By Dave Sorter
The Center for Jewish Education is not something that will rest on its laurels, even though the past couple of months have seen great accomplishments.
The CJE, an arm of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, recently unveiled the MyJewishDallas.org website, the culmination of a four-year project to provide a comprehensive online listing of local Jewish organizations and events.
Then, on Sept. 23, the local version of the PJ Library program for children celebrated its first birthday with a party for more than 600 of its closest friends, including Joy and Ronald Mankoff, the primary funders of the program and huge CJE supporters. In fact, the CJE’s Tycher Library is located in the Mankoff Center for Jewish Learning housed on the JCC campus.
The MyJewishDallas.org website features a directory of organizations — businesses can pay to have a listing — and a calendar of events. Some 884 different organizational and synagogue events were listed as of Tuesday, among about 50 organizations. Users can personalize the calendar to feature the events in which they’re interested.
Most events up to a month ahead are also published in the TJP’s weekly calendar.
“When I came to Dallas 4½ years ago, I met all the community leaders and rabbis, and they said there was no one place (online) to find all the Jewish activities,” CJE executive director Meyer Denn said. “Nobody knew what anyone else was doing. One would have to take a day to go to all the websites to see everything there is to see.”
As Denn said, “Who’s got time to go from place to place?”
So, instead of making people go to 25-30 different websites — and making sure to keep the multiple mailers sent out — the idea was to put everything in one place that Jewish community members could visit frequently to see what events have been added and remind them of those in which they are interested.
“People need to have it easily brought to them,” Denn said. “The site is the bus driver. It picks you up at the bus stop and takes you to its destination.”
For example, site users can search by date, place, target audience (gender, age, family/singles, etc.), type of program and cost. A keyword search also is available.
“It took a four-year process of going through the test tube,” Denn said. “It was a dream.”
The response has been positive in the month or so the site has been active, with about 1,000-1,200 hits per week, Denn said.
“When we rolled it out to the organizations in June, it’s like jaws dropped,” Denn said.
MyJewishDallas.org is oriented more to the community at-large than is the community calendar on the federation’s www.jewishdallas.org website, Denn said.
“That’s more for organizations to see what others are doing, so someone doesn’t schedule something on a night when another organization is having a board meeting or something,” Denn said. “Anything that’s a public invitation, that’s what [MyJewish.Dallas.org] is about.
Offline, Denn was surprised that the turnout for the PJ Library’s first birthday party was so high.
“It all turned in one day,” Denn said. “First there were 140 coming, then 350, then 520, then 600. We completely had to redo the whole event.”
For example, the location at the Aaron Family JCC had to be moved, and games, crafts and activities had to be added.
The Mankoffs blew out the lone candle on the birthday cake, and “kiddie-rock” performer Shir-La-La performed. Children got to interact with animals in addition to the crafts and games.
“This was the culmination of a year’s effort,” Denn said, adding that the national PJ Library organization sent a letter to the JFGD stating that “Dallas has set the bar.”
“The Mankoffs stepped forward and said, ‘We’re taking over this project,’” Denn said. “Before, we were the largest community in the county without a PJ Library program. Now, we have 800 families putting their kids to sleep with Jewish stories.”
Almost 1,600 children ages 6 months-7 years receive 11 age-appropriate books per year and a Chanukah CD through the free program. Several live PJ Library programs for the age group also take place each year at sites ranging from the JCC, to DATA locations, to secular bookstores in the area.
“Some children may be afraid to go into a synagogue,” Denn said. “But they can come to a PJ Library program at a synagogue and be comfortable.”
Next up: “A Night to Celebrate Jewish Education” at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28, at SMU’s McFarlin Auditorium.
The event will have two highlights: Jaynie Schultz and Ron Romaner will be honored for the couple’s myriad contributions to the Dallas Jewish community; and Lord Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, will speak.
About Schultz and Romaner, Denn said, “The fact they’ve never been honored, as much as they’ve done at their age, is amazing.”
Sacks will speak about his new book, “The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning.”