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02/01/2023 09:28:00 AM


Karen Wisialowski, Chief Community Officer

Rabbi Feder often reminds me that “community” is my middle name. As Chief Community Officer, I often reflect on the why and the how of community. With membership in faith institutions across the world declining (PTS is no exception), I also think about what it means to be a part of a synagogue community. Why is it important?

I have been a joiner my whole life. As a teen, it was NFTY and school government. As an adult, I joined parent teacher organizations, book clubs, and PTS. The groups that have nurtured me most were the ones where we had a joint purpose. A sense of belonging was the natural outcome. 

Tracy Brower, Ph.D., sociologist and the author of The Secrets to Happiness at Work, states that “belonging is more than just being part of a group. Belonging is also critically tied to social identity — a set of shared beliefs or ideals.” For me, belonging is about being a part of something bigger than myself, something important, and something that creates a feeling of comfort and home.

It turns out that these social connections do more than help us feel good at the moment. According to a Harvard study1 of health and aging, “embracing community helps us live longer, and be happier.” That is no small thing. The study found that “close relationships are what keep people happy throughout their lives, and these relationships with family, friends, and community delay mental and physical decline.”

The Mayo Clinic also reports that our sense of belonging is closely connected to our physical and mental health2. “The social ties that accompany a sense of belonging are a protective factor helping manage stress and other behavioral issues.”

I LOVE that belonging feels good and is good for you!

Every January, millions of people make resolutions to eat healthier and exercise more. Sure, these are important. But, choosing to belong is easier than any diet and, as we have learned, is a key to long-term health and happiness.

So, how do we achieve belonging? Belonging is not the same as being a member of a group or organization. Belonging is proactive. Belonging requires participation. In my experience as a communal leader, I have observed numerous times how those who treat belonging as an action are often the ones who are the most satisfied. This is why I encourage all new PTS members to find something meaningful or interesting at PTS within their first six months of joining.

Below are my strategies for shifting from membership to belonging, from participation to long-term well-being.

  1. Jump in with both feet. In order to belong, you need to put yourself out there. Even if it’s out of your comfort zone, it’s important to find a program, a class, or a project. Being with others and developing a common goal or shared experience is an essential first step to belonging.
  2. Give before you get. As is true in almost any endeavor, the more one gives, the more one receives. I have felt this keenly in my connections at PTS. Planning for the needs of others helps me build a sense of ownership in my community and, ultimately, a sense of belonging.
  3. Lead with an open heart. A community is by definition made of individual people, each with their own interests and priorities. I believe that our own sense of belonging grows when we are open to others.

Today, I am encouraging our entire community to join me.  Whether you have been at PTS for generations or whether you are new, now is the time for you create for yourself a sense of belonging. 

1Harvard study of health and aging
2Mayo Clinic, Is having a sense of belonging important?


Tue, April 23 2024 15 Nisan 5784