Aging is just another word for living, according to three local rabbis who have created a program that intends to help community members live well together. The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles recently awarded Temple Emanuel, Temple Isaiah and Congregation Kol Ami a $200,000 grant for the development of their project Synagogue Village: Meeting the Needs of the Jewish Future. The Cutting Edge Grant will allow the group to develop the first congregational, neighborhood-based villages for participants interested in aging-in-place in Los Angeles.
The Synagogue Village will focus primarily on providing a support network for the baby boomer generation throughout the neighborhoods that Temple Emanuel, Temple Isaiah and Congregation Kol Ami serve. Rabbi Laura Geller, of Temple Emanuel, intends to model the Synagogue Village after projects in the Village-to-Village Network, which supports more than 140 similar communities throughout the country.
“The larger Jewish community is very concerned about ensuring the Jewish future, and while many believe that is people in their 20s and 30s – it is also important to acknowledge the needs of the baby boomer generation. This generation has been extremely significant in changing the culture largely in the ‘60s and ‘70s and is still very relevant both nationally and in the Jewish community,” Gellar said.
The Synagogue Village is one of nine local initiatives to receive a Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles grant. The selected organizations have missions focused on meeting the needs of underserved populations, re-envisioning the roles of synagogues and religious leaders, and embracing technology and art to reach broader audiences. The Cutting Edge Grants awarded a total of $1.85 million to the initiatives, which will be distributed over three years. Since 2006, the foundation has provided more than $13 million to 72 programs.
“Each day, more than 10,000 baby boomers in the United States become new seniors, so it’s important to look for solutions that enable this vast demographic to lead productive, active and engaged lives as they age,” said Elana Wien, director of the Center for Designed Philanthropy at the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. “The Synagogue Village represents a Jewish Los Angeles solution to reimagining and planning for how Jewish communities congregate and engage all generations into the future.”
Geller said they intend for the village to consist of 100 family units, but the coverage of the area has not been identified.
“The vision is that these three synagogues, which were chosen because our members live in the same neighborhoods, will choose a certain area where a lot of members are. Then, we will meet with people over time to see what is needed, what kind of social capital we want to build, and what kind of programmatic and learning opportunities we want to offer in the synagogue,” Geller said.
Potential events include meals, potlucks, daily walking groups, once a month communal Shabbat at a synagogue, laundry and grocery delivery, gardening, concerts, tutoring and more.
“The village represents an understanding that we are not independent, and are not dependent, but we are interdependent,” Gellar said. “So when I get too old to change a light bulb, there will be someone to call that will help me in this organic way.”
Geller said that the members will determine the cost to live in Synagogue Village will be, and those who participate will contribute volunteer hours.
In terms of the Cutting Edge Grant, the Synagogue Village program intends to start with one village and hopes that it will develop into a model that other neighborhoods in Los Angeles and the country will be interested in following. For its first year, Village Synagogue will use the funding for a primarily planning phase. Geller said they will hire a staff coordinator and lead gatherings to facilitate conversation about the visions and needs of the community.
“This is really part of a national effort that is redefining what it means to grow older. This is not about frail old age, this is about 55 and up, healthy, active people – where there really hasn’t been a lot of focus until now,” Geller said.
The community will consist of families with young children and older parents.
“The target is someone like me – at 65 years old – but maybe my parents will benefit from the community too. Then one day I will be their age and the community ties that I build in this village will help me sustain the lifestyle that I enjoy,” Geller said.
Wien said previous recipients of the Cutting Edge Grants have continued operating after their three funded years.
“In providing critical seed funding for the Synagogue Village, the foundation sees an innovative, well-conceived and prospectively transformative idea with the potential to make a lasting, indelible imprint on Jewish Los Angeles,” Wien said.
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