Monday, April 20, 2015

What Might a Non-Synagogue Jewish Center Do?

What might a non-synagogue Jewish center do?  Especially for families?

I was asked to do some brainstorming.  I came up with five big themes, and details for each.

What other ideas do you have?

1. Care of Mathoms

A mathom is something not used but too sentimental to discard.  We Jews have many cultural mathoms.  Sometimes we enjoy taking them off the shelf, dusting them off, and using them once (or once again).

A non-synagogue Jewish center could help families care for their mathoms using social networking, a website of articles written by community members, and lending library.

It could help a family celebrate a family Passover seder for the first time by offering advice, recipes, and the loan of haggadot.  It could support a discussion about how to make Chanukah something the kids really value as more than getting presents or being "not Christmas".  It could advise people on how to make a first visit to Israel more meaningful than what a tour package offers.  Etc.

Besides the center's own lending library of books and DVDs, it could cooperate with the Eugene and Springfield city libraries.  This could include a list (on the center's website) of the Jewish materials available at those libraries, as well as financial contributions to make sure the e-books associated with those libraries include plenty of Jewish e-books.

2. Educational Classes

A non-synagogue Jewish center could offer classes about Jewish culture, Hebrew, approaching Torah, Jewish ethics, Israel, etc.  Similarly, it could offer book and film discussion series.

Yet the center actually only needs to support education with (a) money and (b) publicity.

Someone else could approach the center and say, "I would like to offer a five-week film series on such-and-such."

The center could then reply, "That does fit our goals and vision.  Here is some funding.  We'll use our social networking to publicize your project."

3. Community Events

A non-synagogue Jewish center could offer both social-themed and holiday-themed events (gatherings at parks, a community Chanukah party, etc.)

As before, the center actually only need supply some money and publicity.  The person organizing an event need not be staff employed by the center.

4. Charitable Donations

A non-synagogue Jewish center could help families connect with Jewish charities.

The center could also do its own charitable work.

(I happen to know that Oregon prisons need more Jewish books and DVDs.  It would be wonderful if Lane County had a "free burial society" such as this one in New York.  Also, many Asian-American communities pool money to send kids to graduate school: "Not all our kids have what it takes to be doctors or lawyers, but those that do will not have to abandon their dream because of lack of money.")

5. A Space for Halachah Development

Every Jewish generation continues discussing and developing halachah.  Atheistic Jews can do this to actively help our culture evolve and mature.  Theistic Jews can also see this work as an ongoing dialogue between God and the Jewish people.

Traditionally, this happens primarily by discussing the weekly Torah parashot in search of insightful applications.  What does this passage mean for us today?  What does it teach about how to relate to people and to God?

A non-synagogue Jewish center could host weekly parashot discussions, and archive the community's insights on its website.  Over the years this would create a fascinating account of how the community grappled with its identity, ethics, and values.

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