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Jim Joseph Foundation Fellows Educator Blog

Under One Roof
February 27, 2011 by Howard Blas
I have to admit to feeling a little envious of some friends during my college years. At Columbia University in New York City, for example, there were enough Jewish students on campus to support OJC, CJC and PJC (Orthodox Jews at Columbia, Conservative Jews at Columbia and Progressive Jews at Columbia)—strong, often separate, Jewish communities. At Washington University in St. Louis, in contrast, we all came together at our Hillel House on Friday nights—under one roof--to pray (in one of three minyanim), followed by Shabbat dinner and one program—for all.

Yes, the members of the Orthodox minyan at Wash U. had to pray with the sounds of guitar playing coming from the Reform minyan. And sometimes a male from the Conservative minyan was “borrowed” for the Orthodox minyan. And we had to figure out just “who” could make kiddush and lead birkat hamazon for the community. But we all learned an important lesson in Jewish communal living. We learned to work together and to respect each other—in our similarities and in our differences.

While “those college days’ were more than twenty years ago, I often wonder where, in the Jewish World of 2011, do Jews continue to coexist, under one roof? Where do Jews collaborate, respect each other, and comfortably come together “as one,”?

Here are a few examples which come to mind. I invite you to add my list. You may also challenge my list.

1. JCCs (often in smaller Jewish communities). Large campuses often house the JCC, the Jewish Federation, Jewish Foundation and Board of Jewish Education. New Haven and Memphis are two examples which come to mind.
2. The Jewish special needs world—there are NO denominational differences when it comes to special needs. Jews work together to access services for their children.
3. College campuses with small Jewish populations
4. Jewish communal commemorations and celebrations (examples: Yom HaShoah, Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Parades)—though, increasingly, differing political and religious views make for a less than “communal” feel.
5. Support of Israel in times of crisis (again, this is sadly less and less the case)
6. Model youth programs, like the Bronfman Youth Fellowship, designed to attract high school juniors, from across the Jewish landscape, on a life-changing Israel summer experience.
7. Our own Jim Joseph Foundation Fellowship (JJFF)—bringing together fourteen educators--with various backgrounds and styles of observance—and working in such diverse settings as community day schools, camps, JCCs, synagogue-based early childhood programs, religious schools, YU, HUC, and more.

The fellows are actively involved in a number of projects with amazing potential to create additional places where Jews can come together under one “virtual” roof. We are all designing and running online communities of practice. Stay tuned to Davar Acher for news of how these CoPs are growing and changing the landscape of the Jewish World!

In the meantime, please add to the list!