Reform Judaism

Selling Judaism

For a long time, the perception has been that marketing and Judaism are like oil and water — they just don’t mix.  Active outreach was seen as seedy at best and, at worst, as a violation of our value not to proselytize. Now, necessity has forced us to leap over that intellectual hurdle. If people aren’t coming to us, we must go to them. The question for our day is not if to market, it’s how to market.

In seminary I read an article that stayed with me. It was a list of all of the things rabbis should not be. Don’t be a therapist. Don’t be a maintenance professional. Don’t be a CEO. Don’t be a marketer. Well, I’ve acted in all of these roles at times and I think the reality is that those of us who are passionately driven to pursue the perpetuation of our congregations must improve at all of these skills for ourselves and our professional staffs. So here we go, here are some things I’ve learned (and actually grown to love) along the way about marketing Judaism.

Clip art is not art

These cut-and-paste cartoons are inexpensive and fast. When potential participants see images that were grabbed from online without much thought, they see just that — a rushed, under-resourced experience.  An image says it all: the lack of connection with our target audience and the lack of resources (or knowledge) to hire a marketer.  When we use clip art or other sub-professional tools, we weaken our brand and diminish the seriousness and depth of our offerings. Cheap marketing suggests cheap content.

Social media requires skill and strategy

In 2011 I was asked to increase the level of millennial participation at Shabbat services at my synagogue.  I used social media but did not understand the mechanism behind the machine. After working in depth on the content and structure of the program, I got a crash course in social media. The sites themselves often teach you how.  If you can afford to consult with a marketing professional, even better. Now we have 200+ millennials at our services on the regular. Thank you Jewish marketing!

Animation is not for children only

I was an animation snob. I thought that cartoons were for kids. In fact, I had become so sensitized to the kitschy images that the Jewish non-for-profit world seems to love, I bristled when a colleague suggested an animated “explainer video” for our new at-home religious school program. This was supposed to be a serious offering. A high-level, in depth attempt at improving Jewish education. It was a project I had thought about, researched, imagined, designed, and focus-grouped for months. Could a cartoon convey all of that to our community? Check it out for yourself, what do you think?

Rabbis put so much effort into our sermons, as we should. But how can we put countless hours into our sermons and only a moment into getting people to hear what we have to say? The word is powerful and always will be, but marketing is one word that we cannot afford to see as dirty. It is necessary and must be embraced. Those of us with a sense of vision should ensure that our marketing matches our message.

Rabbi Diana Fersko serves Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City.