Collaboration and combined education have become a major part of the identity at Machar, a secular humanistic congregation in Washington, D.C., where they are partnering with another local synagogue and jointly organizing religious education and other events, intermixing their congregations.
Machar and Kehila Chadasha, a progressive synagogue in Montgomery County, have combined their religious education classes up until the sixth and seventh grade levels, and have been offering adult education and other large events together as well.
“In late April and early May, I was contacted by Kehila Chadasha’s Rabbi Gordy Fuller about possibilities for collaboration because our congregations are similar in size, similar in the amount of time they’ve been around in the D.C. area, similar in who the members are from a social and political perspective and similar in age. The schools are relatively close to the same size,” said Rabbi Jeremy Kridel, Machar’s head rabbi.
It’s become a major feature of the synagogue’s identity over the past month and a half, with the first shared events happening with a kickoff on Sept. 10. The shared religious schooling has continued every week since, with plans for further expansion.
The increased class size along with different educational approaches has caused some changes in the way that the kids are learning, allowing a broader range of approaches and topics to be discussed.
“We’re starting to bring in some of the Machar curriculum that has been around for a while and then some of what Kehila Chadasha uses for curriculum, which is the ShalomLearning curriculum. So, we’re blending those [curriculums] in a lot of places … we’re teaching things that both congregations want to have their kids learn,” Rabbi Kridel said.
Another benefit from the collaboration is that Machar can have their educational classes with Kehila Chadasha in a building leased by them. Otherwise, Machar wouldn’t have access to a facility that can accommodate these larger group events.
Rabbi Kridel said that having the bigger class sizes allows the classes to feel more like a traditional school setting and enables the congregation to meet a goal that many of its members have, which is for their children to meet other Jewish kids.
But that goal of enhancing Jewish social connections goes beyond the children and school and extends to the families of the two congregations. Neither congregation is particularly large, and it therefore makes sense for the two synagogues to collaborate on events in order to provide a fuller experience and a more vibrant Jewish community for their respective congregants.
“When you don’t own a building and you’re not a 500-family congregation, collaboration is really important to be able to provide what you want to provide. And it’s great for people to be able to have a sense of community that otherwise would be harder to come by when it’s 10 people showing up for Shabbat or something like that,” Rabbi Kridel said.
It’s also important for these larger gatherings to take place because aside from giving Jewish families more people to meet and connect with, it simplifies community events with more consistent participation.
This consistency from increased participation has been especially helpful with adult education and holiday programming, according to Machar’s treasurer and co-vice president Will David.
He said that there’s been a lot of communication between the leadership of the respective synagogues about coordination, and their current efforts have fostered exciting engagement that makes the experiences better for everyone, a sentiment that was shared by Rabbi Kridel.
“It’s easier to have more Shabbat services if you know you’ve got more people that can come to them. It’s easier to do more holiday celebrations. They do a big Purim event that has not been something that we’ve tended to do in a big way. We do a bigger Passover thing than they do. So, we’re able to do these things together. And that makes for a bigger community and added value,” Rabbi Kridel said.
Rabbi Kridel stressed that this sense of community is more valuable now than in recent memory with the conflict in Israel and increased antisemitism, and that the programs have been working well so far, with the possibility of them expand further.
“Knowing that somebody has your back, having that sense is actually really important. And the bigger we make our communities and the more integrated we make them, the more people have that positive feeling,” Rabbi Kridel said.