October 2018 -- Tishrei-Cheshvan 5779,  Volume 24, Issue 10

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Connecting Jewish College Students with Local Places to Worship

WJL Staff Report

 

With a vision to bring young people ages 18-26 into synagogues for the High Holidays, Rabbi Ronald Brown and Rabbi Charles Klein developed an online program called Synagogue Connect, an international project that gives young people access to synagogues in their area allowing them to attend free services.

 

When most synagogues charge for High Holiday seats, this project creates a list of synagogues which open their doors at no charge, to college students for Rosh Hashana, Yom Kipper and Sukkot and sometimes beyond, that will encourage an ongoing connection between students and Judaism. All a student has to do is visit the website and call one of the participating synagogues that they wish to attend from the list before a holiday, to reserve a seat, then bring a college ID for admission.

Rabbi Brown notes that “this is a powerful message to Jewish youth that synagogue doors are, and always will be, open to them. It is the hope of Synagogue Connect that this gesture might encourage an ongoing connection between these college students and rabbis.”

 

Synagogue Connect has 1109 partner synagogues in 31 countries this year and the numbers continue to climb. The initiative has reached over 250,000 people thus far. Through partnerships with AEPi and AEPhi, Jewish fraternities and sororities and Kahal, the overseas organization that provides Jewish services for college students, the program hopes to bring these young people into the synagogues.

 

“As rabbis, along with our synagogues, we can reach out to college students to let them know that they are not alone, and perhaps, reconnect them to the synagogue community,” believes Rabbi Brown, the Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Beth Am of Merrick and Bellmore, New York. Started only 2 plus years ago, Rabbi Brown spends many hours on this project almost every day. With Rabbi Charles Klein of Merrick Jewish Center, the two co-founders, are always looking for new synagogues to participate.

 

 Some of the Westchester synagogues that take part include: Congregation Emanu-El of Westchester, Rye; Woodlands Community Temple, Greenburgh; Greenburgh Hebrew Center, Dobbs Ferry; Rosh Pinah Chavorah of the Rivertowns, Hastings on Hudson; Temple Israel Center, White Plains; Bet Am Shalom, White Plains; JCC of Harrison, Scarsdale Synagogue, Temples Tremont and Emanu-El, Scarsdale; Westchester Community for Humanistic Judaism; Temple Israel of New Rochelle; and The Flame of YINR, New Rochelle.

 

“One of the greatest achievements in my mind is that Synagogue Connect is where it is today, with a minimum budget. We have synagogue participation from such different and diverse expressions of Judaism: Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Chabad, Renewal, Traditional, Humanistic and unaffiliated,” explains Rabbi Brown. “It’s kind of like a Jewish wedding; you never know which table you will be returning to for seconds!”

 

“My hope,” the Rabbi concludes, “is that our partner synagogues will be delighted with the young people and that each student finds the synagogue experience meaningful.  It would be nice to know that more people are joining {synagogues} than leaving. I am enthusiastic about this program and it is definitely meaningful to me.”

 

The program is endorsed by the Conference of

Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.

 

For more information and to extend this information to students, visit synagogueconnect.org