Community Planning Committee lays groundwork for the future

By Stephanie Smartschan
JFLV Director of Community Development & Operations

The Lehigh Valley’s many Jewish organizations are looking to the future -- together.

Over the past year, a small committee of community leaders has begun taking a look at the opportunities and challenges our community faces, and thinking about how to facilitate information exchange, idea sharing and active collaboration among different organizations to address them.

The response was enthusiastic in February as that committee convened a brunch attended by the leadership of all local Jewish agencies, synagogues, Hillels and outreach organizations to begin to assess needs and share best practices. 

“I really strongly feel that we have an opportunity that few other towns and cities have,” said Dr. Peter Fisher, who is co-chairing the Community Planning Committee with Dr. Israel Zighelboim. “We’re all involved with each other, and I think what we have the opportunity to do here is really look at ways that we can pool resources, talents, expertise, facilities and whatever else we can do together to eliminate redundancy, become incredibly efficient at what we do and leverage all of the skill sets that we have across the board in the community.”

The leaders discussed ways that community organizations are already collaborating from programming like the JCC-JDS vacation camp and shared Shabbatons, to resources for things like security and marketing.

“I felt a lot of energy in the room,” Zighelboim said. “People seemed really engaged in the discussion we had and that we’re embarking on a path that is not owned by an individual agency, but is meant to be a collaborative effort.”

After the brunch, each organization was asked to fill out an extensive survey to assess their own needs and challenges. The committee will then review the data and set up individual meetings with each organization before the whole group convenes again.

“Once you start scratching the surface, there are obviously many places where people can collaborate,” Fisher said. “The CPC committee will facilitate those conversations, bring knowledge and data and opportunities to the table, but each agency is going to figure it out for themselves what it is that makes sense for them at this point in time.”

As our community faces some of the same challenges experienced by other Jewish communities, including a decrease in membership and dollars along with changing demographics, “people see this as a time of true need,” Zighelboim said.

“The models in which different agencies work and become successful are very different from what they used to be in the past,” he said.