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How to Engage a Jewish Community Scattered by Decades of Social Diaspora

Palm Beach Post
Communications Department
December 19, 2016

How to Engage a Jewish Community Scattered by Decades of Social Diaspora

You reach them on their terms, says New York University fellow Stuart Himmelfarb.

Earlier this year, Himmelfarb and colleague David Elcott rolled out results of a survey of 1,500 Palm Beach County Jewish Baby Boomers, in a search to better understand generations with loosening ties to synagogues, the Jewish Federation and philanthropic agencies. The conclusion: “People are less inclined to join things,” Himmelfarb said. “People don’t look for membership, they look for connections.”

From that conclusion sprung a grant competition to encourage Jewish organizations to devise creative programs and events to encourage individuals to make those connections. As a result, five new programs aimed at boomers are in formation, Himmelfarb says, two of them based in West Palm Beach.

The Aging Mastery Program, led by Leigh Routman of the Alpert Jewish Family and Children’s Service in West Palm, develops programs to help people ages 50 to 100 make the most of their years. The 10-week sessions focus on exercise, sleep, healthy eating, financial fitness, planning and healthy relationships, to help participants stay active and contributing to society.

Courageous Conversations, at Temple Israel in West Palm Beach, aims to foster communication between Jews and the larger community, through discussion of social issues of Palm Beach County and plans for action. An evening’s topic will be addressed during a Friday night worship service, followed by dinner and a panel discussion. Typical topics might include drug abuse, gun violence, suicide prevention, racial inequality and mental-health awareness.

A team of 12 synagogues, led by Rabbi Yaron Kapitulnik and Morli Josza of Temple Judea in Palm Beach Gardens, is organizing a Wise Aging program. Topics will include: exploring this stage of life; becoming one’s authentic self; a life review; revitalizing and nourishing healthy relationships, cultivating qualities of soul; practicing forgiveness; and learning to live with loss, change and death.

“Reel Matters: Heroes, Happenings & Issues,” a film series, will take place at federation facilities in Boynton Beach and Palm Beach Gardens. Apparently on the theory that the best way to win hearts and minds is through the stomach, Temple Beth Am in Jupiter is organizing Guess Who’s Coming to Shabbat, in which sabbath dinners are hosted in homes, to reach out to neighbors and others and connect them to Jewish community life.