The Connectors: Coming to a Community Near You

Here's the thing about Jewish people in the Bay Area. Our shtetl days are behind us. We’ve integrated into every thriving segment of Bay Area life. We are everywhere and of every sort: We stem from different backgrounds, sexual orientations, degrees of religious practice and political affiliations. We are environmentalists, entrepreneurs, artists, techies, foodies, and individuals who love our binding traditions as much as we love creating new ones. And thus, we are a population that defies the confines of any one community box. This social and cultural diversity makes the Bay Area one of the most exciting places in the world to be Jewish. And that variety, particularly among young adults, presents both challenges and opportunities for an organization whose mandate is to engage them in Jewish life. So we pose the question: how do you attract people whose needs and sensibilities are so disparate?

Joey Blatt

Well, if you are Joey Blatt, Federation’s Young Adult Program Manager, you find “The Connectors.”

While that might sound a bit like the next Marvel Comics superhero film franchise, the “Connectors” are no fantasy. In fact, they will be playing a significant part in the Federation’s fresh approach to Jewish engagement which includes 10 Endowment Fund grants totaling $1.3 million over the next two years. Of that amount, 6 grants totaling $720,000 will fund the "Connectors."

The role of the Federation-funded “Peer Connectors” will be to help many more young adults find meaningful and relevant opportunities to participate in Jewish life.

“One of the things we learned from last year’s Community Portrait survey was that about 20% of young adult Jews in the Bay Area are active in Jewish life in some way. They are who we refer to as the vibrant core and they don’t really need our prompting,” said Blatt. “But most Jewish people and their loved ones are not part of that core and aren’t actively engaged in anything Jewish. That’s who the Peer Connectors will be focusing on.”

Of course, the wide diversity among young adults in the Bay Area requires more than one point of entry to our communal tent. Accordingly, this round of grants will help fund Peer Connector positions within the following organizations that, despite their differing approaches, share a proven track record of bringing young Jews together: Urban Adamah, ENGAJ at the Oshman Family JCC, the JCC of San Francisco, The Kitchen, Congregation Emanu-El, and OneTable.

Urban Adamah, an educational farm based out of Berkeley, integrates sustainable agriculture with social action and Jewish practice with the goal of building loving, lasting communities.

OneTable, which calls itself a “Shabbat Startup” brings the Shabbat experience to people in their 20s and 30s. Dedicated to “building, enhancing, and growing the Jewish community” through thousands of subsidized Shabbat dinners. They pair you with a coach to help you envision and create a unique dining experience, as well as encourage you to reach out to communities traditionally underserved by Jewish institutions such as LGBTQ, Jews of Color, and Mizrahi.

A OneTable Shabbat dinner in San Francisco

Both the Oshman Family JCC (through ENGAJ, which works to identify, connect, and empower young Jewish professionals and graduate students in Palo Alto and the surrounding area) and the JCC of San Francisco draw numerous young adults to their panoply of events – all of which inclusively explore Jewish culture and traditions as a “pathway for joyful, meaningful living.”

Congregation Emanu-El, simultaneously one of the oldest and most contemporary congregations in California, has built a large, vibrant Jewish young adult community, attracting over 2,500 individuals a year. Late Shabbat, their flagship gathering which attracts hundreds, happens on the second Friday of each month.

A packed Late Shabbat at Congregation Emanu-El

The Kitchen, through its rich Jewish content, inspirational clergy and leadership, and inclusive commitment to social justice is appealing to young people of all persuasions who are seeking Jewish knowledge and experiences.

“We are so deeply focused on young Jewish adults as a priority population because they are at a time of their lives that is an inflection point… before they’ve started having families,” Blatt said. “It’s a time when you can choose to continue on a Jewish path or choose not to… So the outcome we are looking for – and other organizations have had a lot of success with this model over the last few years – is for the Peer Connectors to help open up pathways for more young people to find a sense of belonging and community within Jewish life.”

Indeed, our “Connectors” will be facing some steep challenges. But if they succeed as we expect, they might just turn out to be superheroes after all.


June 27, 2019


Jon Moskin