Gesher City young adult program ends


The Gesher City program, which was meant to connect young adults with Jewish life, has discontinued its local operations as of the end of 2009.

Overseen by the Jewish Community Center in a joint venture with St. Louis Hillel at Washington University, the initiative was part of a larger effort by the national Jewish Community Center Association to create local “bridges” for 20-and 30-somethings to engage with Jewish activities in their community. Gesher means bridge in Hebrew.


“We feel really good about what we did but when we looked at the kinds of other things that are happening today with this population we didn’t want to duplicate any services,” said Rabbi Brad Horwitz. “There are some other exciting initiatives and things that are probably in the works to connect young adults to the community so we felt that this was the time to close it down.”

The decision was prompted by decisions at the national office of the JCCA, said Horwitz, director of the Helene Mirowitz Center for Jewish Community Life at the JCC.

“They decided they were not going to provide staff support to the program on the national level so we had the option of continuing locally. But after lots of discussion and reflections we decided to shut down,” he said.

Jason Silberfein, young adult initiatives director at the JCCA in New York, said that the choices were made in order to facilitate more independence among the local Gesher City programs.

“Everything we learned during our time working with the project was that our local bridges needed autonomy,” he said. “It was just something that was best done individually so what we were in the process of doing is spinning each bridge off as an individual.”

Silberfein said local bridges were offered a variety of options and each was allowed to make the best choice for its own area. Meanwhile, the national JCCA ceased providing the free Web-based technology platform for the program, offering it at cost instead.

Silberfein said there were about 20 bridges nationwide existing under the program’s auspices. He did not know whether any others had closed after the JCCA’s decision. A check of the national Gesher City website last week listed 20 bridges with 16 more marked as “coming soon.”

Silberfein said that Gesher City represented only a portion of the agency’s services to young adults.

“We continue to provide consultation service to JCCs on a range of things including young adults,” he said.

About 500 people had signed up for the program’s local website over the years, according to Horwitz, although he said many others may have been involved since individuals often bring friends to events. Though Gesher City did two programs a year in conjunction with other organizations, the thrust of the group was really geared toward providing outreach and connection to participants rather than doing its own programming.

He said that he was very proud of what the group accomplished during its more than three years in existence and didn’t expect its discontinuation to create a gap.

“If there was going to be a hole we wouldn’t have closed the program,” he said. “We thought long and hard and felt that the timing was right to do this because there are efforts out there in the community to reach out to this population.”

He recommended that participants utilize the website to connect to programming and other activities.

A message on the local Gesher City website last week said that the program was no longer in operation and suggested various resources for young adults providing links to the Jewish Community Relations Council’s St. Louis Israel Connection program, Chabad on Campus’s JGrads, Jewish Federation’s Young Professionals Division and the recently launched Next Dor house.

“We made a nice impact and we engaged with a lot of young adults who we hope will stay involved with the community,” Horwitz said.

Horwitz said there were no plans at present to restart the program locally.

“We’re always thinking here at the J about how we engage with young adults,” he said. “That’s part of our mission to create new programs. Whether it’s Gesher City coming back at some point or a different engagement program, it’s just too early to say.”

Mollie Leyton, 25, a teacher in the Rockwood School District, said that she had good memories from her experiences with the program and was sorry to see it discontinued.

“It was a nice way to meet new people and stay connected to friends you already have in St. Louis, including people you went to high school with and haven’t seen in awhile,” said Leyton, a Central Reform congregant living in Brentwood. “I still see many of the people from Gesher City a lot since I’m on the YPD board. It was a nice way to initially meet people and in that sense I’m disappointed it’s closing.”