Everyone belongs at the JCC. Of the many programs, events, and services offered at the Center of it all, J-Reach, our community outreach program, surely exemplifies this concept by ensuring that everyone from interfaith families to GLBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) families to families in the Northwest and Northeast suburbs feels connected to the Jewish community.
From the beginning, the JCC has always embraced an open tent policy. JCC Program Director Melanie Butter served as Outreach Director until 2011. Butter explained that, “Outreach programs take Jewish learning and community-building outside the walls of Jewish institutions, creating opportunities for connections in areas without traditionally identified Jewish gathering places.”
In May 2012, the JCC and its J-Reach Director, Becca Nitzberg, expanded its reach into the world as one of 16 organizations invited to take part in the pilot year for the Big Tent Judaism Professional Training program. “This year of training was a collaborative effort with the Jewish Outreach Institute in discussing best practices of outreach methodology,” Nitzberg said.
J-Reach recently achieved national recognition from the Jewish Outreach Institute for its successes in outreach programming. Now, after completing the training series, J-Reach serves as a model for future programs, eager to embrace the Big Tent philosophy, to follow and learn from during the training. J-Reach is now part of a collaborative network of 150 Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates who have “expanded the tent” of the organized Jewish community by reaching and serving less-engaged Jews, including interfaith and unaffiliated families.
Community member Jenny Holz has benefited from participating in J-Reach programs and classes as a Jewish parent in an interfaith family. She started attending J-Reach programs because it was important for her to be involved and to raise her daughters with awareness of and pride in their Judaism.
“J-Reach has provided opportunities for us to connect with other Jews in our area. Sharing experiences with other interfaith couples and families has helped us navigate marriage and parenthood in a way we likely never would have found on our own. Becca is absolutely key to making J-Reach as extraordinary as it is. Not only is she extremely knowledgeable and resourceful, but she is always friendly, responsive and energetic. No one could give a job that much unwavering enthusiasm without truly loving what she does — and it shows. J-Reach has proven to be an essential family resource,” said Holz.
Nitzberg celebrated the JCC’s 100th year with 100 J-Reach initiatives in 2013. Some of the highlights of the year included two Jewish Camping Fairs to provide families a one-stop-shop to learn, discuss, and decide which the best fit for their potential camper. The Chocolate Passover Seders in Northwest and Northeast Columbus, during which 80 participants enjoyed a kid-friendly yet meaningful exploration of the holiday, were big hits, too.
Another of the 100 initiatives of 2013 was the Northwest Community Playgroup, a newly created chavurahbased on direct requests from families with young children in the Northwest Columbus area. During the first organized gathering at Whetstone Park, over 30 participants (including 19 first-time J-Reach participants) met on a Sunday morning to play, schmooze, enjoy a short Havdalah service, and nosh on challah. Additional playdates have been held and are on the calendar for the coming months!
One key event of 2013 was the LGBTQ & Allies Community Shabbat in October. In past years, much of the JCC’s outreach efforts were directed toward the Jewish LGBTQ community. A big initiative in the coming year will be to expand upon these efforts by creating more programming such as the initial Shabbat dinner. Hosted by an LGBTQ family in Clintonville, the JCC supplied a vegetarian kosher meal and 30 guests enjoyed connecting with new and old friends.
These 100 programs were so successful that the Jewish Outreach Institute recently featured them as part of its training series, in a webinar titled, “Why Success Matters in Outreach and How Do We Prove It?”
Most recently, J-Reach capped off the year with its 100th initiative, in which Nitzberg consulted a Northeast family looking for guidance on navigating interfaith relationships. Nitzberg invites feedback from these interactions to create programming that meets the direct needs of community members seeking a stronger connection to their Judaism.
“It’s all about these one-on-one moments. I truly enjoy finding ways to connect people and to be as inclusive as possible,” said Nitzberg.