I’m in Jerusalem at the moment and, while doing some touring in the Old City, I visited the site of the 4 Sefardic synagogues (see the bottom of the map). In this relatively small space, there are 4 ancient synagogues in one structure. Several of them are still functional, too. As I wasn’t there during prayer services, I can’t tell you how much interaction each of the different communities have with one another. But this ancient space inspired me to think about how we might use Jewish physical spaces more creatively, especially in these tight economic times.
The conventional wisdom is that the Jewish community has more real estate than it needs. In some geographical regions, especially in areas which have declining or mobile Jewish populations, the conventional wisdom is probably correct. Buildings are costly to maintain and are a drag on synagogue and organizational budgets. Despite this reality, people often feel strong attachments to physical space, because they are bound up with memories of the passage of time and milestone events. For others, it’s about flexing their bricks and mortar machismo, as in the “my building is better than your building” attitude. Still, others have difficulty disentangling how you can have a thriving community without a building.
The good news is that like this ancient space of the 4 Sefardic synagogues, I’m hearing more stories of organizations sharing space: synagogues of different denominations moving into one space, multiple organizations sharing one building, and a mix of Jewish and secular organizations sharing space.
The next step, which a few of these organizations are taking, is examining together how to create new possibilities of programming, administration and human and capital resource development. This is a welcome phenomenon and offers nonprofits ways to think about financial savings and better service at the same time.
In the next week, I’ll be writing about the issue of collaborations, mergers and other strategies for achieving these goals. (If you want to read about this topic now, you can go to a story covered in eJewishphilanthropy.com.) So here’s a question that I can use your help with: what examples of creatively sharing space do you know of? Where in your community do you see potential for doing so?
Thanks for growing this area of knowledge and to my Jewish readers, I wish you a meaningful Passover holiday (chag sameach).
Rabbi Hayim Herring