As I look back at my time at TBE, I'll be reminiscing from time to time over the coming months about some key moments, programs and people.
I introduced Synaplex to TBE back in Feb. of 2006. At the time, I'd been working on the project for several years as part of the think tank that became known as STAR (Synagogue Transformation and Renewal), a partnership of the Schusterman, Bronfman and Steinhardt foundations, the same philanthropic visionaries that brought us Birthright Israel and revived Hillels on college campuses all over the world. Temple Beth El was selected as one of about three dozen pilot communities nationwide for the program. We were the first to bring Synaplex to Lower Fairfield County.
Our Board voted overwhelmingly to endorse our participation, which involved accepting grants from the national organization along with our own fundraising. We received additional seed funding from from the Jewish Community Endowment Foundation and other donors, including the Horowitz and Gladstein families, as this exciting project began to take shape for an October launching.
Though its lifespan (nationally and locally) was limited, Synaplex benefited us in so many ways, helping us develop new approaches to marketing, volunteer development, membership recruitment and retention, fundraising, community building and of course, services and other programming.
A typical Synaplex Shabbat would include a variety of services (traditional, learners and meditative, as well as family services), along with scholars-in-residence and special features like "Storahtelling" (a particular favorite), great communal meals, learning sessions and even a bike ride.
Of course, anything new meets with resistance, and there was significant resistance here, but that was quickly overcome when people saw the excitement being generated. Synaplex is remembered fondly as something that brought the congregation together and increased involvement and attendance significantly in programs residing at the core of our mission. It turned Shabbat into a "happening."
I share with you here a time capsule of Synaplex's "Greatest Hits." Click on any of the icons to open pdfs of the packets.
Can Synaplex be replicated? Well, the blueprint is right here, on this page. And we've incorporated elements of it into our regular offerings - so no need to reinvent the wheel. Still, we should look back with fondness about what was accomplished, and how much fun it was.
As a postscript, an interesting footnote to history is that I was offered the position to direct STAR, having been recruited by Lynn Schusterman. I believed very much in Synaplex but I resisted, not wanting to move to the midwest and also concerned that pet projects of mega-donors, even ones with the track record of the Schusterman, Bronfman and Steinhardt triumvirate, have a limited shelf life, especially since none of them were great fans of synagogues in the first place. Sure enough, they did lose interest after a few years. They still fund amazing programs, just not ones designed to revitalize synagogues.
Bottom line: I stayed here and the shelf life of this important work was good another twenty years - and then some.