All things Jewish — from apples and honey to the price of temple tickets, from reincarnation to whether God cares what we do — will be up for discussion in a new program launched this month by the JCC of Central New Jersey.
The September-to-May program, Jewish Living and Learning, offers a series of workshops — most free — for those wanting to learn more about Judaism and how to lead a Jewish life. They are being led by local rabbis and educators from across the spectrum of denominations.
The program is being organized by the J Connection, a partnership between the JCC and local synagogues funded with a grant from the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey as part of its effort to foster greater outreach. The J Connection offers social and educational programs throughout the year for young families, but this is the first time it has engaged with such a wide range of religious leaders in one undertaking.
According to a press release, the program is designed for “those who are Jewish but weren’t raised religiously, interfaith couples, Jews-by-choice, or those who just want to become more knowledgeable about and comfortable with the Jewish faith.”
J Connection director Randi Zucker said, “We really wanted a program that provided our community with a valuable, easy-to-access Jewish resource.” While women — possibly mothers bringing their children to the JCC’s activities and classes — are expected to be its primary audience, Zucker said, the program might be expanded in the future to include more evening sessions.
Barak Hermann, JCC executive director, pointed out that the JCC — with its early childhood programs and health club and other activities — has the most daily adult “traffic” of any Jewish institution in the community.
“We had a gap in what we were offering,” he said. “I wanted to offer these people, when they came to the building, a chance to explore Judaism. Thanks to the grant from federation, and to these rabbis and educators, we’re able to offer them this opportunity.”
He said their intention “is to inspire Jewish journeys” in an open, inclusive, and pluralistic way. “We want to inject Judaism into people’s lifestyles so that it will have a long-term effect. We’re very excited that we were able to get together this impressive group of Jewish clergy to help us realize our goal.”
JCC president Suzanne Albin Tucker described Jewish Living and Learning as the latest chapter in the effort, led by Hermann, to increase collaboration between the JCC and other community agencies, synagogues, and organizations. “As president of the JCC, I am extremely proud of this program,” she said. “It had its genesis before I became president, but it is definitely in line with my priorities. The fact that all the synagogues in our catchment area are offering classes, that they all worked in a cooperative fashion, whether Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox, with Randi as administrator is, in and of itself, a tremendous accomplishment and a model for other communities.”
Debbie Rosenwein, director of planning and allocations for the Central federation, said Living and Learning aptly fulfills the intention of the grant to J Connection. The federation, she explained, has targeted 15 percent of its annual campaign dollars for Community Outreach and Engagement grants. The programs funded through these grants “create portals for engagement and building Jewish identity, which enable us to reach out to the community and provide opportunity for people to connect Jewishly.”