I recently spent almost an entire week in Chicago working with various aspects of the Jewish community, on behalf of its Jewish Federation (called the Jewish United Fund). It was a wonderful, if exhausting, week. The message to all of the groups with whom I met was the same, even if the nature of my presentations was different since I was teaching specific sets of skills to different audiences: open the gates of your Jewish community so that people can enter and enjoy its resources. But don’t simply wait inside of the gates for people to enter - go out and find them. Embrace them. Welcome them in. Provide them with meaningful, life-transforming experiences.
While JOI has been working in numerous communities and our many programs have found footing across North America, we have yet to succeed in placing the wide array of our programs in the Chicago community. That was our goal in traveling there, and with the help and support of various friends in the area, we hope to find the same success we have encountered elsewhere across the United States.
Imagine a community where there are Mothers Circles, Grandparents Circles, and groups of Empowering Ruth throughout; a community that pilots newly developed programs designed specifically for men. Imagine a group of synagogues that have not only taken on our Call Synagogue Home program, which aims to reach interfaith families through life cycle events, but also made systemic changes to welcome all those on the periphery of the community. Imagine a Federation that coordinates Public Space Judaism programs throughout the region, running programs such as Passover in the Matzah Aisles or Sunday in the Park with Bagels.
This is what we imagine for Chicago and this is what we are working toward. For in the end what we will have produced is a warmer, friendlier, more welcoming Jewish community—one in which we will all want to live and actively participate, no matter our background.