Tucked away in the Grand Rapids metropolitan area is a small, Jewish community comprising one percent of the population.
With Bev Kagan and a few other activists at the
helm, the future of Grand Rapids' fragmented
Jewish community looks promising
rand Rapids — Those who
know Bev Kagan say her
enthusiasm is contagious
and will help revive a
fragmented community of
In a community held together by
a volunteer-run Jewish Community
Fund and two congregations,
volunteerism has been on the decline
for several years. Yet Kagan — a
housewife and former kindergarten
teacher — lately has managed to
muster support from just about
everybody she solicits.
"Grand Rapids is not much dif-
ferent from other small Jewish com-
munities, yet it has a rare ingredient
of a person who's invested herself and
is willing to endure frustrations to get
what she wants;' says Dr. Dan Grodof-
sky, the Council of Jewish Federa-
tions community consultant for
Grand Rapids. "Lots of things have
changed because of Bev. She is a
Kagan, 40, grew up in Detroit and
"Her enthusiasm creates a desire
moved to Grand Rapids with her hus-
band, David, after graduating from to get people to become part of the
Michigan State University in East team;' Lash says. "She finds people
Lansing. She taught school, raised a and puts them to work. It's like she
family, and opted to work for the bet- has this contagious disease and I
terment of Jews in Grand Rapids caught it:'
Now for the first time, Kagan and
when her children Lisa, now 12, and
a handful of other activists at the
Jeff, now 8, were off to school.
In the past fife years, her helm of the Jewish cultural communi-
charisma has attracted a new group ty say the community's future looks
of parents with young children and promising. They are not attempting to
teens, including Roberta Lash, a reach grandiose plateaus — they
retailer who had never done volunteer merely want to guarantee the sur-
vival of a small, Jewish community,
work before she met Kagan.
Lash, who moved to Grand Rapids which makes up 1 percent of
from Chicago several years ago, says metropolitan Grand Rapids'
she was surprised that there were no estimated 470,000 residents.
For 15 years, the community has
social groups for her young children.
But then she met Kagan, who been guided by Joe Schwartz, presi-
brought together several parents who dent of the Jewish Community Fund.
had suggested a secular youth group The retired vice president for Herman
for Jewish children to meet and to Miller office furniture company is
socialize. Today, the Jewish middle known as a systematic, practical and
school-age children of Grand Rapids realistic fund-raiser.
He works closely with Kagan and
meet regularly for such events as ice
cream socials and roller skating supports her ideas, yet Schwartz is not
as optimistic as she about changes
within the community. Grand Rapids,
he says, has been a great place to live.
He loves living in a city where crime
is low and race problems are almost
non-existent. But he says it is
idealistic to believe that the city will
soon be home to a close-knit Jewish
Most of the Jewish people,
Schwartz says, integrate freely with
the gentile world. Therefore, he says,
the temple and synagogue are not the
central spots for the community's
social activities. He is not convinced
there is enough cooperation within
the community to start programs and
keep them going in future
Schwartz says Grand Rapids Jews
never have been dependent upon
religious affiliation for social life.
"If we could, one of our expecta-
tions would be to bring all members
of the community together," Schwartz
says. "The best thing to do is to give
your children broad experiences and
hope they use what you taught them?'