by Julie Ellis
As an individual who grew up here and am now raising my family here, the Jewish Community of Louisville is important to me, and I choose to invest my time in it to ensure its success.
So many times we hear how different “it” is from when we grew up. And yes, the experience of growing up Jewish in Louisville is different.
It used to be that on Sunday the Jewish Community Center was packed with teens participating in BBYO activities like competitive basketball games. Middle schoolers were there, too, participating in classes like arts and crafts and Jewish cooking.
Like many of you, I loved it. Sure, I wish that things were like they used to be, but they are not, for a number of reasons. But they can still be great.
The biggest excuse I hear is of how busy the kids are now. We were busy then, too. We went to Hebrew school twice a week; we played sports; we went to Sunday school and bar mitzvah parties.
I believe we have just lost our focus on the Jewish community. I do think that we can achieve a community that is closer to what we had in the past, but it is going to take work and the commitment of every member of our Jewish community, especially the parents.
When we were kids, we didn’t start out asking our parents to take us to the J after Sunday school. They signed us up for things and took us, and after a while, we liked it and became comfortable there, so we kept wanting to go back.
So I appeal to today’s parents first to help direct their children to the JCC and Jewish community programming. I hear my peers complain about the programming. My request is that you become a part of the solution.
That’s why I’ve been on the board of the JCC and am now part of the JCL board. I want to help ensure that we are doing things to engage Jews of every age. I want people to feel that being Jewish is an important part of our lives and to know that Jews remain an important part of this community.
Jewish programming in Louisville is more vital and exciting now than it has been in the recent past. Through the Shalom Baby program, we welcome our youngest members with activities that bring new parents and babies together and provide each of them with a menorah.
Children from 6 months-6 years receive high-quality Jewish books and CD’s through the mail each month from the JCL’s The PJ Library, and enjoy group activities several times a year. With the brand new PJ Plus program, they’ll continue to enjoy special programming from kindergarten through second grade.
Summer camp at the JCC, School’s Out programming and activities like the Gators Swim Team and Center Stage Academy not only give kids a reason to hang out at the JCC, but build Jewish identities and lifelong friendships.
BBYO is on the rise again. It’s not what I remember from my teen years, and it shouldn’t be. Today’s teen leaders have taken charge. They are shaping the program to their own needs, and some recent events have drawn more than 50 participants.
The JCL is hiring a middle school director to help engage those children who previously got lost in the shuffle.
The Kesher Kentucky leadership development program for teens is back. This program, updated and revised for 10th and 11th graders, lets teens meet and talk with Jewish leaders in Louisville, get a preview of campus life by visiting a Hillel center and more. The program culminates with a trip to Israel. This exciting program begins later this month, and interested teens must complete their applications by this Monday, March 15.
As important as our children are, the JCL is also working hard to open the door to participation across the board. While the Young Adult Division is part of the JCL Annual Campaign effort, YAD also recognizes that it’s important to reach out to people in other ways. There have been several strictly social YAD events this year. The next one is coming up on March 20 at The Pointe.
As younger adults get more engaged, they see the importance of a strong Jewish community in Louisville. I’m proud to be among the growing group that is stepping up to take leadership roles in our community, investing both our time and financial resources.
In addition to serving on the JCL Board, I’m chairing the Ben Gurion Society – the group for young adults who have made leadership gifts to the JCL Annual Campaign. I’m pleased to report that this year, we have eight new members of the Ben Gurion Society. This is truly a testament to the renewed vitality of Jewish Louisville.