Meet Avital Kadosh, the J’s new innovation chief

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Avital Kadosh, the J’s director of Jewish experience and innovation

Bill Motchan, Special To The Jewish Light

A late October outing at Camp Sabra included food, games and communing with nature. But the participants weren’t teenage campers. These were young adults. The Halloween weekend retreat was the brainchild of Avital Kadosh, the Jewish Community Center’s director of Jewish experience and innovation.

Kadosh, 34, joined the J in late summer to create programs specifically for two demographic groups: young families and empty nesters. The Camp Sabra retreat drew 15 participants ranging in age from 22 to 30. Most were unaffiliated with a synagogue, Kadosh said, but they all had a desire to embrace Judaism.

“We actually did a tashlich,” Kadosh said. “We didn’t toss breadcrumbs, but we found things in nature and then we talked about why we picked them. Some people threw a rock, some people picked up leaves. So we did a sort of nature-to-nature ceremony. It was very cool.”

They also participated in typical camp activities like a capture-the-flag game. The retreat was so successful that almost every camper met again for a reunion-Shabbat dinner on Dec. 9th at the home of Alex Rich. Kadosh said Rich was instrumental in planning and promoting the retreat. He served as her volunteer chair and used his communications expertise to help create awareness.

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“Avital reached out to me with interest in having me chair this event as someone who promotes it,” said Rich, 31. “I’m very active on the social media front and I’m on the air with Y98 in the morning, so I can use my connections to spread the word about these different events that we’re doing.”

Kadosh was born in Israel and moved with her family to Minnesota in 1991. After college, she worked for Teach for America in Detroit. She earned a graduate degree in social work from the University of Michigan and worked as the director of congregational services for a synagogue in Ann Arbor. From there, she moved to St. Louis where she served as the director of the Congregation B’nai Amoona religious school. That’s also where she met Alex Rich, who taught music.

After a stint working at a religious school in New Orleans, Kadosh came back to St. Louis earlier this year when her husband, Jordan Kadosh, was named regional director of the Anti-Defamation League Heartland.

The Kadoshes belong to Kol Rinah. They are young parents, so Avital can identify with that group. She said her goals in creating a Jewish experience program at the J began with recruiting committed volunteers like Alex Rich.

“We got people around the table to talk about what they wanted to see from the J, what they love, what they don’t love, what they’d like added,” she said. “I was able to do that. We have between 10 and 20 people on each committee, which is great. It’s well represented from different synagogues, and from unaffiliated Jewish St. Louisans.

“Each group has met twice already,” she said. “I put together a Wiki survey. The young family one had over 1,500 hits, which is wild. It was able to generate seed ideas by score and priority, which was very helpful because we came up with probably close to ten years of programming ideas.”

The popularity of the Halloween retreat and follow-up Shabbat dinner demonstrated that there is a desire for similar programs, Kadosh said. She’s already planning early 2023 events.

“There are seven programs between January and May,” she said. “We’re excited about that. We’re partnering with Kol Rinah for a Lag B’Omer event at Shaw Park to do a grill and s’mores. Partnership and collaboration are a big part of this job. Some of our other programs are smaller pop ups.

“For example, we’re going to the Hollow in Kirkwood for special Passover items at the end of March. Families can come and paint either a Kiddish cup, a seder plate, or little saltwater bowls, and then they’ll be putting them in the kiln and be ready right in time for the seders.”

Rich said he welcomes the opportunity to connect with other Jewish St. Louisans who may be outside his regular circle of friends. The feedback from the first retreat was also encouraging, he added.

“The turnout that we got in the amount of time that we had to plan it and promote it, I think was really good,” Rich said. “It was a really engaged, fun group that were people I had not met before. So it was good to get outside of my everyday group of Jewish friends. Our goal is to grow that and make it a fun environment and do fun activities that open a door to connect with people.”