As preparations continue for Temple Israel’s physical move to its new building on Sterling Ridge Drive, plans are also underway to ready the congregation for its spiritual move. The Long Range Planning Committee surveyed members to understand what people like and/or dislike about their experiences at Temple Israel, and to develop programming that will hopefully reflect the needs of the congregation as it begins this new phase.

Response to the survey was very positive, with about 240 congregants responding. The survey covered a range of topics, from what first attracted members to Temple Israel to why they stay to what they feel Temple Israel is doing well or not so well.

In addition to the survey, about 80 congregants joined Temple Israel staff and clergy on Sunday, February 3 to discuss face-to-face the future of the congregation. Todd Simon facilitated the energetic brainstorming session as congregants were led through a series of exercises to help distill down to one or two words what makes their experiences at Temple Israel so special.

“The activities Todd incorporated into the conversation helped to focus the feelings and emotions which draw congregants to Synagogue life,” said Long Range Planning Committee Chair Michael Halsted.

Simon began the session with an icebreaker question by asking what makes an experience “exceptional” before moving on to questions more specific to life at Temple Israel. He asked attendees to come up with a single word that describes what it is about the Temple Israel community that makes it important and meaningful to them. And while specific words varied, there was a common thread that almost everyone touched on in some way, with words like “caring” and “supportive,” and “acceptance” and “belonging.”

Simon then asked everyone to share a memory of a particularly great Shabbat, and then to determine in one word what made it great and memorable. Congregants shared stories about adult b’nai mitzvah classes and children’s b’nai mitzvahs, about family and tradition.

For example, Andee Scioli shared a story about visiting a temple in France with her mother, and how they were both overcome with emotion when they realized the prayers were being sung with the same melodies that they knew from home.

Todd has a unique talent for facilitating dynamic conversations among groups of people that lead to meaningful and rich outcomes,” added Board of Trustees President Sally Kaplan. “The responses and outcomes of the conversation and recent survey will inform the strategic initiatives identified by the Board and Long Range Planning Committee. It is clear that our congregants are looking for connection and relationships at Temple Israel along with spiritual and religious experiences that help them grow Jewishly.”

As a way of symbolizing the spiritual and communal experiences Temple Israel congregants most associate with being a member of the community, a small group of board members, led by Jeff Gordman, is hard at work creating a new Mission Statement that accurately reflects what the congregation stands for in the 21st century.

In January, Gordman led a similar brainstorming session with the Board of Trustees in which he discussed lessons he learned about community-building and customer loyalty that he felt were applicable to life at Temple Israel.

“We are very lucky to have Temple members like Todd Simon and Jeff Gordman who are willing to share their expertise and time with us in so many ways,” Kaplan said.

Using the data collected through both the survey and the Congregational Conversation as a starting point, Temple Israel staff, clergy and lay leadership are working to create an action plan, timeline and budget to design programming that they hope will increase participation among youth ages 14-26, enhance the Shabbat experience and foster a sense of community by strengthening the relationships among its members, to name a few target areas.

“Going forward, utilizing the insights drawn from the Congregational Conversation, the Long Range Planning Committee, with the clergy and lay leadership, will strive to develop the life within the new walls of Temple Israel to be vibrant, fulfilling and meet the hopes, desires and needs of our congregants,” Halsted said.