In a time when traditional measures of Jewish “affiliation”— such as joining a synagogue, a JCC membership, or enrolling a child in religious school, no longer the expected path — we’re excited to tell you about Your Jewish Bridge (YJB). This initiative, supported by funding from Federation Innovation, is a radically welcoming experiment that connects Jews who don’t have a synagogue home to the resources that live inside the synagogue.
Rabbi Pamela Gottfried is YJB’s bridge builder. She loves being able to say “yes” to families looking for rabbinic guidance or ways to mark life events with Jewish ritual. Since August she has been working with small groups, families, and individuals who are seeking ways to connect with Jewish tradition. She’s organized group events, like a Challah Baking Havurah, and a Rosh Hashanah hike up Arabia Mountain with services and shofar blowing at the summit.
Rabbi Gottfried works on a fee-for-service basis to tailor Jewish experiences that meet people right where they are. There is no expectation that people will eventually join a synagogue, though some might.
Your Jewish Bridge is the only program using this hybrid outreach model of a rabbi working part-time within Congregation Bet Haverim, yet also operating outside the synagogue to teach, tutor, counsel and officiate at lifecycle functions. Rabbi Gottfried has found that even people who would never consider becoming dues-paying members of a congregation are quite willing to pay for a Jewish experience that meets their unique specifications. “Sometimes I call it ‘bespoke Judaism’,” Gottfried says. “For one family, this has meant going to their home to prepare their son to become a bar mitzvah while including his parents and younger sister in the study and planning process. The family is planning a backyard bar mitzvah in May.”
A woman who participated in the Challah Baking Havurah finally felt comfortable exploring Judaism through Your Jewish Bridge. “As a non-Jewish person married to a Jew, I felt so embraced by Rabbi Pamela and appreciated the opportunity for our non-traditional family to connect with Judaism. It has given my husband, for the first time in his life, the feeling that he has a close relationship with his rabbi.”
Or, as another YJB family said, “We didn’t know we needed a rabbi until we did.’”