July 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Kulanu: Keeping the Flame Alive

David* is in middle school in the MetroWest area. He comes from a Modern Orthodox Jewish home, and like many other kids his age, he enjoys Star Wars, playing basketball and Xbox and hanging out with his friends. The only difference is that David is no longer in a Jewish day school, which most of his peers in the community attend. As a result, he is no longer invited to Shabbat afternoon playdates, movie nights, birthday parties and bar/bat mitzvahs. David dreads going to shul on Shabbat, as he feels both isolated and excluded. Unfortunately, David is not alone in the community.

For many years, our Jewish outreach committee has been active in the MetroWest community, visiting malls and supermarkets with booths before the holidays, conducting classes at the library, providing tutoring to kids in public school and holding programming sponsored by the National Jewish Outreach Program and Aish HaTorah. The highlight of our programming is the annual Shabbat Project, to which more than 300 people are drawn. The ultimate goal of our efforts is to reach out to those who are unaffiliated and light a spark within their Jewish souls. We strive to foster a deeper connection to their Jewish roots, heritage and traditions.

As a result of our kiruv work, it became apparent there was a growing problem within our own Orthodox Jewish community. The number of Modern Orthodox families with children attending public or non-Jewish private institutions was, and continues to be, on the rise. The three core reasons that seem to be propelling this trend are first, financial, second, social/ emotional, and third, the growing need for specialized services.

We began testing the waters utilizing social media and other means, and received almost immediate confirmation that the issue was very real and needed addressing. Subsequently, we reached out to local rabbis, yeshiva principals, administration at the Jewish Federation of MetroWest NJ, NCSY and others to assist us in identifying these families. The response was overwhelming, as everyone seemed to be on board, offering their support and encouragement.

We then conducted focus groups to hear directly from the families, and really delve into their concerns. The prevalent theme in each focus group was parents’ anguish over their children’s experiences and isolation, as well as concern about their children’s Jewish future. While we were aware the problem existed, none of us knew until then how serious and widespread it was.

It took one full year of engaging with families and community members to make Kulanu MetroWest, our Jewish after-school program, a reality. Today we have 20-plus students from fourth to 10th grade, in age-appropriate classes, who meet twice a week at the JCC in West Orange. Under the leadership of Michael Goldman, our charismatic director, Kulanu’s students are learning and thriving in a warm, fun and vibrant atmosphere.

Our students are learning about the Jewish holidays, Shabbat, the meaning and practice of prayer, weekly parsha, Jewish philosophy and history, and ethics/values. However, perhaps equally important, one Kulanu parent best summed it up, “Although the ability for my son to continue his Jewish studies is critical to me, what Kulanu offers is beyond that. It gives him the opportunity to be included and function in the mainstream Orthodox community.”

Special programming, including a shabbaton in West Orange, apple picking trip, barbeques, and most recently a Purim program, bring parents, students and staff together. One of our high school students shared the following, “I look forward to Kulanu because it makes me feel positive about my Judaism and connected to my Jewish identity. Coming from yeshiva, it’s not so easy to feel that way in public school.”

There are many articles that have been written regarding the challenges of the Modern Orthodox community and what the future might bring. Kulanu is evidence that there are solutions for families who seek the opportunity for their children to flourish in the Modern Orthodox community, despite certain challenges, and keep the flame of Judaism alive for them.

For more information and/or to register your child for the upcoming academic year, please visit www.KulanuMW.org  or email [email protected]

We rely on the support of the community at large, not only to help identify families who can benefit from Kulanu, but to ensure these students are welcomed and included by others in the Orthodox Jewish community To make a difference in a child’s life by supporting Kulanu, please go to www.KulanuMW.org


Ira Bloom, Moshe Glick and Lawrence Rein are Kulanu founders and co-chairs.

*Name changed to protect confidentiality

Please note that Kulanu MetroWest is a 501c3.

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