by Sherrie Saag, Communications Specialist, Jewish Federation of Omaha
The goal, to celebrate Judaism, at first seems lofty yet logical for the newly expanded and re-envisioned Center for Jewish Life. Formerly the Center for Jewish Education, an agency of the Jewish Federation of Omaha, the Center for Jewish Life is under the leadership of Agency President Bonnie Bloch and a professional staff including Executive Director Beth Cohen and Mary Sue Grossman, Associate Execu-tive Director.
In January 2012, a task force was charged with conceptualizing changes for the agency. Cohen explained, “We were asked to look beyond the Center for Jewish Education’s primary function of ‘traditional’ education; to re-imagine what services and programming we could provide that would reinvigorate and engage as many members of our community as possible. We always kept in mind that education happens at any age, at any time, in any situation, so every idea was on the table.”
“To say we were ‘thinking outside the box’ sounds so cliché but it is exactly what we had the opportunity to do and it was so exciting to be a part of it,” said Agency President Bonnie Bloch.
That is the reasoning behind the name change. “Of course Jewish education remains at the core of what we do, but the re-direction of the agency means we can put our energies into many new and exciting things,” Cohen said.
“At the task force meetings, we talked a lot about ‘experiences,’ about getting community members together, not just for Jewish content programming, but also just for the sake of Jews being together. We discussed how to make gateways for people to become involved in the Jewish community and ways to further engage those who are already involved,” added Cohen.
Bloch went further, saying, “Too often, our community invests resources in a program that doesn’t touch as many people as we’d like. We want to build program coalitions, to capitalize on campus activities and to maximize our community’s resources. We will regularly participate in the Federation’s monthly meetings of synagogue rabbis and presidents. The Center for Jewish Life will help make the communal slate of programming more robust and successful.”
While change can be unpredictable, Bloch assures everyone that many of the great programs and services the agency is known for will remain the same. For example, the Kripke Jewish Federation Library, the Annual Jewish Omaha Film Festival, Jewish Book Month, adult education classes and Partnership 2Gether will remain the foundation of the newly named agency.
“Our renewed efforts will focus on expanding what is already successful and collaborating with other agencies and Jewish organizations in Omaha to ensure that we are all as successful as possible in reaching as many people as possible,” Bloch said.
Task force members included Joel Alperson, Bonnie Bloch, Rabbi Jonathan Gross, Jody Malashock, Julie Phillips, Mike Schop and Stacey Rockman. Also included were Federation professionals Mike Silverman, Julee Katzman, Beth Cohen and Mary Sue Grossman.
“While we are thrilled to announce the new name and mission, now the real work begins,” says Bloch. “We will be striving to bring people together, collaborate across the spectrum of our community, and to truly celebrate Judaism in all that we do.”
Author’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series announcing the new Jewish Federation of Omaha agency, The Center for Jewish Life. Look for more information in next week’s issue of the Jewish Press.