I’m excited to announce the launch of the first ever Very Forward Guide to American Synagogues.
This project is unlike anything we’ve done before: a crowd-sourced compilation of data that will serve as a resource to readers nationwide and offer synagogues of all shapes, sizes and denominations a chance to share their story. It’s a project that could only happen now that the Forward’s digital reach and capacity have grown dramatically. And it’s a project that can only happen with your participation.
This has been months in the planning and years in the dreaming. I’ve long wanted our website to serve as a clearinghouse for the basic information about synagogue life across this country, from older, established institutions to newer independent minyanim and spiritual communities. Even though many synagogues face challenges and struggles — to maintain buildings, retain congregants, reclaim a spiritual center — others are thriving in unusual venues, reimagining what it means to be a place of prayer, learning and community in the 21st century.
We want to hear all these stories, told directly from the people who are experiencing them. So if you work in a synagogue, or are a lay leader, or just really love the place, take a few minutes to fill out this survey below.
We’re talking tachlis here — with questions about synagogue membership, languages spoken in prayer, length of the service, role of women, access for the disabled, the dress code on Shabbat, and so on. We’re not asking you to rate the rabbi’s sermon, but we do want to know whether it’s available online.
These questions were compiled by Forward staff members, led by our lifestyles editor Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, who is something of an expert on synagogues since she’s married to a rabbi (and the daughter-in-law of one, too.) We received useful guidance from Dr. Pearl Beck, the veteran surveyor and evaluator of Jewish life. All answers will be verified by the Forward.
Our goal is to publish the guide this summer, and continually update it through the year. Highlights will appear in our monthly magazine, too.
As an added incentive, the first 50 respondents will receive a free three-month digital subscription to the Forward (or an extra three months if you are already a subscriber.)
This is a grassroots effort, designed to present an authentic picture of a cornerstone of American Jewish life as a resource to our readers. And if you want to kvell about what makes your synagogue special, there’s room for that, too!
We look forward to working together with you on this project.
Help Us Create The Forward Guide To American Synagogues
Jane Eisner, a pioneer in journalism, is writer-at-large at the Forward and the 2019 Koeppel Fellow in Journalism at Wesleyan University. For more than a decade, she was editor-in-chief of the Forward, the first woman to hold the position at the influential Jewish national news organization. Under her leadership, the Forward’s digital readership grew significantly, and won numerous regional and national awards for its original journalism, in print and online.