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KT/Wise Exploration FAQs

With simcha (joy) in our hearts, Kol Tikvah and Stephen Wise Temple announce that we have recently signed a Letter of Intent to discuss potential ways to partner and strengthen Jewish life for our communities and in Los Angeles. 

Our joint goals:

  • To be a model for 21st century Judaism that allows large and small Jewish communities to come together in beneficial ways, thereby enhancing the greater Jewish community
  • To enhance and preserve Jewish life throughout our region by leveraging existing resources including locations and human resources
  • To provide vibrant Jewish parenting, early childhood, and religious education opportunities (K-12) for the Woodland Hills/West Valley area

  • To offer our communities a variety of options for worship, education, and programming in terms of geography, budget, approach, and size 

  • To realize the needs of individuals who seek a smaller community and those who seek a larger one to retain what makes both Kol Tikvah and Wise unique

What’s a Letter of Intent?

Exactly that – our two congregations have signed a letter outlining our intention to work exclusively with one another to explore options for partnership, for a period of up to three years.

“Options for partnership” – what does that mean?

That is exactly the point of the exploration! Many options are on the table: coordinated calendars, joint programming, educational collaboration, administrative consolidation, …

Is Kol Tikvah in trouble?

No! Kol Tikvah is a vibrant congregation that plays a central role in hundreds of families’ lives. But the pandemic has impacted us, like most religious institutions, with a downturn in membership. As Kol Tikvah’s professionals and lay leaders pondered the future of Kol Tikvah as well as the greater Jewish community, we came to the realization that for us to remain viable, we needed to enhance our strengths by joining forces with another community – but in a way that would still allow Kol Tikvah to continue to be our home.

Is Wise in trouble?

Also, no! Larger institutions are able to withstand challenges more easily than small ones, and our schools continually draw younger families to the Wise community. That said, Bel Air and its surrounding neighborhoods are increasingly expensive for young families to afford. The West Valley area is vibrant, and growing with young families seeking Jewish affiliation. Demographically, it is a smart area for Wise to invest in as we envision and work to ensure our future for the long term.

Are the two congregations merging?

Perhaps. After in-depth explorations of all the possibilities during the coming months, an outright merger may surface as the best option for both institutions. But this is not a foregone conclusion, it is rather the purpose of the extended exploration period: to choose the option that is most appropriate for each congregation, individually and collectively.

Who is involved?

The members of the joint committee leading this effort are listed below. The process will entail numerous explorations covering topics such as governance, membership, religious life, education, finance, and administration – to which many more members of both communities will contribute – and we will have opportunities such as focus groups, surveys, town halls, and other mechanisms for input from the greater Kol Tikvah and Wise memberships throughout this process. We are also being guided in this process by expert consultants who literally “wrote the book” on nonprofit strategic alliances, including other synagogues and Jewish institutions.

What’s the timeline?

While we have outlined a three-year period in our Letter of Intent, we do not intend that the process will take that long. We believe the bulk of the exploration will take place in the remainder of 2024 and hope that aspects of our new model – whatever it may be – will be in place for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2025.

What’s in it for Kol Tikvah?

Like most congregations without a preschool, Kol Tikvah is struggling to make its financial picture work. A robust preschool at Kol Tikvah under the auspices of Stephen Wise’s highly regarded Aaron Milken Center will be the draw we need to keep young families affiliating here. The additional programmatic resources of Wise – from its large clergy team to its Centers for Jewish Life and Tikkun Olam, its K-6 day school, robust youth programming and summer camp – all offer almost unlimited possibilities to KT families. 

What’s in it for Wise?

As has been mentioned, the neighborhoods around Wise are pricing many young families out of affiliating with Wise, and for some of our families, having opportunities in the Valley will make their Jewish communal life more accessible. In addition to the creative programming at Kol Tikvah, a smaller venue – and community – will open up numerous possibilities, including exploring different programs and models at lower risk than they would create if applied to a large institution. Kol Tikvah’s programming includes models new to Wise such as the B'nai Mitzvah Revolution, Tzedakah Teens and Senior Outreach. Finally, Kol Tikvah has a beautiful hands-on volunteerism culture that we hope to learn from and develop at Wise.

What's in it for everyone?

Together we can strengthen our larger Jewish community by making each synagogue more vibrant. We can also work together to reopen the early childhood center at Kol Tikvah, which will benefit young Jewish families in the greater Woodland Hills area. And we will model to other synagogues near and far the possibilities and promise of these types of partnerships.

Will my dues go up?

Honestly, it’s too early to tell – but we don’t intend so in the short term. Among the potential benefits of our two communities affiliating is being able to take advantage of economies of scale that should accrue to the benefit of both organizations.

Will my experience change – shabbat, religious education, programming?

In many cases, we hope so! But our hope is that any change would be for the better. The intent of our exploration is to bring the best of each community to the other, and to maintain all that each institution holds dear.

But I love my small KT/large Wise community!

Yes – so do we! And our intent is that the core of that won’t change. But each size community can offer experiences the other cannot. Our collaboration will provide the options of both “bigger is better” and “good things come in small packages” experiences to all. 

Why Wise? Why Kol Tikvah?

For all the reasons that have been mentioned above! Plus, the two congregations are close enough to make collaboration easy, but far enough to ensure each will retain its presence. Finally – and perhaps most importantly – as different as the two institutions are, in our early explorations we have found an alignment of values and culture that makes our potential partnership feel very comfortable to one another – one that we feel confident will enhance both and take away from neither.

Wise already has a partnership with Leo Baeck Temple, focused primarily on youth education. Is this the same? And how will that partnership be affected?

The Wise partnership with Leo Baeck Temple (LBT) is actually quite different from what is being proposed and explored here. The Wise-LBT partnership is focused primarily on youth education: Leo Baeck Temple families have the option to send their children to the Aaron Milken Center for preschool, and Wise families have the option to send their children to LBT’s religious school; certain other programming is offered to each congregation at member rates as well. That partnership is one of each congregation offering some of what they uniquely do best to the members of the other; it was born out of – and thrives on – proximity. While more programs may be added to the Wise-LBT collaboration in the future, no deeper alignment or association is being contemplated. For Kol Tikvah and Wise, while the precise nature of our partnership will be under exploration for the next many months, the possibilities range from something like the LBT partnership on one end of the spectrum to a full merger on the other. It is certainly possible that our collaboration around youth programming may be expanded to three campuses/communities (Wise, Leo Baeck, and Kol Tikvah), but there will be minimal overlap/impact on the Wise-LBT partnership otherwise.

Where can I find out more?

First: here! We intend to keep this page continually updated as our explorations and plans progress! Beyond this, however, both congregations are committed to keeping our communities informed. We will send frequent update messages, and provide both in-person and online opportunities for sharing information and soliciting input. We hope you’ll stay engaged and help us ensure we have a robust and fulsome communal conversation throughout our exploration process – and well into whatever the next phase may be.

Wed, May 29 2024 21 Iyar 5784