EVENTS LET NEWCOMERS GIVE DIFFERENT SYNAGOGUES A TRY
Twelve years ago, my family moved from Chicago to Atlanta due to a change in my father’s job. Picking up and leaving one life for the unknown was intimidating.
We began to assimilate into our new hometown, enrolling in elementary school and joining a synagogue. My parents were dedicated to finding our own Jewish community, and after meeting a group of families, we changed synagogues and joined Etz Chaim.
For many people, this is an intimidating process and often leads to settling or simply not finding what you are looking for. Now, Rachael Bregman has found a way to make navigating the Jewish community a little easier through her new venture: Shul Shopping.
Shul Shopping began as an idea passed around between Bregman and “several rabbis in the community, particularly Adam Starr from Young Israel of Toco Hills and Laurence Rosenthal at [Ahavath Achim Synagogue],” Bregman explained. The three wanted to create some sort of opportunity for young adults to explore the Jewish community.
Ideas turned into action and Bregman, along with Cari Spangler, approached a few synagogues asking if they would be interested in hosting an event over the summer that would open themselves up to the Jewish young adults here in Atlanta. The word spread, and more synagogues joined the process.
“It started as an experience among a few synagogues to work the kinks out, and now all of a sudden we are 12 synagogues offering a whole variety of shul-sponsored events, ranging from Shabbat dinner and services to a Thursday evening text study and discussion,” Bregman said.
Shul Shopping has its roots in the Open Jewish Project – of which Bregman is the rabbi – and devoted entirely to working with the young adults. The organization is housed at The Temple (though the two are not directly affiliated), and it is Bregman’s job to engage with young adults in the Jewish community, what she calls “fronting for God and Judaism.”
This involves daily meetings with individuals, in which needs, wants and visions for the individual’s Jewish life are discussed. Bregman has offered guidance in this way to nearly 1,000 people since the Project’s inception.
“Basically, my job is to do some concierge work [and] help people find their way to connect with what exists in Atlanta,” Bregman said. “Then, as we identify things that don’t exist – be it relationships, institutions or experiences – I bring people together with shared interests to create those networks.”
Shul Shopping emerged as a way to continue her work and further meet the needs of the community.
“Open Jewish Project is all about helping people move forward in their Jewish journey, wherever that may lead, and Shul Shopping is one piece of that,” Bregman said.
Often, it seemed like the synagogues and prospective young adults didn’t know how to bridge the gap between one another and they needed something to lower the existing barriers.
“People would say to me that they really wanted to check out a place, but didn’t want to go on their own or were nervous,” Bregman explained.
Shul Shopping allows synagogues to dedicate a single event to prospective members and “pull themselves together, put their best foot forward, show off what they want to show off and demonstrate who they are,” Bregman said.
Each organization is left to plan any sort of event; then Bregman helps promote it, mainly through their Facebook page.
Part of what makes Shul Shopping so unique is the involvement of so many different groups of people.
“I don’t think Atlanta has ever seen Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Chabad and Reconstructionist Jews all working in collaboration on a single project like this,” Bregman said.
She believes that the new generation of the Jewish community will be much more focused on working together to create a stronger community instead of feeling threatened by one another. There are over 90,000 unaffiliated Jews in the greater Atlanta area, she explains, so there is no need to fight over membership.
“If our focus is on serving the Jewish people, then the money issue will resolve itself,” Bregman said. “If our focus is on getting members and the bottom line, then we will not only alienate our community, but also hurt the community as a whole.”
In an example of this newfound push for working together, Jewish Innovating Professionals Serving Our People (JIPSOP) and Shul Shopping are planning a Rosh Hashanah event that will make sure everyone has a place to feel welcome in over the high holy days. And JIPSOP itself is an example of community-wide engagement, Bregman said, because it “brings together the Jewish professionals who serve the young adult community to sit around one table and learn together, collaborate and create events and opportunities for the community.”
Bregman describes herself as a champion of Jewish engagement and believes that it is possible to find where you belong within the Jewish community, whether it’s making a synagogue your spiritual home or creating your own vision of Judaism.
By Jessie Miller