Bringing The Synagogue Home
Congregations are finding ways for members to become extendedfamilies.
SHELLI LIEBMAN DORFMAN
ill and Reuben Levy of Novi
expanded their family when
they brought home their new-
born daughter Eliana last
November. But they also discovered an
extended family in the members of their
synagogue, Congregation Beth Shalom
of Oak Park.
As part of its Meals for Moms pro-
gram, Beth Shalom members brought
dinner to the exhausted parents for a full
week following the birth.
"With many of our members not liv-
ing near the shul anymore, the shtetl
(European village) that used to keep
congregants close together is gone for
us," said Beth Shalom's Rabbi David
Nelson. "So, we continuously make an
effort to ensure the congregation retains
the notion of family, reinforcing that we
care about one another."
This type of programming — that
often reaches out in ways blood relatives
would — is beginning to emerge in
other American cities as well, according
to Dr. Ronald Wolfson, co-founder of
Synagogue 2000 and vice president of
the University of Judaism in Los
Angeles. "These efforts are designed to
create what we mil kehilla kedosha, a
sacred community in the congregation
where everyone feels like part of a large
And nothing, said Rabbi Nelson,
could be a more family-like gesture than
preparing and delivering a kosher meal
to a new mom and dad.
"We know these couples are not sleep-
ing too well and they're caught up in
1,000 other things and can't possibly
have time to cook," he said.
"The first week after the baby was
born, there was so much to do, and I
thought I could do everything," Jill Levy
said. "But by Friday, I found myself just
lying in bed. I couldn't have been happi-
er that Shabbat dinner was the first of a
week's worth of dinners brought to us by
members of our synagogue."
Founded and organized by Rabbi
Nelson's wife, Alicia, the program
Robin Zucker of Bais Chabad of North
Oak Park accepts a kitchen-kashering
'Mower" "gift while Hadassah Werner and
Phyllis. Meer, both of Oak Park, look on.
includes 50 or 60 volunteers whose
involvement has gone way beyond the
original purpose of providing a meal to a
"Because we let geography be a factor
in connecting the two families, we've
found the program has also introduced
members who didn't know each other to
those who may live nearby," Alicia
"Bringing meals was an unbelievable
gesture by families who we didn't even
know," Jill Levy said. "Now I am look-
ing forward to bringing dinner to some-
one else with a new baby."
Dinner And More
At Young Israel of Oak Park, a similar
meal program was recently re-organized
into a more formal women's group.
"We wanted a program that would
include both chesed (acts of kindness)
and hospitality," said Lynne Meredith
Schreiber of Southfield, who founded
Ezrat Nashim, named for the Hebrew
phrase meaning the "women's section of
The 5-month-old program, co-chaired
by Faye Schreiber of Oak Park, still
includes meal delivery but also helps out
in other areas.
"If someone is sitting shivah, we pick
up a relative at the airport or help with
meals, babysitting or cleaning,"
Schreiber said. "If someone is having a
simchah (joyous occasion) — maybe
having 20 guests coming in from out-of-
town — we find people to host them
and have meals for them."
The group also organizes visits to
members who are hospitalized or home-
bound and does grocery shopping for
those who are ill.
Meeting other members is an impor-
tant component of the program.
"We had a shul-sponsored program
where members were asked to invite
someone to their home for a Shabbat
meal who they had never invited
before," Lynne Schreiber said. "In
February, we are having a program
introducing older synagogue members
to younger ones."
Synagogue clergy and staff have begun
to create programs that inspire mingling.
"The synagogue needs to be a social
organization as well as a house of prayer
and study," Rabbi Nelson said.
And that socialization doesn't need to
take place in the synagogue building.
"I see congregational retreats as an
ideal way to create safe, intimate learn-
ing and socializing opportunities," said
Aura Alluvia, program director at Beth
Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor.
At Bais Chabad of North Oak Park,
the kashering of a kitchen (making one's
kitchen fit for kosher observance) is rea-
son for a party.
For Robin Zucker of Pleasant Ridge,
the Jan. 11 party brought her closer to
the women in her congregation. When
they heard that she and her husband
Eric — inspired by their 12-year-old son
Scott — wanted to turn their home into
a kosher one, they joined together with
the Lubavitch Women's Organization in
Oak Park and threw what they called a
The group showered Robin Zucker
with new dishes, pots and pans, serving
dishes, cutlery and cooking accessories.
One of the guests also spoke on issues of
keeping a kosher home and distributed
brochures of explanation.
"Many synagogues have developed what
they call 'caring community' efforts," Dr.
Wolfson said. "These include providing
a shivah meal, a welcome basket for new
families ... and visits and calls to those