No (Jewish) Community is an Island

The Landings is a planned community set up on Skidaway Island, one of Savannah, Georgia’s barrier islands. Formerly a logging camp, it is now home to 8,500 residents with almost 4,000 houses. This gated community of 4,500 acres (including 90 acres of forested area) includes four athletic fields, 151 lagoons, 34 tennis courts, six golf courses, 91 miles of road, and 30 miles of trails. They also have an organization called Jewish Women of the Landings (JWOL), which, I was told on a recent visit, isn’t just for Jewish women – anyone can participate as long as they live in The Landings.

JWOL has a lot of activities; some are social, some are civic-minded, some are educational. For their February educational evening, over 30 men and women gathered at the home of Dr. Norton and Linda Rosensweig (Nort is on JOI’s board of directors) to hear Rabbi Kerry Olitzky speak about engagement, intermarriage, grandparenting, and the future of the Jewish community.

Skidaway Island hosts six churches, but not a single synagogue. Those who want to participate in synagogue life join one of the three congregations in Savannah proper – Mickve Israel (Reform), Agudith Achim (Conservative), or B’nai Brith Jacob (Orthodox) – and have to leave the island to do so. There has been an attempt to hold High Holiday services in one of the churches on the island, but the result has been mixed.

So is this the future of the Jewish community? Baby boomers, who are moving to (or staying in) warm climates, buying large homes where their children and grandchildren can visit, are still the ones with the time and financial wherewithal to support the activities and institutions of the organized Jewish community. But if they are living separate from the rest of the community (in this case, quite literally on an island), it is imperative to the Jewish community to reach out and engage them. We need to provide them with a reason to join us on the mainland – and the reason can’t be because we want them to be members. We must provide value to their lives that they aren’t or can’t get anywhere else.

At JOI, this takes the form of programs like The Mothers Circle and The Grandparents Circle—programs that provide resources for specific segments within the Jewish community. What form does this outreach take in your community, and how does your organization bring your local Jewish community together?

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