Editorial | Filling the hunger for community

The Bay Area Jewish community has always been one of the country’s most assimilated, for good and for ill. Low levels of synagogue affiliation and a high rate of intermarriage are two reasons local Jewish professionals labor tirelessly to devise enticing entryways to Jewish life.

Luring unaffiliated and disinterested Jews into the fold should be a collective priority, not a race between competing organizations.

Fortunately, Bay Area institutions recognize this wisdom and are on the case. Our cover story on page 6 focuses on two programs recently launched by Jewish LearningWorks (formerly the Bureau of Jewish Education). Both reach out to Jewish families “where they are,” as executive director David Waksberg puts it.

The first is Kesher, headed by “family concierge” Sarith Honigstein, a German-born Israeli based in the South Peninsula. Honigstein is a combination ambassador and spirit guide for young families seeking Jewish engagement. She meets with them in casual settings and gets to know them and their Jewish wish lists. Then she plays matchmaker with the right synagogue, preschool, Jewish hiking club or even other like-minded families.

The year-old program has proven a success, with hundreds of families benefiting from Honigstein’s welcoming manner and knowledge of the community. Jewish LearningWorks will expand the concierge concept into other regions of the Bay Area in the year ahead.

The other program, Shalom Explorers, offers families with young children a fun, home-based Jewish learning experience. Groups meet monthly, explore Jewish values and do hands-on projects. The kids learn, the parents make friends, and everyone moves that much closer to the Jewish community.

While Shalom Explorers may appear to compete with synagogue religious schools, in fact local synagogues support the program. Clergy and lay leaders understand that anything that gets unaffiliated families excited about Jewish community might serve as a bridge to affiliation in the future.

Though we highlight Jewish LearningWorks this week, it is not alone.

From East Bay synagogues teaming up to offer High Holy Day tickets as a group (so shul shoppers can “sample” the merchandise) to Jewish day school principals from across the region meeting monthly to pool ideas, local Jewish institutions continually engage in cooperative, collective outreach that benefits everyone.

We wish them success. As the concierge and Shalom Explorers programs show, people are hungry for community.