The Synagogue-Federation Partnership

Spotlight on Shomrei Torah

Twenty years ago, Congregation Shomrei Torah in Santa Rosa was a small, part-time congregation of 150 families. They didn’t have a permanent space, holding services instead in a local Methodist church, and they had only just welcomed their first fulltime rabbi, Rabbi George Gittleman. Today, Shomrei Torah boasts a membership of 450 families and a beautiful building that was dedicated on April 29, 2007, after a tremendously successful fundraising campaign.

Shomrei Torah is one of numerous synagogues in the Bay Area to benefit from the Synagogue-Federation Partnership. Through this program, the Federation offers synagogues the opportunity to work with consultants on specific projects aimed toward their continued development.

Irv Rothenberg

As part of Shomrei Torah’s fundraising campaign for their building, their intention had been to set aside 10% as an endowment fund that would maintain the building throughout future years. Unfortunately, this initial intention was not realized. Irv Rothenberg, longtime board member and member of the Endowment Gifts and Giving committee, lamented the slow progress, “because the building has to be maintained somehow.” When the Federation developed their Synagogue-Federation Partnership, Irv said that Shomrei Torah realized that “this was exactly what we needed to create a separate endowment that would be there in perpetuity and would feed the general budget money every year to help maintain the building.” The Federation assigned Shomrei Torah a coach who trained the Endowment committee in how to develop a legacy-giving program.

"The Federation was extremely helpful in getting us started and focused on doing this,” added Irv. In the first year, the committee successfully recruited almost 20 families to participate in legacy giving. The second year, they reached almost 50, and by the end of the third year they were at almost 70 families. Irv emphasized that, “without the coaching I don’t think we ever would have established the program as successfully as we did.”

Rabbi George Gittleman

Following the success of this first coaching project, the Federation encouraged Shomrei Torah to take advantage of the Synagogue-Federation Partnership for other projects. Rabbi George Gittleman worked with the Federation to develop a project in which a coach would work with Shomrei Torah “to understand who we are when we’re at our best, and to cull from that some basic principles and create a values statement so that we could institutionalize the things that make us successful as a congregation.”

The Federation connected Shomrei Torah with Beth Cousens, a consultant who works with synagogues and organizations on program development, facilitation and evaluation. Together, they organized four meetings with past and current leadership of the synagogue. Rabbi Gittleman recalled that, “Beth helped us figure out what we really were going to do. We planned four meetings together and she helped lead all four of them.”

Beth Cousens

Beth used various approaches in each of the four sessions. She explained that, “in one, we used a facilitation technique called ‘appreciative inquiry,’ which asks the question: when have you been at your best? So we were able to use ideas from that to answer the question: what’s really great about Shomrei Torah?”

Rabbi Gittleman reflected that, upon posing this question to the congregation, Shomrei Torah learned that “we are at our best when we connect one person to another, when we meaningfully touch someone during the life cycle, when we create positive change in the community through social justice work. But, mostly, the core is that we’re at our best when we’re connecting people to one another.”

Rabbi Gittleman added that, “Another area of success is that the congregation is not very hierarchical. People felt a sense of gratitude and fulfillment for the congregation when they were able to affect a program or take charge and make something happen in the congregation. That was a positive, as there are a number of program engines in the congregation and they function without a lot of supervision, but the downside of that is that they’re not connected to each other.”

With the information that came out of these sessions, Rabbi Gittleman said that Shomrei Torah is “now planning a series of community conversations just to connect people. We’re also planning a retreat in the spring where the leaders of all the committees will get together to talk about what they’re planning for the year ahead.”

As a result of the coaching offered through the Synagogue-Federation partnership, Rabbi Gittleman is confident that the way forward will be “a big shift for us.”

To learn more about the Synagogue-Federation Partnership, visit our website or contact Rabbi Marvin Goodman at or 415.512.2660.


November 15, 2015


Noa Silver