The Temple’s Café – Java Nagila
Rabbi Lydia Medwin
Director of Congregational Engagement and Outreach
The Temple, Atlanta, GA
Before we began our relational engagement campaign at The Temple, there was a beautiful room directly off the main lobby, with a big glass wall next to the front door. In previous iterations of Temple life, it had functioned as a treasured Sisterhood-run gift shop. But as with so many brick and mortar stores, it was no longer serving its main purpose and, because of its prime location, we began to re-imagine the space.
When a community has set its sights on becoming more relational, one of the first questions we might ask is not just “how” people will get to know each other but also “where.” Here at The Temple, we found that we needed a space in which people could sit over a cup of coffee and enjoy meaningful conversation. With a modest budget, we worked with a Temple member who specialized in interior design to create a beautiful space in which people could engage with one another.
Java Nagila Cafe has become a hub of activity during our normal business hours as well as religious school hours. It’s the first place you notice when you walk in the front doors…and it has a constant flow of people either coming in to enjoy a warm beverage and meet with friends, or bringing their computer in to do some work while they wait for a student. Our clergy sometimes meet with prospecive members and congregants in the café and there’s even a weekly Mah Jongg game that uses the space. In terms of reaching its goal of providing a space to deepen the sense of community, it’s working.
We are now excited that the space can be used to partner with artists inside our congregation and with partners in the community. Our first display was provided by the JF&CS Developmental Services program, which has under its auspices a program called ArtWORKS, which allows clients with development differences to learn about and create pieces of art. These works of art provided beautiful decoration for our space, raised the profile of the ArtWORKS program, and offered the artists some income, in some cases, the first money they’d ever made. Since then, we’ve established a rotating gallery of art from different amateur Temple artists to inspire and educate our community on various topics. We also donate the tzedakah raised by the coffee each quarter to organizations with whom we are already working in other areas of Temple life as we cross-promote our impact-filled justice work.
In addition, we expanded our library space to have an even more engagement-focused media center. The addition of more chairs and tables allow us to host many more small group conversations and convey the warmth and welcome that an engaged community values.
The old adage, “If you build it, they will come,” remains true but with one condition – as long as they have a beautiful space conducive to spending time with their friends. With Java Nagila Cafe and spaces like it, we can build engagement into the very architecture of our institutions.