Even if a 20-something professional attends the High Holiday Wine Tasting event, has a few drinks, acquires tickets for Rosh Hashanah, attends services — but then doesn't join any congregation, the event is not a waste of time for a synagogue, said Michael Meketon of Congregation Levy Ha-Ir.
"At that age, I didn't really care about affiliation," said Meketon, 48, a past president of Levy Ha-Ir. "They're going to have to get their feet wet, and you just want them to begin thinking about affiliating."
The annual wine tasting sponsored by several local groups catering to young Jewish professionals, which occurred this year on Sept. 5, was, in effect, a sort of speed dating for synagogues. Guests moved among a dozen or so tables inside Dorrance Hamilton Hall on South Broad Street and quizzed congregants and leadership about what makes their shul attractive in Philadelphia's crowded field. For congregations, the gathering was an opportunity to tell their stories and offer interested guests free or discounted Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur tickets so they might attend a service.
The networking was valuable for congregations such as Levy Ha-Ir, which meets at the Philadelphia Ethical Society on Rittenhouse Square, and other groups that don't have their own buildings.
Because we are so small, we don't have much market saturation, Meketon said. The wine tasting "helps people who are looking for a synagogue to know we exist."
Warren Hoffman, a co-founder of Heymish Minyan, said the wine tasting allows his group to reach young professionals, which is its target demographic. The traditional egalitarian minyan meets monthly, rotating among different members' homes.
"We always get new people from this event," said Hoffman, who also is senior director of programming at the Gershman Y.
Not everyone was there looking for holiday tickets or a new synagogue. Tina Miller, 22, grew up just outside of Philadelphia and recently returned to the city after college. She is serving on a board that is organizing a young professionals group at Har Zion Temple on the Main Line and was not attending the wine tasting to find a new congregation.
"I haven't been living here, so socially, I'm just trying to get connected back to the Jewish community," Miller said.
Organizers of the gathering — which included the Renaissance Group of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Collaborative, among others — had not charged for the event in past years but changed that policy this year. The event also moved from the Gershman Y where it had been held in past years to nearby Dorrance Hamilton Hall.
"When people are paying for something, there's more value in it for them," said Molly Wernick, project director at the Collaborative, a Jewish young professionals organization.
Ken Krivitzky, executive director of Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El, said that while he would like to attract new members to his synagogue, he is more interested in "creating relationships." He used the example of a young person living in the city who might not want to make the trip to Beth Hillel in Wynnewood.
"I'm here to talk about our synagogue," Krivitzky said. If someone was "looking for a place to go in the city, I'm going to help them find a place."