Connecting with Families during the Holidays

During the time that my daughters were in Hebrew school, my link to my congregation was as a religious school parent. When they got older, I began looking for a new way to connect with my synagogue. I joined the sisterhood and found what I was seeking. Sisterhood is a group of women of all ages and stages sharing a commitment to their local community.

One of the demographics being served by this commitment is our college-aged young adults. Beth Or College and Career Outreach (BOCCO) is how our sisterhood maintains a connection to these individuals, who are mostly living on their own for the first time in their lives.

The program started in the 1980s when a sisterhood member found that she had baked too many brownies! She thought of sending a care package and asked a friend for her first-year daughter’s address at school. She received addresses for three students. In her boxes, she enclosed a self-addressed postcard and asked them to reply if they needed anything. All three cards came back with requests for school supplies and snacks. The list quickly grew to 14 students, so this enterprising sisterhood member went to the Board for help. After the Board meeting, she left with an envelope of checks and a commitment from the Rabbi to write a note included in the packages.

Today, we have around 40 names on the list. The packages are sent at Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah, and Passover. They include information about the holiday to keep the students connected with their Jewish identity and practice. The fall package includes school supplies, a small Barnes & Noble gift card, and information for voter registration. The winter mailing has a Starbucks gift card, chocolate gelt, and a window cling menorah so those in dormitories can “light” the candles each night. The spring package includes a box of matzah and other kosher-for-Passover treats. All the packages have a letter from the Rabbi with suggestions about how to celebrate when they are away from home.

My sisterhood advertises this program in the fall and asks for students’ addresses from parents or grandparents in our community. We have even jumped into the 21st century by having the sign-up in an online form! A donation is requested to help cover the costs of the supplies and postage. There is also a line item in our sisterhood’s annual budget to support this important initiative.

I know that when we participated, my daughters enjoyed receiving their packages in the mail. College students and their parents are groups in our congregations that are sometimes hard to engage in sisterhood. This type of outreach to young adults is needed (and welcome) because it brings about good feelings about sisterhood.

Getting involved in my local sisterhood has been meaningful to me in a multitude of ways.  Working with my sisters to provide Judaic nourishment to our youth has allowed me to feel more connected to my community and spread this feeling to the next generation. 

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