Gesher is about a different cultural approach to Jewish living and learning at the underpinnings of the liberal Jewish experience. At this point, 22 years into our effort, Gesher has grown into a model that flourishes not only in Portland, but has implication for every population center where there are Jews.
As a part of our commitment to share its wisdom we have designed three programs to spread its impact:
Jumpstarting Kehilla Kedosha
This program was designed with a STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal) Grant.
It is based on the premise that over the last generation, there has been a precipitous decline in Jewish home observance at the foundation of liberal synagogues. The massive erosion of Jewish identity and increase in assimilation is fueled by this decline. Congregants, who do not bring their Jewish homes to synagogues have fewer relationships with synagogue members and have a tendency to view membership as a consumer activity.
Gesher is able to help restimulate home observance at the center of synagogue community: by a) bringing an immersive Jewish home to three select communities each year for a period of a month.
b) Gesher will train synagogue leaders to open their homes and therein promote this important cultural change in the life of the synagogue community.
c) Impart wisdom and leadership of Gesher's program of outreach to Unaffiliated Jews and help congregants become more effective agencies of outreach.
Consulting Services to Jewish Communities
Gesher's rabbis are committed to sharing their wisdom and experience with other communities taking aim at reaching unaffiliated Jews. As Gesher's approach represents a culturally different approach to the culture of elitism and consumerism within Jewish communities, it embodies a real alternative to the current strategic approaches in most Jewish communities. While most Federation budgets have shrunk over the last generation, Portland Oregon's Jewish Federation budget has quadrupled. Where there were once four colleagues and three and half congregations, there are now over thirty. Gesher helped make this growth possible.
The Training of Colleagues in Outreach
Gesher has already been contacted by colleagues interested in the implications of Gesher's work for their rabbinates and Jewish communal careers. Laurie spoke to three groups of rabbinical students in Jerusalem on a recent visit to enthusiastic response.
In the future, Gesher will seek funding to underwrite the creation of and distribution of a manual of outreach, as well as, providing internships of outreach to prospective colleagues.
Bringing Gesher to Your Community
For those communities interested in creating an immersive Jewish home to inspire other Jewish homes and to reach unaffiliated Jews, we are willing to share the Portland experience as a model for your community. Of course, this will bring to bear many different resource communities coming to together to change the landscape of approaches to the increasing rates of assimilation and attrition of identity. In a world in which building a house is "relatively" easy, yet making a home is fraught with challenge, Gesher's immersive home approach can fuel the next generation's aim at making "home" work in today's world.