A group discussions at GatherDC's annual Beyond the Tent Retreat. The organization that runs GatherDC is expanding to the Bay Area with GatherBay. (Photo/Joshua Orozco)
A group discussions at GatherDC's annual Beyond the Tent Retreat. The organization that runs GatherDC is expanding to the Bay Area with GatherBay. (Photo/Joshua Orozco)

D.C.-based org ready to ‘Gather’ young Jews in Bay Area

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Not long ago, Caroline Kessler noticed a simple but telling post on an East Bay Jewish community listserv.

“Hey, what’s happening for High Holiday services in the East Bay this year?” the post read.

If one person was asking this question, Kessler thought to herself, then many other people probably were, too.

Kessler, the newly appointed community director of GatherBay, a nonprofit that aims to connect post-college young adults to their Jewish roots, compiled a Google Doc with all of the East Bay High Holiday services she could find and forwarded it to the 400 people on the listserv, along with others she’s connected with personally.

Since then, Kessler has gotten feedback from people thanking her for the guide, asking where she’s going to services and even looking for a carpool.

“It’s less about creating a community and more about facilitating a community that’s already here,” Kessler said.

Caroline Kessler (center) leads a session on DIY zines at the Asylum Arts retreat in Mill Valley, Nov. 11-14, 2019. (Photo/Stefan Cohen)
Caroline Kessler (center) leads a session on DIY zines at the Asylum Arts retreat in Mill Valley, Nov. 11-14, 2019. (Photo/Stefan Cohen)

Rachel Gildiner, CEO of Gather Inc. based in Washington, D.C., said the nonprofit aims to help those who are “slipping through the cracks” by putting them in touch with existing Jewish organizations or helping them find alternative ways to express their Judaism.

She said the 8-year-old program GatherDC has seen great success with the idea of “relational engagement,” or meeting younger people where they are, listening to their needs and connecting them to the Jewish life they are looking for.

Gildiner’s faith in the power of relationships is how she ended up expanding her organization to the Bay Area after a conference where she clicked with a Jewish Bay Area professional. Soon Gather Inc. was being invited by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund to lead a training in relational engagement.

“It was organic. We had expertise, and they had a vision. And we saw this model work,” Gildiner said. “So when looking to pick our next pilot city, it felt really natural that the Bay Area and specifically the East Bay had all the pieces we were looking for.”

The expansion is funded by the Rodan Family Foundation, a philanthropy focused on enriching Jewish community life in the East Bay, with additional support from the Federation. Contributions from the Jim Joseph Foundation and Schusterman Family Philanthropies through the Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund (JCRIF) will help support Gather Inc. on a national level.

It’s less about creating a community and more about facilitating a community that’s already here.

Gather also receives support from the Morningstar Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

Kessler has embraced her new role at GatherBay and says she loves having coffee and tea with young adults to hear their experiences with Jewish life. She believes many of their stories will be unique to the geography and culture of the Bay, and that her initial work will move slowly as she takes the time to get to know people.

Ari Eisenstadt recalls getting coffee with Kessler and discussing his Jewish journey.

“It’s a conversation I don’t get to have very often,” the Berkeley resident said. “That sort of conversation sort of bubbles up at the scene, and it’s sweet to explore those kinds of topics with Caroline in a collaborative way.”

In the short few weeks that Gather has been in the Bay Area, it has already formed relationships with a number of Jewish organizations with similar missions, including OneTable, Moishe House and the East Bay JCC. But for Kessler, it’s not about prioritizing one organization over another.

“The intention is to be in connection and in relationship with all of these folks,” she said, “so that we can connect the right Jewish young adults to the right offering for them.”

To learn more about Gather, Inc., email [email protected]. To connect with GatherBay, email [email protected].

Jordan Greene

Jordan Greene is a freelance reporter.