Q&A with Cardin Award Winner Jaclyn Danziger


Congratulations on winning the 2017 Shoshanna S. Cardin Award.  How did it feel to learn you had been nominated and won?

Honestly, it was a little overwhelming!  Being recognized at the national level was an unexpected honor, and attending the USCJ convention was a great experience.  Being able to share with others the work we’ve done at Neve Shalom and to learn about the great work being done at other synagogues was invigorating.

Why is it important to you to make Neve Shalom more inclusive and welcoming?

Jewish communal life is as much about building relationships with others as it is about the rituals that we perform together, and a strong kehilla is based upon connectedness within and across every facet of the community.  To make these connections possible, we need to ensure that everyone is able to participate by recognizing the unique way that each individual experiences the kehilla and making accommodations to their needs.   As we’ve taken this approach in building whole-community events at Neve Shalom, it’s been gratifying to see smaller subgroups slowly integrate into the broader community.   

Can you tell us about some of the programs you have introduced at Neve Shalom?

The most significant program is our Community Shabbat Dinner, a vibrant monthly event that brings nearly 200 people together to welcome Shabbat.  Our dinners attract people from throughout our community, and we carefully designed them to make sure that everyone felt welcome.  We set up a play rug so that the little ones could run around while their parents finished eating and kibbitzed.  We found a special siddur online that contained the full translated and transliterated text of the service, so that those who can’t read Hebrew can still fully participate.  We priced the meals at a loss so that everyone could afford to attend and solicited sponsors to keep the program sustainable.  They’re little details, but they help make sure that every individual feels that they belong.   A lot of my other work has been behind-the-scenes.  For example, I co-chaired the Learning Enhancement Task Force, where we evaluated our religious school, intensively studied and explored various religious school models in use today, and recommended the hiring of a full-time Education Director to integrate all aspects of lifelong learning in our shul.  I’m a big believer that this behind-the-scenes work is just as important as great programming.

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How can communities embrace the changing role of synagogues?

To me, the role of the synagogue has always been about enabling people to engage Jewishly in a communal context.  Even as the specific wants and needs of our communities change, I believe this fundamental role remains constant.  Think of the telephone - today’s smartphones looks nothing like the rotary phones we remember, but they still serve the fundamental need of enabling people to communicate.   Just like nobody knows what tomorrow’s telephones will look like, I don’t think any one of us can predict the synagogues of tomorrow.  Yet we all recognize the need to evolve.   To break away from the status quo, our traditional structures for committees and leadership need to be transformed to allow for grassroots initiatives.  We need to become more comfortable with trying out uncomfortable ideas.  We must ask more questions, and listen more carefully to those on the fringes of our communities in order to identify and then address their needs.

How can we ensure that young children remain engaged in the Jewish community in the 21st century?   

Most of us can probably trace our involvement back to particular positive Jewish experiences.  For me, USY provided that foundation as the first opportunity I had to build relationships and memories beyond the classroom or sanctuary.   We need to make sure that our buildings are more than just the places that our kids get dropped off for religious school and services.  Our children should feel at home there, excited to attend because they get to see their friends and have fun.  USY, Kadima, Birthright, Jewish camps, and other similar experiences are key parts to fulfilling this need, but we need to continue expanding these opportunities for positive experiences.   Of course, if we want our kids to be engaged we need to make sure that their parents are engaged as well!

What excites you most about Judaism and its future?   

Jewish tradition is filled with rituals that create meaning in our lives, from the everyday to the big moments.  As we spend more time looking beyond our inner circles, I’m excited to see both how our traditions enhance the lives of those newly engaged and how these fresh perspectives can enhance our traditions.


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