The High Holidays can be an uncertain time for Jewish young adults, especially if they are in a new city. The usual family or college group attendance may not be an option and figuring out what to do for the holidays may be difficult as many are unlikely to have found a synagogue of their own to regularly attend. That’s why NEXT, part of the Birthright Israel Foundation, launched its High Holidays Initiative three years ago, which combines an online map of services and events around the country as well as the means for young adults to host their own holiday meals.
“People who have been on Birthright trips have told us about how they enjoy celebrating Jewish holidays with their friends,” said Morlie Levin, NEXT’s CEO.
The initiative helps connect those alumni, as well as those who have not been on Birthright but are interested in participating in Jewish life, Levin explained. This year’s interactive map expands on previous efforts by not only locating synagogues but other activities as well which can be narrowed down by denomination and styles including egalitarian and interfaith or LGBT-friendly locations.
“After participants come back from Israel, a lot of them want to maintain and build the kind of Jewish connection they had,” Levin said.
With nearly 280,000 alumni of Birthright trips in the U.S., there are a lot of possible connections to make and the long-term engagement of alumni with the Jewish community is essentially what NEXT is all about, Levin said.
It’s also the first year that NEXT has offered money and supplies for people interested in hosting their own holiday and Yom Kippur break-the-fast meals. NEXT has provided similar small grants of money and materials for people to create and host their own Shabbat dinners and even their own sedarim at Passover, programs whose success has led in part to this addition to the High Holiday initiative.
“They can create their own meaningful Jewish experience,” Levin said. “That’s one of our most important goals.”
Along with the physical resources, the website provides information and plans for leading the holiday gatherings, which Levin said is a key part of making the experience meaningful and genuine. Nearly 17,000 such Shabbat experiences have been facilitated by NEXT in the country so far.
As a city with a large Jewish young adult population, the greater D.C. area is forested on the map with places and events for the High Holidays.
“Washington has a lot of different kinds of opportunities for people looking for something to do,” said Dan Fast, Northeast regional director of NEXT. “It’s a very diverse area.”
Locally, Fast said NEXT communicates with other organizations that engage with Jewish young adults to encourage more people to participate somehow in the High Holidays, part of the broader community goals of NEXT. EntryPoint DC for instance is listed on the map and includes listings of discounted and free tickets for young adults who are often cash-strapped and might not be able to afford the sometimes pricey tickets.
Although it’s not known yet what kinds of events the local community will be drawn to, Fast said there will be some effort made at learning what drew people to whatever events they went to and then applying what they learn to future programs, as well as improving the High Holiday initiative in particular.
“People want to go where their friends are going,” he said. “A lot of attendance will probably be proportional to how big the synagogue is, but it will be interesting to see where people end up.”
As the holidays approach and there’s a greater rush to find somewhere to go or something to do for the holidays, interest in the website is likely to grow Levin said, but how people get and stay involved afterward is vital, too, as long-term Jewish engagement is the root goal of all the programs NEXT provides.
“It’s really a way to build a Jewish community,” Levin said.
To see the map and learn more, visit birthrightisrael.com/AfterTheTrip/programs/Pages/HighHolidayMap.aspx