By Stacey Dresner
HARTFORD – When Simon Lichter moved to Brookline, Massachusetts a couple of years ago, he did it specifically to be in the heart of the Jewish community.
“I moved to this Jewish area thinking, ‘Wow, I’m putting a lot of money down –
$1600 for 350 square feet but it will be worth it because I’m in the center of the Jewish scene,” says Lichter, 32. “But that was not the case.”
He quickly learned that the residential vibe of Brookline did not make it easy for a young single person like himself to meet and form social relationships with other young Jews.
Then, last August he returned to his hometown of West Hartford to sit out the pandemic.
In April, he moved into The Carriage House, an historic building in downtown Hartford that has been converted into 66 apartments targeted to young professionals.
Now hoping to create social connections between Jewish 20- and 30-somethings in Connecticut’s capital city, Lichter has founded Urban Dor.
The name is a play on words – “dor” means generation in Hebrew; and the group is an “open door” to Jewish social and cultural events in Hartford – which has been actively trying to attract a younger crowd to its housing market.
“I created Urban Dor as a means of helping to facilitate and promote Jewish events in the community and provide resources, expertise, partner resources and community resources to develop more young Jewish adult events,” he explains. “It came out of the feeling that the community wasn’t reaching out to young Jewish adults. I moved back to the area in August and I wasn’t really finding there was a strong social scene, which is why I was somewhat hesitant to relocate back here long-term. I’m single. I’m looking for my bashert [my intended]. I don’t want to grow old and single here.”
Urban Dor’s first event was held on July 30 in Lichter’s apartment building on Allyn Street, a sleek mix of old industrial and modern with brick walls, exposed pipes and beams, and contemporary finishes. Fifteen young adults congregated in the building’s multi-purpose room to hang out and get to know each other.
“[The group was made up of] some Jews, a couple of Muslims, a few Christians – so it was an interfaith experience for sharing a cultural Friday night,” Lichter told the Ledger. “We did a light kiddush so everyone could experience a Jewish gathering. It was really nice.”
The Crown Market donated pizza, Yosi Kosher Catering kicked in some dips and homemade pita chips, and Rabbi Yosef Wolvovsky of Chabad Jewish Center in Glastonbury added wine and challah. The group played doubles ping pong and cornhole.
In fact, the free event was so successful that now Lichter has plans to host similar events monthly.
Julie Wise, 32, a teacher living in Waterbury, heard about the first Urban Dor social and travelled to Hartford to attend.
“I enjoy going to Jewish social events in Connecticut for young Jewish professionals, so I wanted to check out this one as well,” she told the Ledger.
Wise says she usually attends Jewish social events in the New Haven area, but not she’s considering going to more events in the Hartford area.
“I definitely feel there is a need for more events for young Jewish professionals in Connecticut. These events are a great way to socialize and make friends in the young Jewish community,” she notes.
The next generation
Lichter has some experience in both marketing and outreach to young Jews.
Born in West Hartford, the son of Audrey and Arlen Lichter, Simon attended the Bess and Paul Sigel Hebrew Academy and Hebrew High School of New England (the schools have since merged to become the New England Jewish Academy).
He went to Johnson & Wales University in Providence where, as president of the school’s Hillel, he “hosted a lot of Shabbat dinners” – and earned his degree in advertising and marketing communications in 2011. He returned, getting his MBA in general business at Johnson & Wales in 2016.
He has worked in marketing and advertising for several firms, including Staples in their corporate advertising agency; Thompson, Habib and Denison (THD) in Lincoln, Massachusetts, a marketing firm that works on direct mail and email campaigns for non-profit clients; the Jewish Alliance, the Jewish Federation in Providence; and Capital Good Fund, a non-profit community development financial firm.
In 2016 he founded his own company, Left Lane Marketing Agency. One of his clients was Chabad of Brookline’s Chai Center, run by Rabbi Mayshe Schwartz, who runs a program called YJP, Young Jewish Professionals and hosts major events like the Shabbat 500, which brings in 500-plus young Jewish adults to celebrate Shabbat together. Lichter helped build the Chai Center website and provided marketing assistance.
Now, with Urban Dor, he wants to use his marketing know-how to bring young Jews in the Greater Hartford area together for fun – and FREE – events downtown.
“I have lots of experience working with my cohort and ,with my background in marketing, it really is easy for me to plan events and create effective marketing,” says Lichter, noting that too many times organizations get hung up on funding and marketing ideas – or the lack thereof. But, he says, “there are a lot of ways to work around that. Our first event cost less than $200 out of pocket. I got donated food. Supplies were very cheap at the Dollar Store. I printed some flyers; I bought some Facebook ads. There’s really a lot you can do with a little money, and when you partner with various organizations you can leverage tenfold what you could do alone.”
Besides the Crown, Yosi Catering and Chabad Jewish Center of Glastonbury, Urban Dor has partnered with Charter Oak Cultural Center, Young Israel of West Hartford, Chai Mitzvah, Endow Hartford 21, the Mandell JCC, and Agave Grill – which is right across the street from his apartment building.
Urban Dor will also be doing volunteer, professional and networking events with HYPE – Hartford Young Professionals & Entrepreneurs – a part of the Metro Hartford Alliance which is actively working to bring young professionals to Hartford.
“We serve the same cohort, except ours is Jewish-oriented,” Lichter says. “And we have the same goal – to put Hartford on the map as a place for young professionals, and to make Hartford more of a safer welcoming place to be.”
Urban Dor invites young Jews ages 21-39 from around Connecticut to attend its events which are centered in Hartford and its neighboring towns.
“We have Bushnell Park nearby, which is nice. There are a lot of good bars and restaurants around, and they’ve done a good job of providing outdoor seating,” Lichter says.
In addition, Lichter has reached out to synagogues; Jewish organizations, including Trinity Hillel; and restaurants and other possible venues of interest to young adults like local breweries, hoping to make Urban Dor a success.
“I’ve been really trying hard to network as much as I can,” he says. After all, he notes, “a rising tide raises all boats.
“When you have a strong Jewish community interest in young adults, it’s going to help everybody. The young adults are the next generation [of Jewish community leaders], and if we don’t create a fertile ground for us to want to stay in Hartford – professionally and religiously and socially – we’re going to look elsewhere.
“That would be a shame because Hartford has a lot to offer. It’s just about changing your attitude and putting resources into investing in our cohort.”
Check out Urban Dor at UrbanDor.org and join “The List” for new event announcements.
Main Photo: Young professionals enjoy good conversation and good food at Urban Dor’s inaugural event on July 30.