Congregation Shir Ami on building their congregation

Harriet Skelly of Congregation Shir Ami wrote How Tots Helped Our Small Congregation Grow for News and Views of Reform Jews. Thanks, Harriet!

In 2013, Congregation Shir Ami in Castro Valley, CA, was at its lowest membership in 15 years. Several years earlier, we had implemented a new, low-cost dues structure in the hopes that it would help increase the membership. At about the same time, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, visited the Bay Area and spoke with local congregational presidents about audacious hospitality, relational Judaism, and “going outside the walls.” I was intrigued by his language, but still didn’t really get it. I was just stuck on how to find unaffiliated Jews in our area to bring into our congregation.

A few months after the meeting with Rabbi Jacobs, I was manning Shir Ami’s booth at the Castro Valley Pride Festival when an interfaith lesbian couple with a nine-month old son approached me. As we chatted, I learned that they were looking for a place to bring their son to learn about being Jewish – but sadly, I had to tell them we didn’t have programs for children under age 5.

I encouraged them to come check us out anyway and gave them our schedule of activities, but right there and then – as they walked away from the booth – I decided that our congregation had to create something for families like theirs.

Read on to find out more about how our member Congregation Shir Ami encouraged more families to join.