Strategic Storytelling

WHERE: Congregation Sherith Israel

STRATEGIC CHALLENGE: Rebrand a historic congregation to raise support for a multi-million dollar seismic retrofit.

Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco, founded at the height of the Gold Rush in 1851, needed to invigorate its congregants and raise millions for a state-mandated seismic retrofit. Rebranding to energize the congregation was key to moving forward.

As co-chair of the communications team, Ellen played an instrumental role in driving the synagogue’s strategic vision. The first step was discovering members’ perceptions. Surveys, in-depth interviews and interactive exercises all gathered nuanced views to help build consensus.



The Sherith Israel quarterly newsletter, branded with the advertising tagline developed by committee member David Perlstein – YES! Sherith Israel – was developed to break down silos of micro-communities and unite the congregation.

The newsletter works because it shares news and builds community with straightforward reporting and messages of vibrancy and involvement. Profiles introduce congregants to one another. The News Nosh column shares tidbits of news. The clergy’s innovative 4-Questions column adds depth to the congregational conversation.




Carrying Congregation Sherith Israel’s rebranding to the web, Ellen managed the development of the project, working with graphic designer Susan Weeks, the web host, committee members, staff and a team of volunteer writers and editors.

To describe the congregation’s modern, progressive approach, the team chose catchy taglines – At Congregation Sherith We Don’t Just Observe Judaism, We Celebrate it – for section headers, skipping the usual overdone and under-read mission statement. Under Ellen’s guidance as photo editor and more than occasional photographer, the website expresses the vibrancy and warmth of the congregation with a rich selection of images.

Sherith Israel in the News:

The successful Sherith Israel rebranding campaign led to the start of seismic retrofit construction, kicked off with a joyous, Hard-Hat Shabbat in April 2010, and culminating with Hardly Strictly Shabbat in March 2011.

Ellen’s media-relations efforts spread the word and created community buzz. Work leading to the start of construction – 104 years and one day after the Great Quake of 1906 – included strategic messaging, collaborating with architects and engineers, creating talking points and training spokespeople.

The results: a series of high-profile media placements for CSI:

San Francisco Chronicle | March 29, 2011
John King: Historic Sherith Israel back to pre-quake glory

j.Weekly | February 3, 2011
Restored windows put Sherith Israel in glorious light

New Fillmore | January 28, 2011
Restoring Sherith Israel

KTVU-TV | January 26, 2011
Restoring Beauty

j.Weekly | June 17, 2010
Handle with care: Stained-glass restoration adds luster to synagogue retrofit

Bay Citizen | June 13, 2010
What’s Up with the Construction on SF’s California and Webster Streets?

San Francisco Chronicle | April 20, 2010
Crews save Sherith Israel, a shrine to history

j.Weekly | April 8, 2010
Sherith Israel to begin long-awaited seismic retrofit

j.Weekly editorial | April 8, 2010
Dome, sweet dome: Saving a Jewish and local landmark

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