To find open doors into Jewish life and build Jewish community, one need only look in their own backyard. The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle is committed to creating neighborhood-based opportunities for connecting with Jewish life. When time and distance aren’t barriers for making Jewish friends and participating in high-quality Jewish experiences, successful gatherings are literally at our doorstep.

Meet Karin Cole and Kathy Packer, the PJ Library® Community Connectors who are launching new family-friendly Federation programs in Seattle and on the Eastside  — Bim Bam Baby! gatherings and the Family Volunteering Challenge. Both the Connectors are moms who are profoundly motivated to help other Jewish families connect with each other and form community.

Packer says, “In a time when we are living farther away from city centers and are busier than ever with work and other obligations, it can be hard to connect with our Jewish friends. This means it’s important to create community closer to where we live.”

Bringing Jewish life to families close to home is just the beginning. Cole says, “The most important first step for engaging with new parents is to meet them in their environment; be flexible, understanding, and creative; and help pave the path to creating meaningful connections so that the barriers to engagement begin to dissipate.”

The Connectors program is building on the foundation that PJ Library has laid over the past 10 years in Jewish Puget Sound as a low-barrier, high-impact entry point into Jewish life for families.

“PJ Library is profoundly about families. It is intergenerational by design and encourages a playful spirit in the way we approach Jewish life,” says Rabbi Samuel Klein, the Federation’s Director of Jewish Engagement.

Cole is working with families who have children in the PJ age cohort, 6 months to 8 years, while Packer’s focus is families whose kids are in the older PJ Our Way™ cohort, ages 9 to 11.

What the Connectors will do is “hold a space” for people to have memorable Jewish experiences in warm and welcoming settings, says Klein. Both the Connectors will “build authentic relationships, from a passion to build community through people-to-people connections, shared interests, and personal growth through Jewish learning,” he adds.

A key to holding a space is “the power of hospitality,” as Cole puts it. Once a month, she is welcoming families with young children into her Queen Anne home for Bim Bam Baby! — fun gatherings where parents can engage with their little ones around an energetic music class and socialize with friends at a vegetarian potluck picnic. Each gathering is built around a theme, such as Sukkot for the upcoming October 12 Bim Bam Baby!

Cole also will be the lead Connector on Jewish Parenting Together, which Klein says will be a learning experience anchored in values-
based, intentional parenting with an educator for couples who have children ages 4 and under. A group of up to eight parents from the Queen Anne, Fremont, and Ballard neighborhoods will take part in the sessions.

One-time gatherings that introduce families to PJ are not sufficient for creating community. “The key is to welcome families in by also introducing families to each other as the facilitator to building a larger, stronger, and more intimate Jewish community in Seattle. That way, engagement in the community continues to grow not only through me, but through all families interested in raising Jewish children,” Cole says.

For the PJ Our Way families, Packer’s major focus will be the Family Volunteering Challenge, which Klein describes as “a series of challenges mapped onto Jewish experiences.” The kickoff will be an October 6 visit to Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center in Carnation, an opportunity to find “community in nature,” he says.

Future Family Volunteering Challenge events will include a park cleanup at the Kubota Garden in the Rainier Beach neighborhood and making tzedakah (charity) boxes at the Stroum Jewish Community Center.

The Jewish experiences that the Connectors facilitate will create shared memories that bring people together. Easy access is the key. Says Cole, “The easier it is to get together, the more individuals and families will respond and come together as a community.”

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