching and preparing and paving the way, following the path laid out by those before us, and preparing the way for those who are coming after. That is a core part of what Judaism means to our congregation,” Chusid said.

And there was some reflection from the congregation’s leadership about how to boost accessibility and membership after realizing that if they have the same handful of people engaged, soon people at large may lose some interest in the synagogue events.

“We’ve been looking at who do we want to be? Who are we serving? How are we doing our work? How are we being more financially transparent to our members? How are we reaching out to underserved populations?” Chusid said.

The work has taken them a while and can be challenging at times, but it’s a worthwhile effort to ensure that all the current and future congregants feel that they have a place and a reason to be strongly involved, which helps the synagogue fulfill its mission and commitment to Jewish values.

“Our strategic plan came down to four key words: engage, embrace, inspire, empower,” Chusid said. “We’re making sure all of our current members are feeling engaged, they’re not passive participants here. They’re actively engaged members of our community. And we’re reaching out to the people that aren’t here yet.”

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