By Stacey Dresner
HARTFORD – When Eric Maurer moved from Boston to the Hartford area two-and-a-half years ago, he was hoping to participate in activities similar to the “vibrant Jewish young adult programming” he had experienced in Boston.
“But when I moved here there was a void,” says Maurer, 28. “The Moshe House was offering some programs and the [Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford] had some programs, but then over the course of my first year here they both ceased to exist. The Moshe House closed…and the key professional of [Federation’s] Young Adult Division moved to Boston and they never replaced that person.
“So, there was a big gap in the community. There wasn’t really an avenue to meet other people my age, except informally. It’s something that I had been interested in since I moved here,” he says.
Last summer, Maurer, who serves as executive director of JTConnect, a program that provides teens in the area with “fun, interactive and thought-provoking educational and social experiences grounded in Jewish learning and values,” reached out to the Jewish Federation and asked for some support for a program aimed at young Jewish professionals.
The Federation came through with a program that introduced young Jewish professionals to “Wine on the Vine,” an organization through which participants buy a vine at a vineyard in Israel.
“It was super successful and everyone loved it,” Maurer says. “We raised about $1,000 for charity too, which was awesome. But then everyone kind of wanted to know ‘what’s next?’”
What was next was JewGood Hartford, a young adult “giving circle” devised by the Jewish Community Foundation (JCF) to help educate young Jewish professionals about the importance of Jewish philanthropy.
Through JewGood, young Jews in their 20s and 30s contribute $100 to the giving circle, and at the end of the year, they take a vote to determine which charitable organization will receive the money.
“Any way we can find to bring young professionals together for meaningful experiences is a huge plus in my mind,” says Maurer, who now sits on the JewGood steering committee along with two JCF staffers – Rise Roth and Liz Britney – and a couple of fellow young adult professionals.
“It’s really important that as a community we begin to engage our next generation of Jews and philanthropists,” said Roth, vice president of philanthropy at JCF. “With the millenials in particular, their means of connection is through some combination of doing good in the world, meaningful engagement, education and social, and those things have to come together. Giving circles are meaningful, in particular for younger generations and women, who really want the connection, the social component and also want to do good in the world. They take ownership of this program and this process with the guidance and the mission of the foundation behind them.”
JewGood’s kick-off event will be held at Foodshare in Bloomfield on the evening of Thursday, Feb. 7.
The steering committee organized the event, which will include a tour of Foodshare, giving the participants a look at the food bank and the important work it does to serve the more than 120,000 people dealing with hunger issues in Hartford and Tolland counties, as well as its work in the policy area to help end hunger on a larger scale.
Event attendees will participate in a hands-on volunteer project, then enjoy dinner and drinks.
“We combined volunteering and learning about hunger in Connecticut and happy hour with drinks and food and learning how you can get a little more involved in JewGood,” Maurer explains.
Attendance at this kickoff event is free and there will be no fundraising request, says Max Schwimmer, another member of the steering committee.
“It’s an opportunity to learn what the organization is about and what a ‘giving circle’ is,” Schwimmer says. “So, the focus will be on the ‘giving circle,’ but probably with a little more of a social component to it. Throughout the year the organization also puts on educational events so people can learn about philanthropy and different organizations that might be great recipients.”
According to Maurer, there is already a huge interest in JewGood.
“I’m really excited about it, we have had such an overwhelming response,” says Maurer. “I work with Jewish teens. I am in the programming world and it is sometimes hard to get people signed up. I have been shocked at how excited people have been.”
In fact, by last week, the event, which was limited to a maximum of 70 people, was already sold out.
Schwimmer said that that shows the interest young Jews like himself have in this kind of programming.
“Part of it is just being able to connect with people – young professionals in the wider Jewish community,” Schwimmer says. “I work at Congregation Beth Israel, but being able to expand my network is important. And then there is also being able to learn a little more about philanthropy and to hopefully engage in some of that philanthropy and social justice work in greater Hartford.”
Alexa Brenner, a 23-year-old grad student living in West Hartford, is also on the JewGood steering committee.
“I’m new to the area and wanted to meet people around my age who have the same connection to Judaism I do,” she says. “When I was in high school I was always involved with youth groups and I feel like there was always something missing afterwards. A lot of us don’t have kids yet. We are kind of in-between high school and college and [getting married and having families].
“We are young professionals who might not have as many connections to a synagogue or to the community,” she notes, “so, I think having something like JewGood could definitely help people kind of find their place within the Jewish community.”