Chavurah – A Meaningful Way to Youth Engagement

At the 2013 URJ Bienneial one of the big take away themes was to practice what URJ President Rabbi Ric Jacobs calls “Audacious Hospitality.” This entails exceeding the conventional expectations of welcoming our audience, as well as expanding the audience we seek to reach. A second take away theme from the conference was that we need to engage our young adults (20s-30s) – the future – in ways that work for them and provide a meaningful Jewish experience. These young adults do not care about our “bricks & mortar,” temple budgets, or membership! The synagogue has to go to them! The third take away is that the URJ and the HUC (Hebrew Union College) must be rooted in the core – the Torah!

As an active and engaged participant at the Biennial I searched for ideas and ways to move these points into action. I wondered if there was a way to combine all these take away concepts into one new program for Vassar Temple. At one of the breakout sessions we heard about a temple in Los Angelos that reached out to young adults by going to where they are and starting a Chavurah.

A chavurah or havurah (חבורה Hebrew: “fellowship”, plural chavurot) is a small group of like-minded Jews who assemble for the purposes of facilitating Shabbat and holiday prayer services, sharing communal experiences such as lifecycle events, or Jewish learning. Chavurot usually provide autonomous alternatives to established Jewish institutions and Jewish denominations. Most chavurot place an emphasis on egalitarianism in the broad sense (of which gender egalitarianism is one piece), depending on participation by the entire community rather than top-down direction by clergy. / Source: Wikipedia.

The more I thought about it the more I began to think this might work for Vassar Temple and it was worth a try. Then I asked myself, where are the young people in Dutchess County? What are the happening scenes! BEACON! (And Poughkeepsie.) Here’s how it might work.

Once a quarter, or maybe a month if there’s enough interest, young Jewish people and their friends come together on a Friday evening at some “hot spot” for a pleasurable Shabbat dinner. They pay their way, but maybe Vassar Temple sponsors a guest speaker or entertainer. No temple affiliation or membership is required!

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If the experience is enjoyable, as word spreads, new faces will appear. New friendships will be formed. Opportunities and positive results will happen. If we have interesting and vibrant guests leading the service, and if social justice causes that the URJ is famous for supporting are brought to light, along with Jewish culture, the young adults will have a meaningful experience. When that happens the word will spread and the circle will grow! And, when all that happens, Vassar Temple will be serving a critically important part of the Jewish community in Dutchess County.

We can get out the gate by identifying a few locations for our first couple Chavurah gatherings. Finding a great speaker and/or entertainer who will also make a super marketing “headliner” to who attract the audience. Creating some great looking flyers and putting them up and getting them out there. Creating a Facebook Group page and using Facebooks targeted advertising to reach the exact audience we’re talking about. Using publicity to get the story out into the local beat. Finding some young adults in the Beacon area who believe in what the Reform movement stands for and have positive memories of Jewish camp and want to make new friends and would be willing to be young leaders of the new Chavurah. And, just talking it up!

At this point this is just an idea. Something for our Temple’s Board discuss.

Bob Ritter

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