By David R. Cohen | firstname.lastname@example.org
Engaging young adults has long been a top priority for Jewish organizations, and now one of Atlanta’s oldest congregations is taking steps to bring its youth back home.
On July 1, Congregation Or VeShalom is launching Brookhaven Bayit@OVS, a center for Jewish young-adult engagement in Atlanta. The institution aims to connect 20- to 40-year-olds to Judaism in new ways.
Chosen to lead this new venture is the founding principal of the Weber School, Sim Pearl, who retired from Weber after 18 years in June 2014.
B@OVS will be closely affiliated with OVS.
“Dr. Pearl is an incredible individual,” Or VeShalom Executive Director Lynne Balaban said. “He’s warm. He’s enthusiastic. He bubbles over with spirit, and he has a great connection with these young adults, so we really think he has what it takes to bring these kids back home.”
Bayit, which means home in Hebrew, was chosen as the name of the new entity to symbolize a feeling of belonging and togetherness. Pearl envisions B@OVS as a family that will gather to celebrate “the rhythms of being Jewish” and learn together in new ways.
The center will be open to all Jewish young adults in Atlanta.
“At Weber I was able to be involved with some wonderful kids and watch them grow through high school,” Pearl said. “Then they went off to college, and I was always curious as to what would happen when they graduated and got into their 20s and 30s. I wanted to find what millennials seek in Judaism and how to engage them.”
Pearl said he was sharing his thoughts with some former Weber parents when he learned that Or VeShalom was looking to launch a program for young adults. He suggested that the congregation create a center that would be a hub for Jewish engagement in the surrounding community, and they began working together.
“It was serendipity,” he said.
Or VeShalom is in Brookhaven, which is a hot spot for Atlanta’s young professionals. The team behind B@OVS, which includes Pearl, OVS President Scott Galanti and Lisa Galanti Rabinowitz, hopes that the location of the congregation will help to bring in young Jewish adults in Buckhead, Midtown and Brookhaven.
The synagogue will be the home base, but events will move around to appropriate locations.
“The goal of this center is to create a community that will engage young adults in very meaningful and compelling ways to their Jewish lives but not in cookie-cutter ways,” Pearl said. “At the end of the day, it’s about relationships and being part of community while still feeling that you belong to a much broader global community.”
Jewish disengagement in young adults has been a much-discussed issue the past few years. In the Pew Research Center’s 2013 Religion & Public Life Survey, only 68 percent of Jewish millennials said they identified as Jewish.
Still, Pearl sees an opportunity to create a movement in Atlanta and beyond.
“If we can figure this out in Atlanta and create our own little paradigm,” he said, “we could be the harbinger of great things for Jewish people across the world. The potential is tremendous, but the success depends on what the people involved make of it. It won’t happen overnight.”