SLI Program puts community members on the same page

SLI Program puts community members on the same page

Participating groups will plan activities around one book

Synagogues are looking for activities that can bring them together, says Nickie Falk, consultant to the Synagogue Leadership Initiative of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey.

Falk – who is coordinating SLI’s One Book, One Community program – said the project came about as an outgrowth of the group’s “synagogue collaboration pods,” targeting areas from programming through purchasing.

“It’s a way for synagogues to see what can be done together,” she said. “They can still operate on their own but also be part of the larger community.”

“We believe that shared experience connects people,” said SLI Director Lisa Harris Glass. “The goal of the One Book, One Community program is to create a sense that there is a large and connected Jewish community in the northern New Jersey area.”

Congregants and others will read this book as part of a community-wide project.

The idea for the project arose when “we were looking for something we could do collaboratively,” said Falk. “The idea is that we all love to read, that we’re the people of the book, and that here’s something we can all come together [around]. It’s an exciting communal learning opportunity.”

The program, which will kick off on May 9 and last throughout the year, will focus on “My Father’s Paradise” (Algonquin Books) by Ariel Sabar. Falk has been in touch with the author several times.

“He’s delightful,” she said, “and very excited about the project.”

SLI is asking participating congregations – and other communal organizations, such as Ys, Jewish Educational Services, and UJA’s Women’s Philanthropy – to offer a program between September 2011 and March 2012 on any aspect of the book they choose. According to Falk, the federation’s northern New Jersey catchment area includes some 82 congregations. She is hopeful most will choose to participate.

“My Father’s Paradise” tells the story of Sabar’s father, Yona, who emigrated with his family from the Kurdish region of Iraq in the late 1940s, during the waning years of Jewish life in that region.

“Partnering organizations can do anything,” said Falk. “A reading group, something related to the foods mentioned in the book, a project tracing family lineage, or something touching on another theme. They can show a related film or talk about immigration.”

During two conference calls on May 9, one to be held at noon and one at 7:30 p.m., SLI project organizers will discuss possible program ideas as well as additional resources. The federation group will also post its list of suggestions on a special website,

“Ariel has a recipe from his aunt,” said Falk, pointing out that a participating group might choose to focus on that as its activity.

Partnering organizations will be asked to post information about their projects on their own websites and link to the federation calendar, which will list each of these activities so that interested community members can attend. In addition, cooperating groups will be able to buy the book at a discount. (The list price is $14.95; the size of the discount will depend on the number of books ordered.)

In spring 2012, as the project ends, SLI will sponsor an event for the entire community. Both Ariel and Yona Sabar will attend the concluding program.

“The book touches on a lot of themes and subjects we can all relate to,” said Falk, noting that Ariel Sabar’s effort to find out more about his own history was to some extent spurred by a desire to pass a meaningful legacy to his own children.

“We can all relate to that no matter where our parents came from. It’s the story of being immigrants,” she said, “and we’ve all had our Jewish journeys. It’s also a story of hope and redemption. What seemed like a difficult beginning has ended in a beautiful place.”

For additional information about the project, call Nancy Perlman at (201) 820-3904 or e-mail To join the conference call, dial into (209) 647-1075 and use participant access code 846852#.

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