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April 24, 2009     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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April 24, 2009

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PAGE 14A By Steve Lipman New York Jewish Week NORTH CONWAY, N.H.-- Karen Eisenberg brought the homemade chopped liver. Joan Kurz brought a bagful of bottled gefilte fish. Suzie Laskin, the charoset. And other women came to Maestro's Italian restaurant last week, carrying yom toy staples, as the sun set over the White Mountains. Itwas time for the second- night seder of Chavurah HeHarim, the Jewish com- munity of rural east-central New Hampshire and western Maine, and the restaurant staff had prepared a meal of roast chicken, tsimmes and chametz-free chocolate cake. But Jewish life in the Mount Washington Valley, in ski country where winter grudgingly gives way to spring, where piles of grimy snow still line the roads in April, means that everyone pitches in. Upstairs in the restau- rant's cozy private dining hall, with framed photo- graphs of southern Italy lining the walls, some five dozen members of the scat- tered Jewish community, arriving from a radius of 25 miles, showed up for the seder, many with wine or matzah or other holiday items in hand. If you want a Jewish life where the near- est synagogue, the nearest rabbi, the nearest religious school, the nearest children's play group is an hour away, you have to make it yourself, the transplanted Yankees in Chavurah HeHarim--it's Hebrew for"fellowship of the mountains" tell you. And the 90 or so members of the chavurah, including nearly a score of children and teens, are making it. PhysiCally distant from their families in Boston and Providence and other East Coast cities, Chavurah HeHarim is creating a mish- poche of people who celebrate and mourn together, always arriving with something for communal hunger. "We are an extended fam- ily," says Laskin. a real estate agent and one of the group's founders. "We have a seder with our extended family." Call it potluck Judaism. Anywhere Jewish num- bers are small and Jewish resources are limited, there is more individual respon- sibility. But the chavurah, which is preparing for its bar mitzvah anniversary next year, offers an example of applied Jewish continuity, with a unique New England flavor. Chavurah HeHarim is not affiliated with the Confer- ence on Judaism in Rural New England, which began sponsoring annual summer gatherings nearly three de- cades ago for similar isolated Jews in the area and south- ern Quebec, or the National Havurah Committee, which also holds an annual con- ference. It operates in the spirit of the countercultural Havurah Movement, which brought a style of egalitarian, hands-on, non-bureaucratic "Jewish Catalog" Judaism to the '60s-'70s generation, and of the Institute of Southern Jewish Life, which reaches out to similar small Jewish communities in the Deep South. Few such havurah groups have formed since the move- rnent peaked in the 1980s, says Rabbi Steven Stroirnan, an author and teacher who has followed the trends and belonged to a Philadelphia havurah for several decades. "These kind of things happen in waves." He calls the New HamP- shire havurah "more the exception," a lone group of Jews successful in sustain- ing itself. "A lot of these groups" that were formed like Chavurah HeHarim with a social-education-religious orientation "morphed into minyanim, because a minyan has a set structure," Rabbi Stroiman says. As indepen- dent groups, they are "'very hard to maintain," he says. "You need people with a lot of desire," Because of the havurah area's agrarian roots, no one arrives at someone's home or at a community meeting empty-handed. "Potluck is very New Eng- land," says Mike Levine, in the living room of his house that offers a panoramic view of the mountain ralage. On the night before Pass- over begins, he and his wife Julie are hosting several chavurah members and me to talk about life as New Hampshire Jews. Everyone, of course, has brought some- thing for nosh a cake, a pie, some cookies. I've come to help lead their seder. For the last six years I've done it overseas in former communist coun- tries, with the support of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. This year, I stayed domestic, and the havurah invited me. For a few hours, everyone in the Levine living room shared his or her story (devotees of the outdoor, hiking-and-skiing life, most had come originally for a summer then come back to stay) and the story of the havurah (it's the only Jewish organization in an area that has little Jewish history and no extant Jewish sites). When you live in an isolat- ed Jewish region, where two Jews on a block cofistitute a "Jewish neighborhood," you figure you're the only Jew around, the havurah members tell me. Laskin and Brian Charles, who worked at the WMWV- FM radio station 13 years ago, decided to find out. They announced a Friday night Shabbat get-together for a few weeks on a WMWV commercial. "If you're the only one on your blockwith- out a Christmas tree. If you know what a yarmulke is... come join us for a Shabbat potluck," the commercial stated. They set up for a dozen people. Sixty-five showed up. "We squeezed them in," Laskin says. From that dinner grew monthly Shabbat meet- ings, then worship services conducted from a stapled- and-photocopied "Friday Night Together" siddur, then adoption of the name Chavurah-HeHarim - The Mount Washington Valley Jewish Community. "It's a fellowship. It's a community"mit's not a synagogue, Laskin says. This is taking place in "Live Free Or Die" New Hampshire, in the usually secular New England region. Without a building or rented room of its own, the havurah holds holi- day celebrations and "kids' club" meetings in members' homes. For adult education and religious school classes and bar-bat mitzvahs, they bring in trained Jewish leaders from the nearest big cities. "Basically, it's rent- a-rabbi," says Burt Weiss, Laskin's husband. The couple, like most havurah members, comes from Reform and Con- servative Hebrew school backgrounds. The havurah includes the usual mix of such professions as doctors, nurses and owners of small businesses, as well as Jewish landscapers, house builders and sign makers. There's a Jewish artist, a retired tallit maker, and a large number of retirees, including a hus- bandand wife who lost their life savings in the Bernard Madoff scandal. Publicizing itself by word- of-mouth, e-mail messages and notices in The Conway Daily Sun's weekly Church Page, the havurah member- ship has remained steady at 70 to 90 people, out of a total population of about 10,000 -people in The Valley. The group, members say, jelled when Ellie Gordon, a 40ish attorney with a young .son, lost her husband to a heart attack 10 years ago. "They brought me meals every day," says Gordon, now havurah president. "The Jewish community took care of me." Today, in days of recession, havurah members h.elp each other network when one loses a job. Though none of New Hampshire's havurah mem- bers are Orthodox, some have become more interested in Judaism, going to wor- ship services more often and keeping a semblance of kashrut because of their involvement with the group, they say. A Jewish life is possible outside of large urban cen- ters, as long as you're not interested in maintaining a strictly observant life, they say. For Passover needs, Shaw's supermarket and the Hannaford Food & Drug chain set up modest kosher-for-Passover displays of matzah, grape juice and other holiday goodies. For Sukkot, the havurah stores a pre-fab sukkah in a mem- ber's home and erects it each year on a rotating basis. For Judaica, there's the Web. "The Internet is our Jewish bookstore," Weiss says. "You can get anything delivered the next day." "You can have a Jewish community anywhere.., if you have a rabbi or syna- gogue, or not," Charles says. The annual second-night seder--many members hold their own or go to friends' houses the first night--is always the group's most popular event. It was held at a seniors' center for sev- eral years, before moving to Maestro's this year. "It was potluck at the beginning,'_' before the mem- bers decided to have the meal catered. Laskin says. The crowd last week was informal, dressed mostly in skirts and Dockers. Several of the men had ponytails. The Haggadah was abridged, "The Concise Fam- ily Seder" (Jonathan David Publishers), which presents a bare-bones outline and such contemporary readings as "Let My People Go." The seder was eclectic, at least for someone from my Orthodox orientation. The Moose'l Toy klezmer group performed beforehand, and Weiss handed out gold dol- lar coins to every kid who searched for the afikomen pieces that were hidden in plain sight. Most of the kids, about a dozen of them, sat with me at the head table. Minimizing traditional reading from the Haggadah and emphasizing shtick to keep the youngsters involved, I handed out Ba- zooka bubblegum to anyone who asked or answered a question, and awarded out- standing participants with small prizes, many donated by J. Levine Books & Ju- daica, and by Rabbi Leonard and Lisa Levy, Forest Hills friends. The kids paid attention throughout, competing to ask a question and earn a piece of gum. The seder lasted three hours. At the end, the ha- vurah members stayed to help the restaurant staff clean up. The meal was delicious, Laskin says. But some nos- talgia for the havurah's past remains. "Maybe," she says, "we'll go back to potluck next year." Reprintedwith permission from the New York Jewish Week, www.jewishweek. com. By Gary Rosenblatt New York Jewish Week NEW YORK -John Rus- kay, the CEO and executive vice president of UJA-Fed- eration of New York, started out as a leader of the havurah movement and critic of the federation system, while Jef- frey Solomon, the president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, was once chief operating of- ricer of UJA-Federation (and was responsible for hiring Ruskay). In the current is- sue of the Journal of Jewish Communal Service, the two colleagues, widely viewed as leaders in their posts, discuss the complex and often heated relationship between the es- tablishment fe leration form of philanthropy and the more independent style of family foundations. In respectful but frank dialogue, the two men spar at times, shedding light on the differences in. and frustrations of, their work. with complairJts about the other system. Ruskay, for example, ac- cuses foundations of focusing too much on innovation and not enough on sustaining basic communal needs; Solo- mon counters by charging federations with "pursuing a flawed marketing and fundraising strategy." The dialogue was conducted by Noel Rubinton, director of editorial content at UJA- Federation of New York, and is titled "Organized Philanthropy's Relationship to Independent Jewish Phi- lanthropy." Solomon asserts that fed- erations have not responded to the dramatic changes taking place in giving, most notably in continuing "the annual campaign strategy" that he says "is and has been failing." He calls for "a more donor-based comprehensive approach" like the one that has proven effective in To- ronto. Ruskay defends the cen- tralized giving concept of federations while critiquing family foundations that have "become too fervent" in ad- vancing pet projects at the. expense of the community as a whole. "Many believe there is a single bullet," Rus- kay said, noting that "there is no single answer to the challenges of strengthening Jewish identity in a highly open society." He said that "deepening Jewish iden- tity" calls for having people learn about, appreciate and support broader communal needs like "caring for the elderly, the homeless and the hungry." Solomon was quick to agree that some foundations are "vanity-driven," and that it is "a serious problem." But he pointed out that foundations have the luxury of "noble failures" experi- mental projects that are not successful, while federations are driven by their boards and constituehts to be rigorously cost-effective, and as a result less than ambitious. He cited the precursor to the Birth- right Israel program, Called The Israel Experience, as a $19 million failure' on the part of the Bronfman foundation- whose mistakes led directly to the success of Birthright in providing a free trip to Israel for young people. The Israel Experience failed to attract additional young people to go to Israel, beyond those who were going on organized trips, Solomon said. "But the lessons that we learned cre- ated a management system" that resulted in more than 200,000 young people go- ing to Israel on Birthright trips in the program's first eight years. With so many donors, federations cannot afford much experimenta- tion, he said, adding that failed strategies "often con- tinue.., because politically, it's hard to get out of them." or there is no chance for "transparency because of the nature of accountability at a federation. " The great challenge for federations, according to Solomon, is to "make change happen for the positive." Ruskay pointed out that it is not only federations but foundations as well that do not "publicly acknowledge their noble failures." Without naming the pub- lication, he spoke of the concern raised when Heeb, an edgy magazine which he said he himself found "offensive," was described in the general press as an "anti-Zionist publication funded by UJA-Federation." The initial UJA-Federation funding was not renewed but Ruskay defended the concept of taking chances to reach new markets of Jews. He said that UJA-Federation spends about $2 million of its $140 million campaign funds on experimental projects to reach Jews in their 20s and 30s, and that the charity has not lost donors over such spending, which he said was necessary to remain relevant. Ruskay observed that Birthright has been such a success that it is "clouding the conversation," leading foundations to think, they can create other "home runs" in funding that will have a major impact on Jew- ish life. In truth, he said, "the record of family foundations is far more modest--good things but truth be said, I think the federation model is'strong." He cited UJA-Fed- eration's work in New York, including Jewish hospice, work with synagogues and day schools and attracting younger people as compar- ing "favorably with family foundations." Ruskay said he would like to see founda- tions broaden their agenda . and domore to sustain the community as a whole, and to "develop more humility" in assessing and describing their role. Solomon said federations should broaden their donor support, and not just concentrate on major givers. He also de- scribed the human resource management situation as in "serious:.. crisis" with too few professionals willing to work for federations. And he warned against federations narrowingtheirwork, taking less responsibility for their local social service agencies, a trend he called'"frighten- ing." Both men agreed that the "rhetorical temperature" between federations and foundations needsto be lowered, citing threats like "if you don't-support my project, I won't make an annual gift," and vice versa. "We both need to disarm," Ruskay said, adding: "We're probably in the earliest chapter of this family foun- dation-federation dance. So we should take dance classes together. Jeff and I and a few others are trying. I would not say we're doing too well at it yet." Solomon agreed, saying there has been no venue to air these issues, and too few opportunities to explore working together. "We haven't figured out how to do that effectively," he said, "and we need to." Reprintedwith permission from the New York Jewish Week,