Big Tent concierges hired to make Jewish life accessible

Big Tent Judaism has hired two new Jewish concierges in San Francisco and Sonoma County to help engage unaffiliated residents with Jewish life.

“I’m like the welcome wagon lady for Jewish Sonoma County,” joked Carol Appel, one of the newly hired concierges.

Carol Appel

A member of Congregation Shomrei Torah in Santa Rosa, Appel is enthusiastic about connecting new and less-engaged residents with resources in the Jewish community. Since starting work in May, she has met with local Jewish congregations and organizations and provided customized guidance to individuals, such as helping someone who recently relocated from Southern California find a synagogue. She’s also hosted a series of public events intended to be accessible for Jews who don’t belong to Jewish organizations.

“We go out into public spaces and bring light-touch Jewish events to the areas people are,” said Appel, who organized honey tastings in local food markets in the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah. “The under-affiliated are not in synagogues and temples and shuls. We’re breaking barriers, going into public spaces and creating pop-up events so people can stumble on these events.”

Formerly known as the Jewish Outreach Institute, Big Tent Judaism is based in New York, and its mission is to build bridges between Jewish organizations and Jews who are not active in Jewish life. It often focuses on underserved populations such as intermarried and LGBT families, Jews by choice and Jews of color, according to Eva Stern, Big Tent Judaism’s senior director of training.

Much of Big Tent’s work involves training Jewish professionals about Jewish disengagement and how to better serve people who aren’t connected to the Jewish community, but the organization also now has seven or eight concierges working in different U.S. communities, including Houston, Chicago and Vermont, Stern said.

Nancy Brunn

Big Tent Judaism’s other Northern California concierge will be located in San Francisco and focus specifically on single mothers, Stern said. That emphasis was chosen based on research conducted by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s Jewish Women’s Fund, which found that Bay Area single Jewish mothers are underserved by the larger Jewish community.

The Jewish Women’s Fund recruited Big Tent Judaism to establish a program for single mothers in San Francisco. The federation also played a part in establishing Big Tent Judaism in Sonoma County; the federation’s Impact Grants Initiative connected Big Tent Judaism with Sonoma County Jewish leaders, Stern said.

“We recognize the demographics of the San Francisco Bay Area and think it’s an incredibly fertile community for these engagement efforts,” Stern said. “So when folks in the community saw what we were doing in other parts of the country and wanted to explore implementing the concierges for these two particular places, we were thrilled.”

The single mother concierge, Nancy Brunn, is just getting started in her work, but she plans to organize monthly meet-ups and family events both in secular spaces and in cooperation with local Jewish organizations and congregations. The events will offer childcare when needed, Stern said.

According to BigTentJudaism.org, Brunn is a “solo mother by choice” of 7-year-old twins who has 12 years of social work experience as well as a teaching certificate from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and she serves on the inclusion task force at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco.

“She will be focusing on developing micro communities of solo moms in different parts of San Francisco,” Stern said. “There are different backgrounds that solo moms have: by choice, through loss, through divorce. Among those different experiences, the relationship that these solo moms have to Jewish life and engagement also varies greatly.”

Big Tent Judaism concierge Carol Appel can be reached at carol@bigtentjudaism.org and Nancy Brunn can be reached at nancy@bigtentjudaism.org.

Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a J. parenting columnist and former staff writer. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two sons.