By Hope Chernak, MARE, RJE, Director of Youth and Informal Education at Temple Shaaray Tefila, New York, NY.
Originally posted on the Reform Judaism Blog
Temple Shaaray Tefila has taken another step toward strengthening our congregation’s ties to the land and people of Israel. We have a new partnership with Kehilat Ohel Avraham, a Reform congregation in Haifa that is closely associated with the Leo Baeck Education Center.
So, what is a partnership? According to Wikipedia, a partnership is an arrangement where parties agree to cooperate to advance their mutual interests. If you asked our two teen leaders who were part of our delegation that went to Haifa this past December about it, they would respond with, “our partnership is like going home.” Instantly, they felt part of the community in Haifa, and next month when our friends from Haifa come to visit us, we hope they will feel the same way. This new relationship is not just an arrangement; rather, we have created a connection that has brought two families together.The December delegation from Shaaray Tefila included staff members Rabbi Josh Strom, Mindy Davids, and me. Our lay leadership was represented by Paula Dwoskin-Sitzer and Ted Greenwood, as well as TaSTY youth leaders Talia Bornstein and Benjamin Bass. Ohel Avraham’s group was led by their rabbi, Gabby Dagan, and included lay leaders and professional staff. This planning trip (and the return visit this May with a delegation from Ohel Avraham/Leo Baeck staff and lay leaders) was funded by the Global Jewish Connection Initiative of the UJA-Federation of New York and Shaaray Tefila’s Sesquicentennial Fund.
During our visit, our planning teams outlined ideas about how to formally launch our partnership with Ohel Avraham and the Leo Baeck Education Center. Our joint effort, “Gateways and Tents,” will enable our two congregations to connect through ongoing programs and activities. Here are some of the connection points we plan to create for our communities:
- Through study and worship, we will share and learn together
- An adult Beit Midrash will provide video conference study opportunities several times per year
- Our clergy will exchange music and sermons
- Congregants will be invited to learn new songs from the other congregation during worship
- We plan to use technology to bridge our connections, including multiple online communication channels, exchanges of newsletter materials, and blogs
- We will encourage visits and hospitality between the two communities
- Joint tikkun olam projects
- Future plans to connect the women’s programs in each congregation
- Religious school students and students in the Leo Baeck elementary school will share holiday celebrations, exchange cards and small gifts, connect by Skype, and perhaps share other educational and social opportunities. We hope that our teachers and educational staff also will deepen their relationship through professional-to-professional connections.
- For older students, we plan to set up a program called B’nei Mitzvah Connections, which will pair interested b’nei mitzvah students and their families with those in the partner congregation who share the same parashah or close celebration dates. This initiative also could have students share d’var Torah and mitzvah project ideas as they prepare for their b’nei mitzvah.
- We will continue to implement youth group connections through interactions between our senior youth group, TaSTY, and Ohel Avraham’s youth group, using technology to link these teens.
One of our most exciting partnerships will be a youth exchange between our high school students. We applied for a grant that will allow our students to experience a mifgash(encounter) providing student-to-student connections both in Israel and here in our community. The curriculum will include formal and informal educational methodologies to bring our students together and to foster an ongoing connection between the students in both congregations.
The initiative to build a relationship with Ohel Avraham and the Leo Baeck Education Center originated with our Israel Engagement Committee at Shaaray Tefila more than a year ago, and now the entire synagogue is part of the process. We are enthusiastic about how this relationship is working and the connection points planned for the near future. This partnership has brought two communities together to form one large, amazing family!
View a short video that shows how our teen leaders experienced this special connection after their week in Haifa this past winter.