Every new parent understands the pressure and stress associated with finding the best ways to create a rich and fulfilling future for their children. Faced with societal expectations, money constraints, and more programmatic opportunities than ever for their young ones, Jewish life may not always make it to the top of the priority list.
As a part of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Communities of Practice work, we’re partnering with congregations (both those with and without preschools) to further and more effectively engage families with young children in congregational life. The full results of this work can be found in a new resource, Engaging Families with Young Children. Here’s a look at some of the best principles:
- Engagement is a congregation-wide activity, not an isolated program or department. Engagement must be a true value of the entire congregation, including those in leadership positions. To sustain any effort to build a community of parents with young children, congregational leadership needs to fully support these efforts, ensuring that holidays, programs, and services focus on the idea of family.
- Focus on engagement, not enrollment. Community isn’t measured by how many people attend a program but by the quality and depth of the relationships between people in attendance. Your congregation can host 100 great programs a year, but if no meaningful relationships exist between the congregation and its community members, nobody benefits from great programming.
- Do your research to figure out what young families need. Rather than focusing on what families with young children can contribute to the synagogue, synagogues need to see themselves as having something to offer those starting their parenting journey. Synagogues must be intentional in their efforts to meet parents’ needs, and that begins with knowing what those needs are. The last 10 years have yielded a wealth of national research into families of Jewish children, and it’s equally important to know about local trends. What venues or activities are popular for these families in your community? Where do people go for information about local community life? Which organizations currently serve this cohort well?
- Experiment and reflect – then do it all over again! Congregations that have made significant strides in engaging families with young children are those that have created a culture of experimentation and reflection, where risk-taking is both supported and encouraged.
Looking for more ways to engage families with young children? The URJ’s new publication, Engaging Families with Young Children, expands on all of the points here and offers five more, as well as a number of additional ideas, resources, and examples from congregations across North America.