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The Coffee Philosophy: Building an Intentionally-Welcoming Community

April 28, 2020

I know I am not alone when I say that I have been suffering a case of the Pandemic Blues. You know, the reason why it takes all your energy to complete a normally simple task and the reason why it takes hours to muster up that motivation and energy in the first place? As a Jewish communal professional working on a small team that makes a big impact, that intrinsic motivation is essential, especially as we work to bring our community and our programming into the virtual world. When you feel like your energy reserves are constantly depleted, it’s hard to maintain that intrinsic motivation, and the feeling of being behind only perpetuates the cycle. 

Last week, I had a virtual meeting that brought me out of the fog and reminded me why I love what I do and why our community at The Well is so important. 

At The Well, our professional team holds hundreds of “coffee dates” per year. These are one-on-one meetings between a staff member and a community member, where our only goal is to build a relationship. From there, we are better equipped to help plug that individual into our community, whether that’s connecting them with one of our many curated microcommunities we call “Shared Interest Groups”, or simply suggesting an upcoming event that’s relevant to their interests. Taking the time to hold these one-on-one conversations and develop relationships with the people in our community is absolutely vital to the success of The Well – I’d say it’s part of our secret sauce. For us, these coffee dates are simply a part of our daily work routines; I couldn’t imagine working for The Well without doing them. 

So, when I got an email from a colleague at another organization connecting me with a young woman looking for a Rosh Chodesh circle, I reflexively told her that I’d like to find some time for us to virtually meet and get to know each other, so I could figure out the best folks to connect her to. A few days later, we met up on Zoom, and after a great conversation, she expressed how grateful (and maybe a little surprised) she was that I took the time to speak with her individually and actually get to know her. When I explained that I was not only happy to do it, but that we did the same for hundreds of people per year, she was shocked. This naturally led to a deeper conversation about The Well’s philosophies for holistic community building, where I explained that we like to focus on “life stage” (rather than age alone), and hope that by building a relationship with each community member, we’ll be able to meet them where they are and help give them or connect them to what they need – spiritually, Jewishly, intellectually, socially, and communally. 

Intrigued, she then asked “okay, but how do you keep up with all that for so many people?” A valid question. At first, I joked “a very, very complicated spreadsheet.” But really, I explained, the community does a lot of that work itself. Say I have coffee with someone new to the community and then invite them to our next event. At the event, I’ll try to introduce them to someone I think they’d get along with. That could be another new person, or perhaps one of our board members or longtime lay leaders; anyone that is able to spark a conversation that lets them know, “We’re excited you’re here, and there’s something here for you”. From there, any number of things can happen, and they do. You could leave that event with an invitation to Shabbat dinner, a reminder in your calendar for the next event, or simply a new Facebook friend. All it takes is one solid connection to open the door to a whole community of people, experiences, and opportunities. 

When you’re so deeply immersed in an environment, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s right in front of you. Explaining the depth and dedication of the Detroit Jewish community to someone who is just about to experience it for the first time reminded me how dynamic, welcoming, and resilient this community really is. It also reminded me how lucky I am to work for an organization within the Metro Detroit Jewish community, in particular one that champions inclusion, intention, and innovation. Even in uncertain and often frustrating times, The Well’s community has shown up and supported each other, and found creative and new ways to stay connected. I know that when we’re able to gather in person again, the same will be true.

In a few short months, The Well will encounter our largest organizational transition yet. Our Founding Director, Rabbi Dan Horwitz, will be taking on a new challenge as the CEO of the Alper JCC in Miami, and we’ll be welcoming Rabbi Jeff Stombaugh of Mishkan Chicago as our new Executive Director. This transition not only marks our most significant leadership change, but the beginning of a new chapter as The Well also celebrates our fifth anniversary and moves into our sixth programming year. Things will change, I have no doubt, but I do know that one thing will stay the same. While individual community members may come and go and programming will change and develop, our community will be here. No matter where I turn, I know there will be people who see me for who I am, listen to understand where I’m coming from, Jewishly and communally, and want me to know that there’s a place for me here – and we’ll continue to do the same for them.

Marisa Meyerson is the Operations Manager of The Well.