New website created to help over-40 folks ReJewvenate

Birthright Israel offers thousands of free trips to the Holy Land for Jews between the ages of 18 and 26. Masa Israel provides grants for a ton of Israel experiences to people between 18 and 30.

But who is offering trips, study and volunteer opportunities to folks in the 40-plus age bracket?

Michal Kohane

Such opportunities do exist. But there’s no central hub where people can find them.

That’s why Michal Kohane of Oakland has launched www.ReJewvenate.info, which she calls “a hub for 40-plus in the Jewish world.” The site provides information about study, travel and service opportunities in Israel as well as projects closer to home.

Listings include classes at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, how to sign up for a five-day bike ride in Israel next spring and upcoming sessions in “The Longevity Revolution,” the Jewish Federation of the East Bay’s series on aging. There is also a listing of articles of interest to the over-40 set.

The website was born out of Kohane’s own concerns about the Jewish community. In June, when she was director of the Israel Center, a program of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, she wrote an article published on eJewish Philanthropy.com titled “40 Plus and Screwed.” In it, she contended that the organized Jewish community was directing the lion’s share of its outreach to young adults at the expense of middle-age people.

“I’ve had it with the constant song and dance around ‘young adult engagement’ as the only promise of any Jewish life anywhere ever at all,” she wrote, emphasizing that much of Jewish organizations’ outreach to the 40-plus crowd focuses on fundraising rather than on fun or learning.

After the essay was published, she was fired, “not for writing the article,” said Jennifer Gorovitz, the federation’s CEO, “but, among other reasons, for writing it under her professional title without prior knowledge or consent of the federation, and for revealing confidences of colleagues and donors.”

But the idea behind the essay remained with her, which is why Kohane created ReJewvenate. It launched this month, accompanied by another piece on eJewish

Philanthropy.com, this one titled “ReJewvenate: 40 Plus and Not Screwed.”

“My cry is not to take away from young people,” said Kohane, 53, who was born and raised in Israel. “All the work that’s being done is important. But it can’t be the only basket we’re putting our eggs into.”

Home page of www.ReJewvenate.info

Kohane, who has master’s degrees in Jewish studies and clinical psychology, has served the Northern California Jewish community for some 24 years. She was the executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region for six years and head of the Israel Center for 21⁄2 years. She writes a Torah commentary column for J. and runs a Shabbat learning program out of her home. A one-time interim rabbi for a small Jewish community, she draws on scriptural and rabbinic sources to support her outreach efforts.

Citing Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), she observes that respect and wisdom come with age, when deeper learning takes place. Just as 12-year-olds can’t go on a Birthright trip (they have to wait until they are 18), some special opportunities should “be reserved for older adults.”

Secondly, she says by over-focusing on youth, “we give our young people and teens very little to look forward to in Judaism as they age.”

Moreover, she adds, “many people come to discover Judaism when they’re in their 40s and 50s. It doesn’t always happen with the bar or bat mitzvah or the first trip to Israel. We need to have more doors open.”

Baby boomers, she points out, represent the largest age bracket in the Jewish community. When the JCC brings in a speaker, they show up because they’re interested — but they’re not being courted, Kohane says, except for donations.

“There are people in their 40s and 50s and 60s that have never been to Israel, that have never studied Jewish texts in depth. That’s a segment of the population we need to look at, too,” she says. “There are homes for elders, trips for young people. The generation sandwiched in the middle needs something to get its batteries going.”

Kohane’s own batteries have been charged by her personal connection to Israel as well as to local Jewish communities. She came to the United States in her 20s with a backpack, and “life just took its own course.” Today, she is the mother of six, including a son at West Point.

Kohane launched her website with savings. Seven others on the ReJewvenate team offer expertise in such areas as programming, philanthropic services and marketing. Kohane also is networking with Jewish educators in the United States and Israel.

And would her site link to an event or a workshop run by the agency that fired her this past summer?

“If there is a project that interested [the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation] and they want to reach out and provide better services to the 40-plus crowd,” she says, “I’m happy to discuss that.”