The number of Greater Philadelphia Jews who grew up understanding the importance of supporting and engaging in the Jewish community is shrinking. According to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's most recent population study, nearly 75 percent of Greater Philadelphia Jews said that being Jewish was "very important" to them, but only half of area households are affiliated with Jewish organizations.
This disconnect between being Jewish and truly getting involved concerns Federation, since the community's future depends primarily on the strength of Jewish communal life, and the willingness of future generations to be as involved as their parents and grandparents.
In response, Federation created the Center for Jewish Life and Learning to promote Jewish identity and help Jews connect to Jewish life. The center's job is to support gateway institutions – places where Jews congregate, like synagogues and centers of Jewish life – by focusing on programs like adult education, day-school education and synagogue supplementary schools.
While many good programs exist in the community to engage people, there is often difficulty implementing and promoting programs. Today's environment demands a more personal touch to attract people. Therefore, the center is looking closely at enhancing and improving the synagogue consortium – or kehillot model – as a way of creating more sophisticated outreach in the community at the local level.
'Bond Us Together'
"For a whole series of social, economic, cultural and demographic reasons, our Jewish community has seen dramatic changes over time," said Matt Kamens, chair of the center. "There are quite a few options available to us as individuals and families. We have fewer galvanizing issues that bond us together as a community than we once had.
"The assumption that the next generation," he continued, "will automatically connect to the greater Jewish community is not a given. As verified by Federation's Strategic Philanthropy plan, it is critical to focus more of our resources on supporting the programs and institutions, such as synagogues, that bring to light the importance of this connection.
Federation's new kehillot are a strong example of the Center for Jewish Life and Learning's success in strengthening community to date. These coalitions are thriving in Bux-Mont, Bucks County, Center City, Delaware County, the Main Line and the Old York Road corridor, and one will soon open in Chester County.
Each kehillah helps synagogues and Jewish institutions to share resources and better meet the needs of their communities. Through strategic programming, the kehillot already have enhanced the sense of Jewish community in their respective neighborhoods and created more opportunities for Jews to participate in Jewish life.
They have accomplished this through Israel trips, educational opportunities such as "Nights of Learning," and outreach programming such as "A Taste of Judaism."
"The Bucks County kehillah is bringing our Jewish leadership together, introducing us to each other, bringing us into dialogue with each other, and developing communal projects," said Rabbi Elliot Strom of Shir Ami Bucks County Congregation, who participated in the kehillah's mission to Israel at the beginning of this year.
"The kehillah is taking a fragmented Jewish community," he added, "and giving us all 'Jewish roots.' "
For more information on Federation's Center for Jewish Life and Learning, call 215-832-0681.