Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sustainable Congregational Learning

Congratulations to our client, Congregational Beth Israel on the write-up in Reform Judaism Magazine of this wonderful program.

Funding: Unlikely Dollars, Unfettered Dreams

by Debby Waldman

The leadership of Congregation Beth Israel (CBI) in Charlottesville, Virginia needed help. Many of its members who lived in this university town felt homesick during family-oriented holidays. They’d say, “I want to have a seder, but my parents aren’t here and I don’t have anyone to do it with” or “I want to get together with people for Shabbat, but who? And how?”

At first, Ellen Dietrick, director of the temple’s early childhood education program, was puzzled by such comments. “I was thinking, ‘They have a whole community—ours,’” she recalls. “But they weren’t thinking of it that way.”

They are now, thanks to Shabbat Connections, an innovative program CBI was able to initiate thanks to two Legacy Heritage grants of approximately $25,000 each. Since 2007, nearly 80 families—about 20% of the congregation—have participated in Shabbat Connections, meeting regularly in small groups at each other’s homes for holidays, and at least once a month for Shabbat.

Creating such a program might sound easy: simply encourage families, couples, and single adults to sign up; help them identify their goals for celebrating Shabbat and holidays; divide them into groups of four to seven family units; provide them with a book and a CD; and have a mentor check in with them from time to time as needed.

But, “you wouldn’t believe how difficult the matchmaking was,” Dietrick says. “We worked with a paid consultant, an expert on community-building, for two years to put together mini-communities of people who would enjoy spending time together, learning from each other, and supporting one another’s Jewish quests.”

The first step was to survey interested families to learn about their Jewish backgrounds, Shabbat practices, and goals. From there, CBI formed mini-communities—among them seniors, empty nesters, families with elementary school children, and young adults—who expressed similar needs and desires for Shabbat and holiday observance.

Shabbat Connections no longer receives funding, but nine groups continue to meet regularly—as do other groups of families who were inspired by the model. “When I go to services on Friday night or to Torah study or High Holidays, I really know many of these people,” says Shabbat Connections participant Lisa Colton. “I’ve been in their homes, helped their children build with blocks, and listened to them bless their sons and daughters at a Shabbat table—and that makes those relationships so much more meaningful. When I walk into the synagogue building, I’m not thinking I’m a customer of an institution charging me $1,500 a year in dues. It feels like my home, my community, my space.” CBI’s preschool children share in the enthusiasm, greeting each other on Friday mornings by announcing, “I’m coming to your house for Shabbat tonight!”

Reprinted from Reform Judaism Magazine with permission of the author Debby Waldman and the Magazine editor.  To read more about this fascinating project see the CBI White-paper on the Knowledge Communities Web Site.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Working with lay people, supervisors, and parents: setting agendas, getting buy-in, and making decisions

Join the Panim Institue for Jewish Service-Learning Professional Development session is Thursday, May 6th at 1:00 pm. 

Dorene Blair, of Lexington Youth Theater and Knowledge Communities will be sharing her expertise on how to build a volunteer program that "runs itself."  Dorene has years of experience running a family based theatre program that engaged volunteers of all ages. 

Click here for more information about the Panim Professional Development Network.

The PANIM Institute is proud to offer ongoing professional development offerings for Jewish educators, service-learning professionals, and youth workers. Our sessions include guest teachers to share their expertise, pre-assigned community members to share their personal stories both for feedback and to share best practices, discussion of the issues most raised as of interest to practitioners, and - of course! - time for questions and sharing your best practices. I hope that we will build a strong community of learners and facilitators!

May’s session will bring in guest teacher, Dorene Blair from the Lexington Youth Theater ( who will lead us in a session focusing on working with lay people, supervisors, and parents: setting agendas, getting buy-in, and making decisions. As always, our session provides the opportunity for discussion, questions and learning from the best in class practices of our peers in the field.

Where: It's a Webinar - you can participate from any Internet connection. Phone-only access is also available.

What Else?: Please consider joining our Jewish Service Learning Yahoo group to continue the conversation. Visit and click on “join this group” to join in the conversation!

We will be using a website called WebEx to facilitate the conversation. If you have not participated in a WebEx Webinar before, please plan to sign on about 5 minutes prior to the call, so that the program can initialize on your computer. If you have any questions, let us know!

"See" you soon!

Rachel Meytin