BJ B’Yahad: Passion in Action

By Susan Etra | Issue Date: April 2010

After a year of community-wide brainstorming, the development of a Task Force, and a coordinated publicity effort to encourage participation, BJ B’Yahad morphed into a reality this fall as more than 60 members signed on to participate.

The structured program was designed to afford members the opportunity to meet and socialize with others in small groups and to renew their involvement by being exposed to the numerous classes and volunteer opportunities that the congregation offers.

Two Kvutzot (groups) were formed to ensure intimacy in the experience of three evenings (including a Shabbat dinner). The plan was enhanced with the commitment by the Rabbis, Board members, committee chairs, and lay leaders to participate in the events.

The first sessions were each attended by more than 25 members. Everybody welcomed these gatherings as a new opportunity to personally revitalize their connection to BJ. After the catered buffet dinner and time to socialize, the group met as a whole for introductions and then broke into smaller groups to promote personal interaction and explore how members would like to deepen their connection to the community.

In the first session, we learned that many members did not read Hebrew and were frustrated by the lack of available transliterated prayer books in the synagogue, prompting the task force to not only relay this to the administration, but to ensure that transliterated songs would be available at the upcoming Shabbat dinners. In the second session, many members indicated a desire to be part of a havurah that would meet regularly and allow for deeper, sustained connections with other members.

The most striking feature of these sessions was that, despite the diversity of ages, backgrounds, and life experiences, all these members shared a heartfelt passion for the BJ experience: the prayer service, the music, the inclusiveness, and the social action initiatives.

The Shabbat dinners that followed were warm, intimate gatherings of 10 to 12 members, graciously hosted by lay and Board member volunteers. They were filled with delicious homemade food, singing, and discussion of Shabbat customs and of the weekly parashah.

The third session included a wine tasting and presentations by committee chairs of volunteer opportunities. This is BJ at its best—a passionate effort to strengthen the cohesiveness of our community and its social action initiatives by reaching out and encouraging those who feel disconnected, or uninvolved, to reconnect and become revitalized in the process.

On behalf of myself and my co-chair, Emily Weiss, I would like to thank Assistant Executive Director Belinda Lasky, the Task Force members, Board members, Shabbat hosts, and wine-tasting hosts for their time, effort, and generosity.

Susan Etra is co-chair of the BJ B’Yahad Task Force and a former member of the Board of Trustees. She and her family have been members of BJ for more than 15 years.