Alma Schneider has been to, and even planned, plenty of concerts at local churches. But the Montclair resident and founder of Parents Who Rock, a not-for-profit that organizes benefit concerts, had never been to one at a synagogue.
On Feb. 8, that will change, when Parents Who Rock will hold their next concert, a fund-raiser for Garden State Equality, at Bnai Keshet, the Montclair synagogue where Schneider happens to be a member.
The concert, “Elvis Is in the Building. Or Is It Elvis?,” will feature local bands interpreting the music of Elvis Presley and Elvis Costello. A handful of the 25 performers that night, including Adam Leboz, Aliza Mattensen, Paul Ruderman, and Rabbi Daniel Brenner, are members of Bnai Keshet.
All proceeds will benefit Garden State Equality, the LGBT advocacy group.
“Parents Who Rock is a terrific Montclair institution,” said Bnai Keshet’s Rabbi Elliott Tepperman. “They consistently help to raise funds and awareness for tzedaka that aligns with our values. As an LGBT-friendly synagogue we have been supporters of Garden State Equality, who will be benefited by this particular concert, for years.”
He added, “It was a simple decision once we saw that the space was available. We are happy to support this event.”
Schneider said she had reservations about doing the event at the synagogue “because churches host non-religious events more than synagogues seem to,” she said. “I was hoping that having the event at the synagogue would not lead people to believe that we were raising money for a Jewish cause.”
She thought of Bnai Keshet because of its size — PWR events were growing out of smaller venues — and the synagogue was available. “Bnai Keshet likes good causes and social action, so I thought it would be a no-brainer,” she said.
It’s not the first time the Reconstructionist synagogue has hosted outside groups. The congregation has provided space either at cost or free of charge to organizations or events whose message is in line with its values, including the Save Darfur Coalition and the Rachel Coalition, the local group that supports victims of domestic abuse.
Tepperman thought having the concert in his synagogue will reap other benefits, such as “bringing community members into the building who might not otherwise visit,” Tepperman said. “If it works out that someone comes to the PWR event and it helps build a positive association with our community that one day leads to them coming again, we would be delighted.”
It’s the kind of strategy he’s already employed outside the synagogue — such as when he meets area Jews “where they are.” Earlier this year, Bnai Keshet held a community Hanukka celebration in downtown Montclair, complete with a teen battle of the bands.
Welcoming outsiders to the synagogue and holding events outside the synagogue walls are known to engage unaffiliated Jews who are intimidated by Jewish institutions. Tepperman recalled several non-members who then joined the congregation because they had come to the synagogue for an event — either Jewish or not specifically so — over the years.
“I can say for sure that our open door policy on the Yamim Noraim [High Holy Days] has led to many congregants joining,” he said.