OU Awards Grants of Up To $20,000 to Three Synagogues for Outreach Proposals

30 Mar 2007


Three Orthodox Union congregations in different parts of the country will receive grants of up to $20,000 for proposing outreach initiatives to deal with the problem of assimilation and non-involvement in the Jewish community. The synagogues are Congregation Beth Israel Abraham & Voliner in Overland Park, KS, Rabbi David Fine, for the proposal, “There’s No Place Like Home”; The Young Israel of New Rochelle, in suburban New York City, Rabbi Reuven Fink, for “Inreach and Outreach”; and Baron Hirsch Congregation, Memphis Tennessee, Rabbi Shai Finkelstein, for “Bring Shabbat Home.”

The Kansas City and New Rochelle synagogues will each receive $20,000 grants; the Memphis congregation will receive a partial award of $7,500.

The grants have been made possible through the OU’s Department of Community Services and the Pepa and Rabbi Joseph Karasick Department of Synagogue Services. The competition was open to OU member congregations across the United States and Canada.

The awards are but one aspect of a larger OU outreach (kiruv) initiative, “Reaching Out, Changing Lives,” which began at the OU Biennial National Convention in Jerusalem at Thanksgiving, and has had a variety of additional components, including Purim and Passover outreach. The Orthodox Union has made it clear that its kiruv effort is not intended to replace the work of other outreach organizations, but to supplement what they are doing and by doing so, to empower OU synagogues to become more involved in the outreach effort.

When the program was announced in January, the entire $20,000 was to have been awarded to one synagogue. However, according to Frank Buchweitz, OU National Director of Community Services and Special Projects, who oversaw the competition, “After careful consideration and deliberation of the 31 proposals submitted, the Grants Committee found it very difficult to award just one grant from among the excellent presentations. Therefore, two full grants and one partial grant were awarded.”

The Committee was made up of OU President Stephen J. Savitsky; Executive Vice President Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb; Emanuel J. Adler, OU Senior Vice President and Chairman of the Community Services Commission; and Stanley Weinstein, OU Senior Vice President and Chairman of the Synagogue Services Commission, along with Buchweitz.

Criteria for judging applications included: a firm foundation based on synagogue and communal life; effective conveyance and assessment of themes and goals; and ability of replication by other synagogues.

In a statement, the Committee declared: “Outreach can be defined in many different ways. It is essentially reaching out to Jewish men and women having little or no affiliation with the synagogue and Jewish community, or to those new to Torah observance, to develop a heightened sense of Jewish identity and identification. By engaging in outreach, the synagogue not only ensures Jewish continuity, but expands the potential to welcome new members, while invigorating its community.”

They congratulated the three grant recipients and urged OU synagogues across the continent to study the proposals – and other submissions as well – for use in their communities. The OU will make available details of the proposals to its synagogues in the near future.

The Overland Park proposal, “There’s No Place Like Home,” is based on four prongs, or suppositions: the lack of Jewish knowledge among the unaffiliated; the loneliness of young mothers after childbirth; lack of time to become involved by busy professionals; and need for lay leadership training. BIAV has detailed proposals to deal with each prong.

The New Rochelle plan, “Inreach and Outreach,” is based on use of five teams: The Learning Team, Shabbat Service Team, Event Planning Team, Marketing Team, and Financial Team, each of whom will have their own outreach activities.

Baron Hirsch was awarded a partial grant for one aspect of its “Bring Shabbat Home” program, which will send its staff on a regular basis to visit young families’ homes for an “intimate Shabbat meal,” to be prepared in the synagogue kitchen and delivered to the families. The grant would be used to subsidize these meals, the synagogue said in its proposal.

“There are only winners and no losers in this competition regardless of who received the grants, Mr. Savitsky, the OU President declared. “The proposals we received point the way to successful efforts in communities across North America to attract the unaffiliated or marginally affiliated to a richer Jewish life. The true winners, therefore, are the Jewish people.”