The city of Omaha has 6,000 Jews of which less than 2% attend synagogue on any given Shabbos morning. That is not a healthy statistic for any Jewish community.
As I mentioned in a recent op ed for the Omaha Jewish Press, the most authoritative polling institute for religious life is the Pew Research Center. Without rattling off any statistics, the very fact that they call themselves the PEW center tells us that PEWs - those benches that we have in Synagogues - are a reliable indicator of a communities vitality. The JEW to PEW ratio in Omaha does not speak well for our community.
I chose the synagogue business as a career path because I have always believed, and continue to believe, that shuls build community. When people go to shul they become more educated Jews, more passionate Jews, and more caring Jews.
When people don't go to shul their Torah knowledge suffers, they become detached from the needs of the community, and they become apathetic and start to wonder why we need a Jewish community in the first place.
I love the Omaha Jewish community. I have dedicated the last ten years of my life to helping strengthen this community, and I believe that this wonderful community has great potential. But if we are going to ensure the future of our community we need to come back to shul.
So to meet the needs of our community we are completely revamping our Shabbos morning format and introducing GOOD SHABBOS NEBRASKA! (check it out at www.goodshabbosnebraska.com)
The pulpit format has had its time. Today people want a format that talks with them - not at them. So we are opening up our prime time Shabbos morning slot, and instead of a pulpit - a desk, chairs, and a coffee mug. Instead of a sermon - an opening monologue.
And most important instead of the same thing every week - special guests every Shabbos. Our first guest is going to be America's Rabbi - the one and only - Shmuley Boteach!
Shmuley is the perfect guest for our new initiative. He is certainly no stranger to the talk show format. He has been a regular on Oprah and he hosted his own television show -Shalom in the Home - on TLC. He will definitely make for a great speaker.
Shmuley is not just coming as a speaker. Just like on Shalom in the Home Shumley is coming here as a consultant. He is probably the most creative Rabbi in the world. Good Shabbos Nebraska is a great concept, but to get it off the ground and change the culture of our community we are going to need the input of someone who know how to create systemic change. And nobody does that better than Shmuley!
As I write this, Shmuley is sitting with Elie Wiesel and the president of Rwanda running a program in New York City on Genocide that will no doubt inspire tens of thousands of people to take action and try and affect the terrible situation in Syria.
Shmuley knows how to inspire people to action. And Omaha's Jewish community needs action!
My modest goal is to see synagogue attendance in Omaha increase to 4% of our Jewish community - a 100% increase - over the next year. It may not seem like much, but it is a start, and we have to start somewhere.
So come out every week at 10 am to Beth Israel. This week Shmuley Boteach, and every subsequent week we are going to have A list guests learning Torah and speaking on contemporary, relevant, and interesting Jewish topics. Check out the full line up at www.goodshabbosnebraska.com or like our facebook page for regular updates.
Omaha Jews, come back to shul. Learn the Torah, learn the needs of the community, and understand the uniqueness and importance of being Jewish so we can pass down a substantive and meaningful tradition to our children.