This piece was originally posted in the Providence Monthly.
Highlighting Rabbi Elan Babchuck, Seminary Leadership Project alum
What he does:
Rabbi, Temple Emanu-El on the East Side since 2012
Why we like him:
- Young, dynamic clergyman reinvigorating a temple that turns 90 this year.
- Has a background as both a community organizer and an entrepreneur.
- Holds an MBA in nonprofit management.
- Uses both the outreach techniques of a community organizer (“Meeting people where they are” is a favorite phrase of his) and the marketing savvy of a business professional to re-engage the congregation.
Why he’s different:
“For a long time religious organizations have asked the question, ‘How can you help us?’ The rubric has been using people to build Jewish organizations – what I’m interested in is leveraging Jewish organizations to build people.”
- Temple Emanu-El is instituting a change in its membership model from the traditional assessed dues model to a voluntary contribution.
- Babchuck is responsible for the marketing of this campaign, which has brought over 30 new families to the temple since June.
“If we’re asking people to come to us, pay our institutions, and then do only what we allow them and tell them to do, religion will be a bankrupt business. But if we’re meeting people where they are – geographically and existentially, getting to know what makes them tick, finding out what they desire in life, engaging them with the rich wisdom that our religions offer, and giving them space to grow within that framework, then we’ll not only survive – we’ll thrive.”
- Babchuck created a first of its kind in RI prayer service and group for families and children with special needs; is now in talks with a national Jewish organization to use it as a pilot for other synagogues around the country.
Why this matters:
Religious organizations of all stripes around the state are losing membership and fighting to remain relevant in their communities. Babchuck represents a new way of doing that that’s more in tune with the wants and needs of a younger generation.
“Churches and synagogues used to sustain themselves simply by existing. People would knock on their doors… These days, religious communities need to work outside the boundaries of their buildings to provide value-added experiences and opportunities for folks. We need to meet people where they are, not expect them to come to us.”