Oct. 28, 2009

Inclusiveness and activism are needed at congregations

I read with interest a commentary on how to recruit new young members to the St. Louis Jewish community by a well known Rabbi in this community (Toward Thriving, Oct. 14 Light). What is missing from the discussion is inclusiveness and activism.

New Mt. Sinai Cemetery advertisement

We are a diverse society with many interests and what draws one person to the fold doesn’t draw another. At my congregation, Central Reform, Rabbi Susan Talve has added music and dancing as part of the service and to many this draws them in, bringing an enjoyable, meaningful part of their life.

It is no secret that the inner city churches that thrive and prosper have the congregations participate through song — and it has been part of our tradition for many generations. Outreach to the community is another factor — programs at our congregation include projects and committees that reach out to the needs of the community around us, such as poverty, juvenile detention and other faith communities. These draw a considerable number of congregants that don’t want to just be a part of a traditional pattern of Judaism. However, this is not the only answer.

Sermons and great orators are also a draw. My grandfather, Rabbi Ferdinand M. Isserman of Temple Israel , was one such that built his congregation on great sermons. His sermons written over 50 years ago are still read today.

Finally, I have come to believe that the inclusiveness must also be part of the High Holiday Process. Many congregations refuse to allow non-members to come to their service. You must pay to play. Most other religions open their doors to all who want to come. My congregation welcomes all who want to come. At High Holiday service this year. I looked at a crowd of close to 3,000 people on the morning of Yom Kippur. I believe new members will come from that crowd.

Outreach, diversity and inclusiveness should be the watchwords of our faith.

Rick Isserman

Creve Coeur

Child Abuse Prevention

As the coordinator of the Child Abuse Prevention Program (CAPP) of Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JF &CS), I read with great interest the editorial regarding the sexual abuse scandal in the New York Haredi community (Oct. 21 Light). Unfortunately, a timeless issue for the Jewish people is the reluctance to admit that issues such as abuse, domestic violence and addiction exist in our community. In fact, CAPP was developed in 1992 in response to both an incident which occurred at an afternoon Hebrew school program and the fact that numerous clinical clients of JF &CS had disclosed childhood sexual abuse to their therapists. While there were already several treatment and intervention programs available, there were no prevention programs. It is imperative that this issue is tackled before it happens in the first place.

For those who may not be familiar with the program, CAPP teaches child abuse prevention skills to children ages 3-12. It is a unique three-tier curriculum, which provides prevention training for children, parents, educators, health care professionals and camp counselors. CAPP has presented programs to more than 200,000 parents, educators, and children since 1992. It is available to both the Jewish and general communities FREE of charge, and programs are generally presented in the school setting.

If you would like further information or to schedule a program, please contact me at (314) 812-9378.

Jennifer Bernstein, MSW

Child Abuse Prevention Program Coordinator, Jewish Family & Children’s Service