Fabric of American Jewish Life Has New Stitch for YP’s!

Rosh Hashana 2018, Rabbi Scott Hoffman, new to Yardley’s Beth El Congregation, gave his first High Holiday sermon, then announced from the Bima, “young adults are invited to join me for a 10-Minute Meet-Up around the Israel ShoeBox.” He led the blessings, then shared how young professional efforts to collect shoes at Beth El, and around the country will build a Heart Hospital in Israel.

A few weeks prior, Rabbi Jeff Schnitzer, President, Bucks County Board of Rabbis, shared with rabbinic colleagues how he saw personally from the Cardiac Control room an amazing hi-tech heart procedure in process during a stop at the Rehovot hospital, as he led an Israel mission with his congregants.

Rabbi Schnitzer also shared at the board meeting that he helped develop the Rosh Hashana YP (Young Professional) Meet-Up, including the ceremony for blessings over apples and honey. Schnitzer invited his Bucks County colleagues to join efforts to bring young professionals in the area together to connect with each other on Rosh Hashana.

Thus inaugurated a new national initiative to bring young adults, already attending Rosh Hashana services with their parents, or in a shul in a city alone and far from home, to meet each other with a purpose of connection to Israel.

Rabbis Hoffman and Schnitzer in front-line synagogues, joined with fourteen national Jewish and Israeli organizations lending their support to the project. The organizations included a relatively new Jewish community “player.”

The successful new organization … Synagogue Connect has, in a short three years, partnered with more than one thousand synagogues to provide free High Holiday tickets to young adults.

Other organizations helping the “YP Meet-Up” include AEPi, America-Israel Friendship League, Artists4Israel, Hasbara Fellowships, Israel Forever Foundation, Israeli American Council, Livnot U’Lehibanot, Masa, New York Board of Rabbis, StandWithUs, and the Times of Israel. Key organizers are American Friends of Kaplan Medical Center (AFKMC), and Young Jewish Leadership Concepts(YJLC) which initiated the Rosh Hashana YP Meet-Up as a promise of engagement and leadership development at the grass-roots level.

Special Note: AFKMC is the exclusive partner for JFNA’s 4-day Israel Mission for the GA for Israel 70. Like Rabbi Schnitzer, Jewish leaders from throughout North America will stop at the Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot, on Sunday afternoon, October 21, just prior to the first leadership meetings at the GA.

YP’s have an important part with the AFKMC “Heart & Sole” Campaign, which is in the process of putting shoe collection boxes and Israel medical innovation information in 1000 synagogues, churches and college campuses around the country.  YP’s are taking the roles of “foot soldiers” for the campaign.

The “Heart & Sole” project was launched during the AIPAC policy conference in March 2018, with Andy Borans, AEPi Foundation CEO, as the first national Jewish community leader to join the efforts. Like Nachson being first to go into the divided waters of the Red Sea, Andy’s “hechsher” made it much easier for other “Israelite” organizations to follow.

Another major boost for the “Heart & Sole” project came in early summer when Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Executive VP of the New York Board of Rabbis, the largest organization of Rabbis in the world, introduced Rabbi Ron Brown of Synagogue Connect to partner with the project. Rabbi Brown commented, “we’ll get the young adults into the shul doors and ‘Heart & Sole’ can connect and engage them in leadership.”

Synagogues in Bucks County, PA, Virginia Beach, VA, and Denver, CO were among the first shuls accepting to host a YP Meet-up. These synagogues are now actively collecting shoes for the “Heart & Sole” project to build the Heart Hospital in the geographical center of Israel, the Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot.

Beth El, the “flagship” shul recently marked nearly 40 boxes, while the Hebrew Educational Alliance in Denver collected nine boxes of shoes over the High Holidays. The shoes will be cleaned and resold at a deep discount to needy communities in fifty countries around the world. A donation will come back for the Heart Hospital per the weight of the shoes collected.

“Heart & Sole” is now working on the second part of the two-stage annual campaign. Sunday, April 14, 2019 will be the second annual national “Pre-Pesach Matzah Aisle Meet-Up” to entice YP “foot soldiers” to get their home shul and former college Hillel to host an Israel shoe box and medical innovation information station.

On March 14, 2018 the first multi-city “Matzah Aisle Meet-Up” took place at large supermarkets in Philadelphia, Princeton, and New York City. Plans for 2019 are for “YP Meet-Ups”to be in twenty American cities, and “Next Year in Jerusalem,” too.

Additional American and Israeli organizations are invited to join these efforts of engaging Jewish young professionals (YP’s) in leadership activities, and helping to build a Heart Hospital in Israel!

Lou Balcher, National Director of AFKMC remarked that “we are creating a new stitch in the fabric of the American Jewish experience. With two holidays where young adults are most aware of their Jewish identity, we are creating national events where they can make new friends, help Israel, and be guided towards leadership in the Jewish community.”

Pictured: YP’s at Rosh Hashana Meet Up came to a community program a few weeks later on “Forgotten Refugees” from Egypt.  Lisa Samachson, far left, Chaired the Rosh Hashana meet-Up. Rabbi Albert Gabbai, far right, spoke of his personal experiences, including being imprisoned in Egypt.

Rabbi Jeff Schnitzer, President, Bucks County Board of Rabbis, speaking at a YJLC event.
Both Rabbis Schnitzer and Gabbai sit on the YJLC Board.

About the Author
Lou Balcher served from 2004 - 2013 as Director of Academic Affairs to Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region. He also served as Education Director for Congregation Tifereth Israel in Bensalem, PA, and as administrator and teacher for Gratz College's Jewish Community High School. He is a former Membership Director for the Philadelphia and Cincinnati regions of B'nai B'rith International. For three decades, he has coordinated post-college young leadership programs for Young Jewish Leadership Concepts. Additionally, he consults as National Director of the American Friends of the Kaplan Medical Center, Rehovot, Israel which serves more than one million Israeli citizens.
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