The Yachad Program is based on the premise that the average Israeli is thirsty for meaning, connection and community – but not for coercive ritual. Therefore, in addressing the disturbing lack of connection between so many Israelis and their heritage, our goal is not to indoctrinate, but rather to empower the general population to engage in an active search for their roots, and to reclaim the sources and traditions of Judaism in relevant and meaningful ways.
The program works toward this goal by placing Jewish cultural facilitators in community centers throughout Israel to lead fresh, non-coercive Jewish programming highlighting Jewish identity and culture, as well as by the infusion of Jewish content into ongoing activities in other community center departments (culture, sports, seniors, toddlers, music, etc.). Today there are 32 facilitators (male and female) working in 80 community centers across the country, successfully awakening people of all backgrounds and ages to the beauty and relevance of their Jewish heritage, connecting them meaningfully to Jewish values, to the community – and to one another.
At each community center, hundreds of people participate in the ongoing activities, special events and holiday celebrations which can be divided, roughly, into two categories:
Jewish Calendar– This includes the summertime Kabbalat Shabbat series, and preparatory classes and workshops, events, ceremonies, and the myriad ritual activities surrounding the annual calendar of Jewish holidays (selichot tours in Elul to the High Holidays, Sukkot and Simchat Torah; Chanukah, Tu B’Shvat, Purim and Pesach; Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron, Yom Haatzmaut, Lag Ba’Omer, Shavuot and Tisha B’av).
Jewish Living – This includes the popular “On the Road” touring programs, all ongoing education classes, Study Halls, Bar and Bat Mitzva workshops, teen groups, school and after-school programs, monthly learning cafés, intergenerational programs and special programs such as Jewish photography, learning “on the bar” for students in pubs, prenatal study groups or parental coaching through a Torah lens.
Moreover, Yachad facilitators make themselves available for the performing of communal and life cycle functions, are involved in formal and informal education and in performing religious ceremonial functions for city residents who may not belong to a synagogue or feel comfortable turning to a local rabbi. In this way, they are serving as a new type of contemporary spiritual leadership which is catalyzing Jewish cultural empowerment through tolerance, compassion and a desire for societal improvement.
“Yachad programs are very important because without them, Jews who define themselves as secular, like me, have no avenues through which to connect to our religion,” explains Rachel, a Tel Aviv resident. “Unlike our religious counterparts, we do not feel comfortable in programming offered through a synagogue or a religious organization. Yachad programs in the community center bring everyone together and allow people of all ages to connect to our holidays and our heritage in a meaningful way.”