Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase last week received a $120,000 grant from the Phyllis Margolius Family Foundation for an initiative targeting young Jewish families in Montgomery County.
The Conservative synagogue’s initiative — dubbed Engage! — will be a collaboration with Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase, the afterschool program MoEd, Ramah Day Camp, PJ Library and the Jewish Food Experience. Specifics on what exactly the programming will include haven’t been settled on yet, but a launch party is in the works for this fall after High Holidays.
The grant was prompted by a survey the Margolius Foundation and Jewish Federation of Greater Washington released last year seeking the key factors in whether a family decides to join a Jewish institution. The results — culled from nearly 1,000 area PJ Library participants — found that time, cost and location were all significant barriers.
“What’s happening with the young married couples and why aren’t they becoming more involved in the community?” asked Margolius Family Foundation President Philip Margolius as he presented the grant to the winning organizations. “We have such a vibrant community but there’s so much duplicated effort and wasted time. So we came up with the idea of having Jewish organizations come together to collaborate on innovative programming that would benefit the community.”
Margolius said that the foundation’s request for proposals garnered 20 submissions, from which seven finalists were chosen. But one thing that set Ohr Kodesh’s proposal apart was how many other organizations it involved.
Rise Ain, an Ohr Kodesh member who helped to spearhead their proposal, said the congregation has a large and growing segment of young families, meaning it had both parents to consult on what would make effective programs and lots of experience in the arena.
“This is where our community is going to grow in the entire Washington Jewish community, and we wanted to be a part of figuring out what’s the best way to engage those families, bringing them into the community in creative ways,” Ain said. “We thought, not only would it be helpful for our congregation, but by talking with our own members we can figure out exactly what the community needs.”
The grant period runs from June of 2018 to 2021 and will feature eight to 10 events in a public space, Ain said.
Not every event will include every organization, but the groups are hoping that each event will have something for parents and children. If there are kid-specific games and activities, they’ll also have space for parents to come together, make friends and share advice.
“Parents who are raising Jewish children are creating Jewish cohorts,” said Cantor Hinda Eisen Labovitz of Ohr Kodesh.
“We want them to be able to find friends and make a cohort. Jewish parents who have Jewish friends do Jewish things together.”
For now, the participating organizations — which are largely based in Montgomery County — say the events will happen there and in the District of Columbia. But as is typical since the Greater Washington demographic study showed that Northern Virginia now has the highest population of Jews in the region, the Margolius Foundation would like to eventually include that area.
“This is a perfect program for Northern Virginia,” Margolius said. “All the marginalized Jews there, they need it more than anybody.”
Flanked by his daughter Jennifer, the foundation’s secretary, Margolius talked about his late wife, Phyllis, and what Engage! would have meant to her.
“She was always worried about continuity and the community not stepping up to the plate and taking on the hard issues,” Margolius said. “So you can thank my late wife.
“I talk to her every day, and I know she approves.”