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Federations look to the future

Kehillah Partnership: 'Doing together what no agency can do alone'

Many came to the GA looking for ways to re-energize their communities and bring new and younger people into the fold. UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and the YJCC of Bergen County came to Washington with their solution: the Kehillah Partnership.

The program, created in 2006, links the YJCC, UJA-NNJ, synagogues, and other communal organizations through cost- and resource-sharing. Rabbi Noam Marans, associate director of Contemporary Jewish Life at the American Jewish Committee, presented the program during a panel on Monday called “You Had Me at Shalom,” exploring new methods to engage young families.

“The Partnership is a place where local community agencies and institutions … work together to foster innovation and connectedness, doing together what no agency can do alone,” he told the standing room-only session. “Institutions maintain individual identities and allegiances but embrace the benefit of working together with others.”
During a Kehillah Partnership-sponsored reception later that evening, Marans, who lives in Teaneck, said the program had been well received at the conference, which made him optimistic that it could be replicated nationally.
“The greatest accomplishment is that thoughtful people in Jewish education and in institution-building have recognized the Kehillah Partnership as a national model that can be implemented locally,” he said. “We hope to enable other communities to apply the lessons we’ve learned to the specific circumstances of their communities.”

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Rabbi Noam Marans talks about the Kehillah Partnership. Josh Lipowsky

Evie Rotstein, program consultant for the Partnership, said organizers have been able to capitalize on a grant they received last year from the Covenant Foundation to develop a new curriculum for sixth-grade Hebrew school teachers that integrates the arts.

“This is a very special kind of professional development for teachers,” she said. “It’s infusing arts into the curriculum and nowhere else is that happening in the U.S. Teachers are learning to utilize videography, art, dance, photography, airplane-making, jewelry-making…. They’re using the skills of the artists in bringing that back to the classroom.”

The Partnership recently brought the national PJ Library, geared toward getting young children and their families to read Jewish books, to the area. That program crosses all denominations, but for the most part, the Partnership has focused on Conservative and Reform synagogues. That, said YJCC director Harold Benus, is only because the partnership has concentrated on congregational Hebrew schools. Programs such as a planned cost-sharing initiative will reach across the Jewish community, he said.

“It’s a matter of the stage of life that we’re at,” he said. “When we can start other programs through adult programming, with broader appeal, we’ll be more successful at reaching other synagogue communities. We are in a pilot stage right now.”

The 10 congregations involved in the pilot program all agreed that the congregational schools should be the first step, Marans said. Eventually, the program will expand to include not only more synagogues, but more Jewish institutions. This will help build community “from the bottom up,” he said.

“We have learned,” Marans added, “that if one creates an environment of trust between institutions, the institutions and their lead players will work together on projects for the betterment of the entire community.”

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