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OP-ED: INTERFAITH BURIAL DEBATE SPURS LOGICAL QUESTION: WHAT KIND OF COMMUNITY PROGRAMMING IS THERE FOR JEWISH SINGLES TO MEET EACH OTHER?

by Rhonda J. Prepes, P. Eng., August 8, 2011

[Editor's note:I want to thank Rhonda Prepes for raising what is a very important issue in her article below that I think has not received enough attention in our community. There are many Jews who would prefer to marry Jews--and  it is time for each synagogue and  programming organziation to begin looking at ways to ensure that they are prioritizing programming for Jewish singles.]

There is a lot of discussion around the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue Board’s almost unanimous decision to redevelop a portion of the Shaarey Zedek Cemetery on Armstong Avenue for interfaith burial. And a lot more dialogue has stemmed from Hart Peikoff’s article on this topic in the Winnipeg Jewish Review entitled   "MY VIEW: SHAAREY ZEDEK SYNAGOGUE AND DUAL-FAITH BURIALS"   .

I think what Hart Peikoff is simply trying to say in his article is this - “Oy, my Baba and Zaida would roll over in their graves if they knew that they would soon be resting for eternity so closely to non-Jews."

Another issue about this decision disturbs me. There will soon be 203 less plots for Jewish people to acquire in the already almost-full cemetery. Will this impair my chances of being buried alongside my parents and grandparents when the time comes?

I am a forward thinker, a woman of the times. I may believe in welcoming gay, lesbian, transgendered, and non Jews to join synagogue. I may believe in the right for gays to marry. I may see the need for Shabbat services on the internet. But I assure you that my Baba and Zaida would not have agreed.

Although Peikoff’s articles are sometimes hard to follow, I do agree with his statement that the synagogue (?) would be better off “to find ways to help Jews marry Jews.” 

There are increasing rates of intermarriage and assimilation in Winnipeg and just about everywhere else. But what does interfaith burial do to reverse these trends or to ensure a vibrant Winnipeg Jewish community in the future?

I believe that synagogues and other Jewish organizations now more than ever should be helping Jews to socialize and network with one another in order to facilitate Jews marrying Jews. If this component of our community programming isn't strong then we can't expect the intermarriage rate to go down, even amongst Jews who initially say that they prefer to marry a Jew.

My synagogue welcomes me every time I venture inside. I consider it to be very “inclusive” considering that the average age of the congregants is probably 20 years older than me. But, I am unlikely to find an age appropriate partner there.

As a community member and writer for the Winnipeg Jewish Review, I attend just about every Jewish event in the city like holiday celebrations, plays, memorial services, concerts, lectures, book releases, Holocaust events, dedications, debates, etc. I have never met an age appropriate single Jewish man at any of these events.

I see that the synagogues, Rady JCC and Federation have a multitude of  programs for Jewish children and youth, such as, BBYO age 13+, Machon Madrichim ages 14 – 16, Strictly Tweens and Teens for 9 -12, Hillel for 18-24, J-Peg (formerly YAD) for 25 – 45, etc.

I am also aware that the synagogues, Rady JCC, Federation and Gwen Secter Centre have many programs for Jewish seniors.

But, what has each organization done in regards to providing programming for adults too old for J-Peg, but too young to be a senior? What has each organization done for any adults, say 25 – 55, to help Jewish singles network and meet other Jewish singles to promote Jews marrying within their faith?

I am aware of nothing that is currently being done in this area and I feel this is a huge void in our community that should be filled.

I believe that Winnipeg Jewish organizations need to work together to meet the goal of connecting Jews to other Jews and Jewish life. There should be an avenue where single, divorced, and widowed Jews can meet other available Jews (with no age stipulations).

I would like to see these organizations collaborate to create community wide, creative, singles programming that will keep our community intact.

I emailed my thoughts and concerns to the leadership of our community at Etz Chayim, Shaarey Zedek, Herzlia Adas, Temple Shalom, Chabad, Rady JCC, and the Federation.

Many agreed that there currently is a lack of singles programming in Winnipeg and acknowledged that it is very difficult for single Jews to meet.

The first to respond, Rabbi Lander of Congregation Etz Chayim said, “It is an important need. I will do some follow up with Shaarey Zedek and the Federation.”

Faye Rosenberg Cohen, Planning Director JFW, said, “You raise an interesting matter. Perhaps we could gather a few people who are single and older than the J-Peg demographic to talk about what might be interesting to them. If you know a few people in the same demographic who would like to chat about options, I would be happy to convene a kind of focus group to bring some concrete suggestions back to all of our programming organizations. This is right up my alley, convening a group of people to talk about how to fill a gap in the community.”

I replied to Faye that if I knew a few men “in the same demographic” I would be dating them and wouldn’t need her help!

Rabbi Green from the Shaarey Zedek was very receptive to the idea of singles programming. He ensured me his synagogue’s cooperation in all steps of the process.

Samantha Loxton, Director of Leadership Development JFW, has agreed to help by getting a few people together for a focus group.

Gayle Waxman, Executive Director Rady JCC, explained, “The Rady JCC provides a wide range of adult programming which is well received and well attended.  Certainly, some people who attend meet others through these programs.  We had tried some singles programming in the past, but there was not a strong response. That said, if you know a group of people who are interested in discussing this further, we would be happy to.”

Tamar Barr, Program Director Rady JCC, replied, “Rady would certainly be open to working with the other organizations (Federation, synagogues, etc.) in this area. Rady has in the past offered programs that were directed to Jewish singles in their 40's and 50's (and older) where we offered a variety of social and cultural programs. There were challenges in presenting these activities, but maybe per your suggestion there needs to be more of a combined effort. I would be happy to chat with you further about this.”

Rabbi Karen Soria of the Temple Shalom said, “You raise important issues. I can tell you that all Jewish communities are facing similar issues. So there are many ideas and possible program possibilities. “

“Temple Shalom has a couple of groups that focus on or support Jewish connections among your target age group. We have also found though, that many people do not in fact want to be targeted by age, but prefer to self-select by interests.”

“Should the Jewish community do more? Of course~as with so many things. What options are best, given time and energy commitments of those interested and those providing structural support? Those questions will start leading us as a community to productive new possibilities.”

“I too am ready to meet with you to discuss this further.”

Rabbi Ari Ellis of Herzlia Adas said, “You are absolutely right. Helping singles should be a priority for our community.”

“I'd like to think that Herzlia is a welcoming and caring place for Jews of all ages. However, as a small congregation, we don't really have any specific programs or activities addressed to any specific age group. Yes, we have junior congregation on Shabbat and a few teen NCSY programs, but that's about it. Everything else is for adults in general (young adults, adults, and seniors).”

“If you have any specific ideas or suggestions, I am glad to listen. Unfortunately, we don't have an executive director or program director, and there's a limit to what I can do on my own. Also, in terms of collaborating with other organizations, as an Orthodox synagogue, we have a slightly different approach to dating and marriage that might not be compatible with the lifestyle of the mainstream Jewish community. But I am certainly willing to be creative and explore all options.”

Clearly several Jewish individuals and organizations are interested in getting together and talking about singles programming. If you are interested in joining a focus group that will meet in September to discuss this issue and start thinking of program ideas, please email me at   rprepes@gmail.com  .

As far as an interfaith cemetery goes, I think  Rabbi Ellis hits the nail on the head when he says in his article in the Winnipeg Jewish Review, “I too expressed my concerns that allowing “mixed burials” in the long run does not really address the problems we are facing as a community. And I too am glad that a proper separation will be in place between the Jewish section and the new section. But that does not mean that I accept or endorse the situation.”
 
“I suggested as an alternative that Rabbi Green perform Jewish funerals for mixed couples that wish to be buried together, at an alternative site. That way, we can embrace intermarried families, provide them with positive Jewish experiences, inspire them to come closer to Yiddishkeit, all while maintaining the integrity and authenticity of our Jewish community, traditions, and practices.”

 

 

[Editor's note: I hope the focus group on singles also considers having a singles program/convention with a Jewish community  nearby Winnipeg--such as  Minneapolis --a city which has a much larger Jewish  population than ours. Or how about a conference for Jewish singles hosted in Winnipeg inviting other Jewish singles from Western Canada ? There are other communities who may  also be interested in collaborating on this type of programming.]

 

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