Vodka Latke event a success



(401)j celebrates Hanukkah and a new community foundation
(401)j celebrates Hanukkah and a new community foundation


David Arndt, Laura Isaacs, Becca Laptook and Jen ArndtSix months ago, Rabbi Elan Babchuck, of Temple Emanu-El, Erin Moseley, Director of Arts and Culture and Next Generation Engagement at the Jewish Alliance, Rabbi Barry Dolinger, of Congregation Beth Sholom, and Rabbi Sarah Mack, of Temple Beth-El, saw an opportunity to create a collaboration that would invest in community. With a long-term vision in mind, they came together and devised a way to knock down the barriers separating the four institutions and create a vision that encompasses all of them.

What they concocted was (401)j, a community without borders, where young people (20s to 40s) would be able to grow, connect, learn, and form lasting friendships. Members can choose a cluster they’d like to participate in – current options include Rosh Hodesh, Got Shabbat, and D’var in the bar – or get involved in other social, cultural, educational and advocacy programs.

The name signifies the local aspect, the Judaic element and the investment goal – individuals invest in their togetherness, in their religion, in their small corner of the world. Rabbi Babchuck shared that they came up with the moniker during a brainstorming session in his living room with a representative group of community members while eating pizza. Some are inspired by falling apples – some by more caloric foods. So far, the premise is working – more and more young Jews are saying that they want to be part of (401)j, whose email list already contains 500 members.

Their enthusiasm for the launch of this community organization was evident during (401)j’s first large-scale event. On Tuesday, December 3, young people showed up at Vodka Latke to celebrate Hanukkah and the launch of (401)j at the Grange, a hip vegetarian restaurant in Providence. Continuing with the tradition of delicious foods, everyone sampled a variety of latkes, mingled and laughed. Okay, alcohol was involved too – it was necessary for the rhyme in the event’s title. Hillary Schulman, Development Associate at the Jewish Alliance, said, “It’s great that everyone could come together.” Andrew Shuster joked, “Who knew there were so many Jews in Rhode Island?”

Moshe Berman was excited to meet new Jewish professionals with whom to socialize outside of his synagogue. He said, “It’s great to have so many people from different sectors of the community.” Matan Graff, Israeli emissary, also appreciated the opportunity to get to know people his age who are part of the community. “I think it’s important that everyone showed up.” Meital Cafri, Advancement and Membership Coordinator at Temple Emanu-El, was glad to see many new faces. She said, “This has been a great collaboration between the three synagogues and the Alliance.” For Cafri, being Jewish “is more than just going to the temple. It’s creating a spiritual and cultural community.” Elanah Chassen, Alliance Education and Planning Associate, was ecstatic to see the event happen after all the planning, “It’s really heartwarming!”

Rabbi Dolinger was similarly impressed with the event and “most excited” about (401)j. He explained that the organization is unique in the sense that it doesn’t involve denominations, “It’s about young Jewish community leaders coming together to create their own brand of Judaism that enhances people’s lives.” Dolinger pointed out that (401)j does not consist of separate organizations that are trying to sustain themselves – in this community, it’s one for all and all for one. He brought up the Maccabees, who played with the status quo, and compared them to young people who are not interested in the Judaism that doesn’t reflect their values. Dolinger roots for the Judaism that’s not force-fed, one that presents meaningful socialization through which Jews could advance their goals together. He says, “I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”

Toward the end of the event, Rabbi Babchuck gave a D’var Torah. He said that the miracle of Hanukkah was – per the Book of Maccabees – a military victory. Drawing a parallel, he suggested that, because the Maccabees were outnumbered ten to one, they had to be smarter and more collaborative than their foes. He felt that we, too, are fighting a war – one against  isolation. Babchuck pointed out that, just because we now have various social media platforms, we do not have the world at our fingertips, as we might think. We can have 5,000 Facebook friends and still go to bed lonelier than ever before. Seeing before him the evidence of (401)j’s successful launch event, Babchuck closed by sharing that – at least for one night of this on-going battle – (401)j won.