Jewish information service reaches out to synagogues

The phone lines at Jewish Community Information & Referral often ring off the proverbial hook, especially during the holidays. Even so, Director Gail Green and the volunteers have concerns about whom they are missing.

To help find those people, JCI&R is reaching out to local synagogues. The goal is to promote awareness of its services as well as assist congregations with general information and referral requests.

Last year JCI&R, a free and confidential information and referral service of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, fielded questions from more than 6,400 Bay Area callers regarding Jewish services, organizations, activities and businesses.

This year, with a supplemental grant from the JCF's 1997 annual campaign, the agency is furthering its relationship with area synagogues, a need that Green and Kathy Williams, chair of the JCI&R advisory board, identified during a Bay Area Temple Administrators' meeting held last March.

"Because of high visibility in the community, synagogues are often the most prominent resource for information regarding Jewish life," said Green, who is in her second year as JCI&R director. "JCI&R offers services that can complement their work."

Since early September, Judy Musante, who was hired as the synagogue liaison, has been speaking with Bay Area congregations in order to find out how JCI&R can best serve them. "We're working on strategies to effectively target the synagogue communities," she said.

Williams agreed. "We absolutely need to have synagogue involvement in this liaison program to hear their voice and make sure that we are providing what we have a need for," she said.

While some synagogues access JCI&R regularly, of the 22 congregations represented at the BATA meeting held in March, only half were aware of the service, which has been operational for over a decade, Musante reported.

Green and Musante want to help synagogues by serving as an adjunct to front-desk staff who often do not have the time to deal with complicated questions not directly relevant to synagogue business. In turn, synagogues will let callers know about JCI&R and publicize the service in their newsletters.

Marci Levy, who is on the staff at Temple Kol Shofar in Tiburon, said, "We are understaffed, and it becomes difficult for us to answer all the questions we are inundated with. For future reference, I tell everyone I speak with about JCI&R."

The outreach program will increase efficiency and minimize a duplication of services, noted Levy.

Another temple administrator told of a call she received from an interfaith couple looking for a rabbi to marry them. While she was willing and interested in helping this couple find the appropriate rabbi, she said that it took her more than two weeks to do the needed research.

JCI&R can field such calls more efficiently.

JCI&R volunteers have a wealth of general information on Jewish life in the Bay area, from where to purchase a challah to dates of upcoming holidays, scholarships for trips to Israel and resources for aging parents.

"We seek to provide unbiased information and reach out to both affiliated and unaffiliated Jews in the area with a warm ear and a commitment to accurate, up-to-date information," Green said.