Community Building with Dr. Sarale Shadmi-Wortman

Last month, more than a dozen Bay Area Jewish institutions participated in individual community building sessions with distinguished Israeli expert Dr. Sarale Shadmi-Wortman, a renowned scholar and head of the Community Building Department at the Shdemot Center for Community Leadership Development at Oranim College in Israel. Sarale designed each strategic session to support our partners’ capacity to build community through their work. The sessions ranged in size and scope, representing the full spectrum and diversity of our unique Jewish community. Sarale’s visit was funded by Varda Rabin, a tireless advocate for building Jewish community in the Bay Area, and the Federation’s partner in this work.

Dr. Sarale Shadmi-Wortman

The practice of community building employs methodologies that knit people together through Jewish experiences and content, and is key to a thriving Jewish community. Sometimes communities emerge naturally, but more often than not in our fragmented, individualistic culture, they must be structured through intentional group experiences that incorporate Jewish values, traditions, or learning and create a lasting sense of belonging. As Sarale teaches, people will come for the “what” but they’ll stay for the “who.”

Rabbi Noa Kushner, the founding rabbi of The Kitchen, shared that “Sarale’s visit with us was nothing less than transformative. We were already interested in building lateral, small group connections at The Kitchen and had started by focusing on finding areas of common interest between Kitchen-ites. We learned that the goal is not just to connect people around an area of interest but to each other. In fact, we are thinking of The Kitchen overall now in a different way – as a place where our role is to connect people to Torah and each other.”

San Francisco synagogues Chevra Thilim and Adath Israel participated in a joint session for their boards of directors. Rabbi Joel Landau of Adath Israel noted that, “over the course of the session, Sarale enabled the board members to see their job and the purpose of a synagogue from a totally new perspective. The group appreciated that the focus of the synagogue needs to be far broader than just a place that provides religious services. Every shul event or service has to have a community building aspect to it. It has to foster people opening up to each other, getting to know each other, and respecting each other. The closer people come to each other the stronger the community becomes. People might come for a service but they'll stay (and come back) for the community.”

Community building has also been a powerful vehicle for change in Israeli society. Sarale took part in the Federation’s Irving Rabin Community Building Mission to Israel in the spring of 2016, where she formed lasting relationships with leaders from 24 Bay Area Jewish organizations. The connections that began in Israel sparked a commitment to developing this approach within our local community. In partnership with Varda Rabin, who generously sponsored the mission, the Federation is focused on elevating community building with our partners. These latest consultations are a follow-up to Sarale’s first visit to the Bay Area, during which she led large-scale workshops to ignite the conversation about how community building can strengthen our work.

We are thankful to our partners for engaging in this important work, and look forward to continuing on our path together. For more information on the Federation’s work around community building and collaboration, contact Wendy Verba, Senior Program Officer, at


February 03, 2017