Home » Jewish Community and Relationships » After ‘welcoming’, it’s all about the relationships

After ‘welcoming’, it’s all about the relationships

The Jewish Education Project
The Jewish Education Project is a beneficiary of UJA-Federation of New York

Shariee Calderone

Hot off the presses – I have a copy of Dr. Ron Wolfson’s new book, Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community. Ron Wolfson is a powerful speaker, visionary and thinker, but above all he’s a mensch and a good friend to all he meets. Never will you sit next to him without his asking if you’re ok or if your needs are being met, and he truly wants to hear your story.

book cover 2In the very beginning of the book he states, “My father taught me how to begin a relationship with a stranger. He was the kind of guy who got onto an elevator on the first floor, engaged you in conversation, and by the time you reached the sixth floor of the building, he knew your story and you certainly knew his.”

This reminds me of Julie Wiener’s keynote address at one of our regional conferences for early childhood educators and leaders back in October of 2010. Julie, who is the Associate Editor of The New York Jewish Week, spoke from a more personal voice and shared her experience visiting with, and then selecting, a Jewish preschool for her daughter. Reflecting on the process ,Julie challenged the audience of Jewish professionals to consider whether enough steps were being taken to get to know, really know, the families who were walking through their doors and joining their various school communities. She described it then as a ‘missed opportunity’.

Ron Wolfson takes that sentiment one step further saying, “We have failed to develop deep relationships with many of the individuals who come into our midst”.  Is he right? I don’t know. He certainly gives enough poor examples to chew on. But at the same time he’s able to leave the door open to possibility – to invite you in to conversation, and into the challenge of what we need to do next. Although his book is not from the lens of early childhood, the question is, are we gong to be at that table? At the front door really, with Ron, as he invites us all to consider The Nine Levels of Relationship, the Six Case Studies of success that are offered, and the Twelve Principles of Relational Engagement to help us take our next steps. I hope that we are. Below is just one way to view how friendships are formed. It’s Ron’s window in and it begins with telling each other your own story not unlike his father did in elevators….

THE THIRD LEVEL: Bayn Adam L’Haveiro – Friends

… “In my own work with Jewish institutions, I hear the same answer when I ask why people stay involved in the organizations: relationships with others. In synagogues, the friends with whom you raised your kids, the friends with whom you work on projects, the friends with whom you study and worship, the friends who are there to support you in good times and bad – these are the people who, besides family, are your closest relations. In the JCC, the friends I work out with, the friends with whom I play cards, or basketball, or swim, the parents of the preschool kids – these are the people who keep me coming back.”…

“So, what makes people friends? In my experience, there are five ways we create relationships with friends:

1. When you tell your story to each other

2. When you find commonalities – affinities, life stages, professions, interests

3. When you share experiences together – worship, sing, study, celebrate, travel

4. When you care for each other and are there for each other

5. When you act together – when you volunteer together, when you forward an agenda together

The power of small groups to engage people rests on this fact: the best groups foster friendships.”

Although some of the language here may sound a bit reminiscent of days-long-ago when people valued their community affiliations in a different way, Ron Wolfson is approaching the conversation from a different perspective. This time it’s not just about what the organization can do for you, its figuring out what the families can do for each other. How they, and their relationships, present the best opportunity for creating a culture where the programs are not the means to an end, and the people are.

Click here for one of the first presentations Ron Wolfson prepared as he was developing and researching this project. This one was given at the Rabbinical Convention Assembly last April.

For more information about Ron Wolfson, visionary educator and inspirational speaker, and his newest book, Relational Judaism, visit


1 Comment

  1. Ron Wolfson says:

    Wow, Shairee….thanks for the shout out! I’m thrilled with the response to “Relational Judaism.” Now, we educators and clergy and lay leaders have to do the labor-intensive work of really connecting with our people – welcome them, hear their stories, then build relationships!

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