The 2014 Greater Seattle Jewish Community Study highlighted that nearly all Jews in the Puget Sound region feel that being Jewish and doing Jewish things are important to their lives. Barriers like traffic, accessibility, and not feeling welcome, however, decrease participation. The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle created Neighborhood Connections to tear down those barriers and create new opportunities to easily take part in Jewish life, as part of its long-term goal of serving the community’s needs.
Neighborhood Connections brings Jewish life closer to home and closer to people’s interests, giving them easy access to Jewish activities that call to their values and align with their interests in welcoming ways. Jewish life becomes much more engaging and dynamic as a result, says Keith Dvorchik, the Federation’s president and CEO.
“As more people get involved, even more people will want to get involved,” Dvorchik says. “More people will get together to celebrate Shabbat, more kids will go to Jewish summer camp, more people of every age will take advantage of Jewish learning opportunities, more people will add new ideas and new energy to our community. The impact will be enormous.”
Dvorchik notes 70 percent of the area’s Jewish population does not take part in organized Jewish life. “It will take a long-term, community-wide effort to connect more people to Jewish life in ways that meet them where they are,” Dvorchik says. “We’re all in this together.”
To find out more about creating Neighborhood Connections that will entice more people to Jewish life, in March 2016 the Federation contracted with Seattle-based EMC Research to survey the community. The new research builds on the 2014 Greater Seattle Jewish Community Study, by digging more deeply into people’s preferences for living a vibrant Jewish life.
EMC sent the survey to 25,000 email addresses in the Puget Sound Jewish community. Results were striking: 92 percent enjoy participating in Jewish traditions or holidays, 88 percent prefer events that are culturally Jewish but not religious, and 81 percent are interested in attending small, intimate Jewish events.
At the same time, people face significant barriers to plugging into Jewish life. Over half the survey respondents said they aren’t interested in existing programs. Over half also said they don’t want to fight traffic getting to programs. More than one-third said they don’t feel welcome at Jewish events.
This is where Neighborhood Connections comes in. Neighborhood Connections builds on the progress the Federation has already made to bring Jewish life closer to people in underserved neighborhoods and to offer opportunities to be a part of small, intimate Jewish events that people want and where they can feel welcome among new and old friends.
The Federation’s PAVE Seattle, for example, continues to expand and diversify the connection opportunities it offers to Jewish life for people in their 30s and 40s, and now has engaged more than 600 people, including over 200 newcomers to the community. “PAVE helps us get out and meet other people,” says Emily Wheeler, 35, of Kent. “We’ve made new friends with another family who have had us over for playdates with their kids and for Shabbos dinner. It’s been great meeting new people and having a Jewish community.”
The Federation expanded the PJ Library Neighborhood Song & Story times from seven weekly events to 12 weekly events throughout the region, increasing its investment in the program by over 70 percent. New expansion of the free events where families can get together at no charge for storytelling, singing, and a chance to meet new friends has made connections more accessible in areas such as Green Lake, Greenwood, Ballard, West Seattle, and Factoria. “We want to offer long-term sustainable programs, with regularity, that people can count on,” Dvorchik says.
This spring, the Federation went further in creating close-in, informal Jewish connection opportunities with a Pop-Up Shabbat celebration in Issaquah in partnership with Temple B’nai Torah as well as Pop-Up Passover Seders in Ballard, Issaquah, and West Seattle. The Pop-Up Shabbat and Passover Seders fit the bill for what many people are looking for — simple, accessible events where people of all ages gather to live Jewishly together, on their terms, and planting seeds of community that will enrich Jewish life.
“The responses we got from our first Pop-Up Shabbat and our Pop-Up Passover Seders were very heartening. People liked the accessibility of these events and the informal energy where people could get to know each other and create community,” Dvorchik says. “Pop-Up gatherings are only the beginning. In growing Neighborhood Connections, we’re making deep investments that create opportunities to find enjoyment and meaning in living Jewishly the way you want to live Jewishly. Whatever path you want to take on your Jewish journey, however you want to connect to Jewish life, we will be there to bring your Jewish community to you.”