At a conference held last month on how to make congregations more welcoming, Rabbi Philip Warmflash was heartened to see that more than 250 leaders from 42 area synagogues had come to learn what they could do to make their congregations more amenable. The event was put together by his organization, the Jewish Outreach Partnership, where he serves as executive director.
Now, the rabbi has even more reason to be proud: He is one of this year's recipients of the Covenant Award, which recognizes outstanding Jewish educators in North America.
The conference "was really a moment when so much came together," said Warmflash. "The 'bershertness' of the Covenant Award and the conference coming at the same time was an enhancement to both."
The winners of the Covenant Award receive $25,000 -- with no strings attached -- said Harlene Appelman, executive director of the Covenant Foundation.
The award's message to the recipient is simple, she noted: "You're a role model, and you're outstanding."
The foundation chooses three award recipients a year, who are nominated by their colleagues throughout the national community. The nominees submit portfolios of their work and statements of purpose, which are followed by site visits by the foundation before the final decisions are made.
In addition, $5,000 will be given to the Jewish Outreach Partnership in Philadelphia.
The initial applications, as well as the ultimate decisions, are scrutinized via an intense peer-review process.
The New York-based Covenant Foundation has been recognizing Jewish educators for the past 17 years, with the support of the billionaire-philanthropist Crown family.
"It's very easy to point out what's wrong," added Appelman. "Our goal is to show what's right, what's terrific, what could be emulated," and to train a spotlight on groundbreaking people in Jewish education.
"Rabbi Warmflash is a change agent," she said, who is able "to see the good -- the real positive energy in an organization -- and help that to grow."
'Desire to Help'
For Warmflash, the award is "a culmination and a commencement," he revealed, a recognition of the past and a springboard to future development.
The work of the Jewish Outreach Partnership is "work that other communities can learn from," he said, including in-home family education, synagogue consultation services and outreach to unaffiliated Jews.
The rabbi pointed out that the work of his organization "really grows from my desire and the desire of this agency to help Jews -- to help seekers -- find ways into the Jewish community."
Reaching into the community involves using Jewish education as a stepping stone to present other ways for individuals to get involved in Jewish life, he explained.
"We needed to find a way to continue the journey," he added.
Clearly, the rabbi has found a "real synergy" between the Covenant Award and the work accomplished at the recent conference: To maximize the effectiveness of outreach, synagogues must be much more welcoming.
Staying local is a key for the rabbi, as the strong attendance at the conference proved to him.
In strengthening Jewish life, the importance of having a local address, and a committed staff for synagogues to consult with, is critical, he said, in order to build "meaningful communities."