Making Shul Cool

Dec. 30, 2011

Source: Chicago Jewish News


Pauline Dubkin Yearwood writes about an innovative “multi-faceted values and leadership development program for Jewish 22-30-year-olds”, implemented by Rabbi Wendi Geffen, associate rabbi at North Shore Congregation Israel. The "Beyond and Back" (B&B) program, has two tracks geared to two types of young adults who may be at different mileposts in their Jewish journey.


The general track is for those who are primarily interested in the gatherings in the Chicago Loop, which include monthly discussion dinners, four special Shabbat programs at synagogues in the city and other events. Young people are informed about the B&B activities via its Facebook page and word of mouth.


The second track is the leadership track, the unique aspect of the program. It involves a smaller group of chosen individuals, and is by invitation only. The individuals in this track all grew up at NSCI, were leaders in the synagogue’s youth groups and participated in the two yearly retreats the synagogue hosts for teens. They’ll still be doing so, but from a different vantage point.


Those retreats were routinely led by adult faculty members, clergy and synagogue leaders, couples in their 40s and 50s, Geffen says. Under the B&B program, the “leader fellows,” as the young adults in the leadership track are called, now take over this role. While they mentor the teens, they are themselves mentored by the adult faculty.


The Beyond and Back program is being run under an Incubator Grant from the Union for Reform Judaism, the Reform movement’s central body. The program’s first year has just come to an end.


Through B&B, Congregation Israel hopes to transform a core group of the young professional population into adult Jewish leaders who will later draw in others to participate in the same opportunities. Eventually, as participants grow older and begin families and adult lives on their own terms, they will already be invested leaders in the congregation.


Read the full feature story in the Chicago Jewish News.

Updated: Jan. 10, 2012