The Orthodox Union (OU), the nation’s oldest and largest umbrella organization for the North American Orthodox Jewish community, has awarded $100,000 in grants to 35 synagogues in 15 U.S. states and one Canadian province in an effort to bring communities back to shul as more people are vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.
The OU received over 300 submissions across 34 states, from a range of synagogues large and small. The 35 winners chosen by the OU Grant Committee represented both out-of-the-box thinking and opportunities that are more likely to rebuild and reaffirm the value of synagogue and community and therefore encourage congregants to return for the long term. The submissions represent a large depository of ideas and are available to any synagogue that could benefit from the innovative thinking. Ideas included hosting communal Kiddush celebration as a “make-up” for missed milestones, a back-to-shul fair, and a communal parlor meeting project to truly understand the changed needs of congregants. A full list of the winning submissions is available at www.ou.org/grant21.
Shuls receiving grants include: Darchei Noam in Fair Lawn, NJ; Congregation Or Torah in Skokie, IL; Congregation Beth Jacob in Atlanta, GA; Adas Torah in Los Angeles, CA; Congregation AABJ&D in West Orange, NJ; Congregation KINS of West Rogers Park in Chicago, IL; Congregation Ohav Zedek in Wilkes-Barre, PA; Beth David Synagogue in West Hartford, CT; Beth Haknesseth Ohr Hamizrach in Brooklyn, NY; Congregation Rodfei Sholom in San Antonio, TX; Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead, NY; Young Israel Aish in Las Vegas, NV; Young Israel of the West Side in New York, NY; Young Israel of West Hartford in West Hartford, CT; Lido Beach Synagogue in Lido Beach, NY; Young Israel of Brookline in Brookline, MA; The Jewish Center in New York, NY; DAT Minyan in Denver, CO; Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah (MMAE) in Baltimore, MD; Young Israel of Oak Park in Oak Park, MI; Young Israel of Scarsdale in Scarsdale, NY; Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa, ON; Boston University Hillel, MA; Congregation Emek Beracha in Palo Alto, CA; Young Israel of Sharon in Sharon, MA; Kesher Israel in Harrisburg, PA; ASKT – Anshe Sfard Kehillat Torah in Glendale, WI; Shaarei Torah Orthodox Congregation of Syracuse, NY; Am HaTorah Congregation in Bethesda, MD; Lincolnwood Jewish Congregation AG Beth Israel in Lincolnwood, IL; Young Israel of Cherry Hill, NJ; Young Israel of Great Neck, NY; LINK Shul in Los Angeles, CA; Boca Raton Synagogue, FL; and the BACH Jewish Center in Long Beach, NY.
“The COVID-19 pandemic reminded us all that the shul experience creates a sense of community that is irreplicable,” said OU President Moishe Bane. “Shul leaders across the country are discovering new ways to bring back our communities stronger than ever – our families, our singles, our seniors and our youth – and we are thrilled to be able to partner with them on this endeavor.”
“In every Jewish community the shul is meant to be central to communal infrastructure and experience,” said OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Moshe Hauer. “The COVID reset is enabling shuls to rethink and enhance that role, identifying ways to strengthen the communal bond and the connection of all community members to Torah and Jewish life. Throughout this grant-making process, it has been inspiring to see the energies and thought being brought to bear on this issue.”
“In going through all of the submissions, it became abundantly clear that shuls are seizing the opportunity to re-engage our community in the essential experience that shul offers,” said OU Synagogue Initiatives Director Rabbi Adir Posy. “We’ve collected so many ideas and put together a database so that shuls of all sizes and from all over the world can have access to this great thinking and utilize it for their own shuls.”
“While we wish we could fund many more shuls as they implement their plans to bring people back our hope is that this repository of ideas can serve as a launching pad for others,” added Rabbi Posy.