‘Concierge’ connects Jewish families

‘Concierge’ connects Jewish families

Just as hotel concierges guide tourists in the exploration of unfamiliar locales, the new Jewish Family Concierge offers guidance for unaffiliated Jews to become engaged with their local Jewish community.

The program, which is focusing on Montclair and surrounding areas, is a collaborative initiative of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life, and JCC MetroWest.

Organizers chose Montclair because of its growing population of young, unaffiliated families; large number of newcomers; and easy access to active synagogues and other institutions.

The goal is “to have more families in the area engaged in the Jewish community, in whatever way works for them,” said Emmy Atlas, Jewish Family Concierge for Montclair and Surrounding Areas.

The service will offer events for families across a wide range of observance and background; projected activities will include Shabbat dinners and holiday observances as well as events with a more cultural flavor.

The Center for Jewish Connections, a federation committee that addresses issues of education and Jewish identity, set aside money to create “a program that would help Jewish families with young Jewish children to make Jewish choices,” said Nir Buchler, an associate in the federation’s planning and allocations department.

He said the committee built upon the success of Morris County Connections, an outreach program, to model the concierge initiative.

Atlas said her first goal is to publicize all the Jewish programs, services, agencies, and events that already exist within Montclair and nearby areas. She uses a range of tools to get the word out about Jewish goings-on in the community, including Facebook and meetup.com.

Atlas’s second goal is to connect young Jewish parents with each other. To learn what unaffiliated Jewish parents might like to gain from the Jewish community, she e-mailed a questionnaire to hundreds of past and current subscribers to PJ Library, a program that provides free Jewish-themed books and CDs to families of preschoolers. After receiving their feedback, Atlas planned programs to fit their needs and bring together people with similar backgrounds.

“There are families that aren’t interested or ready or who never want to join a synagogue,” said Atlas, “but we don’t want to alienate them from Jewish life. What I do doesn’t necessarily have religious overtones.”

The concierge program is “a wonderful opportunity for us to reach families with young children,” said Atlas’s supervisor, Joan Bronspiegel Dickman, who is early childhood and family engagement director for the Partnership. “And especially for families who are looking to make connections, we are happy to open doors and give them opportunities.”

On July 16, the concierge sponsored a workshop — titled “Is My Child ‘Normal’?” — that explored developmental issues for preschool children.

Held at Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, the workshop afforded the eight mothers who participated an opportunity to voice concerns about their children’s development, such as communication skills, bedtime struggles, and eating habits — and, in accordance with the concierge program’s stated mission, it allowed Jewish parents to meet and connect with one another.

Two of the parents who attended the workshop also attended a July 12 PJ Library event that Atlas helped publicize. It drew close to 40 parents and children, who met local rabbis and area educators.

Said Atlas, “If you’re introduced to other Jewish parents in the area with kids the same age as your kids, then maybe you’ll start to do things together. And the hope is that eventually those people will become involved in the Jewish community. These could all be the leaders of tomorrow.”

Tricia Stern, coordinator of child and adolescent services at Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, led the July 16 event; she noted the importance of the collaborative effort — involving the concierge, the Partnership, federation, JFS, and the JCC. “We all partner together to meet the needs of our families,” said Stern.

Buchler said that whether the outcome is Jewish parents “joining a synagogue, connecting to the JCC, or connecting to a Jewish philanthropic group, we are delighted to offer opportunities for connection and engagement.”

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