High Holy Days map helps tap energy of Birthright alumni
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You’ve recently returned from a life-changing Birthright trip to Israel, and you’re asking yourself the age-old question: “Now what?
Next, a division of the Birthright Israel Foundation, has one answer: its 2013 High Holidays Initiative, which aims to sustain whatever newfound interest in Jewish life was sparked by the free trip to Israel.
In part by using an interactive map, the initiative can help people find High Holy Day services, study sessions, Yom Kippur break-fasts and other opportunities to connect with fellow Birthright alumni.
The interactive map comes with filters — such as denomination, or whether services are egalitarian or LGBT-friendly — which make it easier to zero in on an individual’s ideal service. As of Aug. 20, there were two dozen events marked on the Bay Area portion of the map.
“We’re talking about tens of thousands of Birthrighters who came back this summer from an experience in Israel,” said Next CEO Morlie Levin. “There’s a huge interest in exploring High Holy Day experiences within a circle of friends. The map demystifies those opportunities.”
More than 5,500 Birthright alumni call the Bay Area home, including 1,300 who have taken a trip in the past two years.
Among Bay Area synagogues opening their High Holy Days doors to those alums this year are Congregations Sha’ar Zahav, Chevra Thilim and Beth Sholom (San Francisco), Beth Am (Los Altos Hills), Beth Jacob (Redwood City) and Beth Israel (Berk-eley). The agency Jewish Gateways is also making its services at the JCC of the East Bay available. Rosh Hashanah begins on Sept. 4, Yom Kippur on Sept. 13.
“The synagogues were thrilled,” Pollack said. “Not only are they getting information about their services to a younger demographic, they are eager to get new energy inside their communities.”
“We know [young adults] enjoy being able to do that [provide meals] for their friends, so we enable them,” Pollack said.
One alum who will host an event is Vitaly Winter of San Francisco. The 31-year-old went on a Birthright trip at age 19 while at Northwestern University, and he credits it with sparking a subsequent interest in Jewish life.
Winter, who lives in a Moishe House in San Francisco, put together a Yom Kippur break-the-fast party on Sept. 14. The hook: It will be at a campground in Sonoma County.
“The idea was to create an option that’s a different way of breaking the fast rather than a traditional dinner,” Winter said. “We’re [also] going to be doing a meditation session, asking for forgiveness in a group exercise.”
In prior years, NEXT promoted Birthright alumni-hosted Shabbat dinners, and still does. In the Bay Area, 526 different people have hosted nearly 1,200 Next Shabbat dinners.
“It’s a metaphor for how we do our work,” Levin said of the map. “We’re focused on connecting Birthrighters to one another and creating a local ecosystem them and their peers.”
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