Say you are a 30- or 40-something Jewish adult, either a longtime local resident or someone who has just arrived in the booming Puget Sound region to take a job. You want to connect with the community and plug into Jewish life in any way that suits you. Where can you turn?
Enter PAVE, a program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle that creates connection points enabling Jews in their 30s and 40s to find their own paths to Jewish life, many times working in collaboration with other community organizations. Launched by the Federation in 2015, “PAVE allows you to connect with Jewish life in so many ways. It’s inclusive, it’s fun, and it’s relevant,” says Jenna Hanauer, the Federation’s PAVE Engagement Associate.
The program has tapped into “people’s desire to be in a Jewish group” and find ways “to expand their circle to include Jewish friends they might not have grown up with,” says Marissa Moxley, a member of PAVE’s steering committee.
“I think that what people here think of living or being part of a traditional Jewish community is changing, and PAVE was designed to appeal to this demographic that wants to still be part of the community but on their own terms, whether it’s with their families or to meet new people,” adds Orly Feldman, another steering committee member.
In 2016, PAVE held nearly 60 events that attracted over 600 attendees. The program features a diverse array of opportunities to explore Jewish connections and to build community. PAVE leaders work collaboratively with organizations such as Jconnect Seattle and The Tribe at Temple De Hirsch Sinai to plan and market appealing events.
“We have such a wide variety of events,” says Clarissa Marks, another PAVE leader. “If you’re into the outdoors, we have hiking. If you’re into knitting, we have a craft circle. Because our mission is just to help make Jewish connections, it really opens up our ability to reach people with a lot of different interests.” This year, for example, PAVE partnered with Seattle Sephardic Network to hold a Mimouna Passover break-fast. The event was a “new way to celebrate Passover for most folks,” Marks notes.
The formula for planning events and creating interest groups is simple, says Moxley. “It’s a lot of reaching out. We ask what people want to see and do,” because, as she adds, “you can never assume people will be interested in something.”
Special interest groups offer diverse ways for Jews to get together. Marks notes that “serving the 30s and 40s demographic is interesting because we’re all at very different stages of our lives. Having separate interest groups really helps with that.” She adds, “We try to make sure we have a good balance of larger PAVE events that are kid-friendly or just for adults.”
Shoshana Billik, who coordinates PAVE’s Single Parents Network, says the group fills an important niche by giving single Jewish parents a place “to find community.” The network “has been instrumental in helping me to find my tribe here in Seattle,” she adds.
PAVE also is well positioned to bring to fruition new ideas the community’s many newcomers may have about experiencing Jewish life.
Marks remembers a conversation she had with a cousin in New York, who was amazed by PAVE and told Marks, “I’ve never spent so much time talking about my Jewish identity before.”
Marks says her cousin is “someone who had grown up in a Jewish neighborhood, gone to synagogue, and been bat-mitzvahed. I think a lot of folks coming from parts of the country with larger, older Jewish communities may have grown up with a more established vision of what a Jewish community looks like, and haven’t had the opportunity to define it for themselves before.”
Feldman recalls a similar experience. “When I moved here seven years ago from Florida, I noticed how different the Jewish community was from what I have experienced before, was intrigued by it, and therefore became active. I am now able to make that possible for new transplants like me to find what role PAVE and the Jewish community can play for them.”
By giving Jews in PAVE’s target audience what they’re looking for, the program is “bringing people in their 30s and 40s together in a meaningful and accessible way with endless possibilities to grow,” Hanauer says.
As Moxley observes, “It’s a really beautiful thing to be part of the growth of community.”