New JCC program fosters community ties
Photo: Courtesy Aaron Family JCC
The JBorhood Community Connectors: from left, back row, Hayley Blecher, Janine Reutter, Adam Meyer, Suzanne Phillips, Natalie Waldman, Lynsey Matityahu and Bob Grossman; middle row, Alin Guler, Brooke Elfenbein, Melissa Friedensohn, Mariya Barnett, Kathy Schneider, Reut Harel and Tara Ohayon; front row, Adam Bar. Not pictured: Jeanette Webster.

Making meaningful connections among Dallas-area jews

By Rachel Tucker

The mission of JBorhood is simple: to foster a sense of belonging and connection among the Dallas Jewish community and spark lasting friendships by building networks that support everyone.

The new program of the Aaron Family JCC is a way to connect people of different ages and interests with one another. It is intended to build community connections and create Jewish identities, while also training lay leaders.

The goal is to find people from all facets of the Jewish community and provide them with ways to connect outside the walls of the J, said Assistant Executive Director Tara Ohayon.

“Research shows that there is an epidemic of loneliness in this country and that people are looking for Judaism in different ways than they used to,” Ohayon said. “This is about relationship-based engagement by getting to know people and figuring out what their needs are. This is a low-barrier connection.”

Ohayon said this idea has been in the works for a couple of years and has finally come to fruition from a grant through the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas.

To get this off the ground, the J has hired community connectors — lay leaders from all parts of the community — to head up various demographic groups. The aim is for community members to join each group, host coffee conversations, plan gatherings and meet the needs of group members.

“The connectors are all passionate about the Jewish community, connecting people and they are all serving a need for themselves too,” Ohayon noted. “We want the groups to connect to one another and then later to the greater Jewish community. This will be ongoing as long as the need is there.”

Currently, there are groups for business/entrepreneurs, newcomers to Dallas, families with school-aged children, grandparents, young families, interfaith families, first-time pregnant moms, families who have children with special needs, families in Flower Mound and surrounding areas and Israelis. The connectors are now working on recruitment and getting planning underway.

Another objective is for the connectors to become a learning cohort together as well, Ohayon added.

Kathy Schneider is a connector for empty nesters. She said she is looking forward to bringing meaningful connections to her group and forming bonds with the other connectors.

“I am an empty nester but most of my friends are grandparents. I am not there, but I also do not have kids in college — so I am at an awkward in-between stage that may have a unique audience,” Schneider said. “The idea is to gather with other Jewish people, culturally, so perhaps we can have a discussion about what Jewishness means to us at this time in our lives.”

Bob Grossman, who serves as connector for the grandparents group, has had a lot of interest in his group with people from diverse backgrounds. He is looking forward to learning about what their interests are.

“I am looking forward to meeting new people, building our tribe and growing the grandparent community,” he said. “People don’t belong to synagogues and can’t always make it to the J, so we are breaking down some of those walls.”

Lynsey Matityahu is a connector for both families with young children and first-time pregnant moms. When she became a parent, she was looking for a strong support system of moms who share Jewish values.

“I love that the vision of Jborhood is about close-knit communities, offering support and encouragement and deepening real relationships,” Matityahu said. “I am looking forward to meeting more people and getting pregnant moms together. The young families group is extra exciting because we are meeting other people who have kids the same age as our son.”

For Natalie Waldman, advocating for those with special needs and connecting families with similar experiences has become a passion. She recently partnered with the J to create programming for this population, so becoming a connector for this cohort was a natural next step.

Her 10-year-old has special needs, so she also hopes to gain insight from other parents and learn from them.

“I felt that if my family could benefit from this, so could many others. I feel like it’s my duty to grow this network and nurture this group of families,” Waldman said. “I am hoping to create and foster a safe, nonjudgmental group of many special needs Jewish families that can be resources to one another. Although each of our paths is different, we are all in similar shoes.”

Janine Reutter’s passion for uniting interfaith families led her to become a connector for this group. Although there are many resources for interfaith families in the Dallas Jewish community, she said there was nowhere to turn to speak with people who are facing, or have faced, similar challenges.

She is hoping to put together events geared toward the unique dynamic of interfaith families including: discussing the holidays, navigating antisemitism as an interfaith couple, activities geared toward children and more.

“Upon hearing about connectors, I knew that someone had to focus on the interfaith community to fill the gap that exists,” Reutter said. “I want to ultimately create a place in the community where engaged couples, pregnant couples, families and grandparents can come to have difficult conversations, while also making sure that they feel like they belong.”

For more information on the program and to join a JBorhood, visit https://www.jborhood.org.

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