TRAVERSE CITY — Women leaders of six Jewish congregations in northern Michigan have formed a leadership consortium to find ways to broaden their individual communities, build connections and support each other.
Jewish men generally have held key synagogue leadership positions. In recent years, women have taken over more of those roles — particularly in northern Michigan.
The six women-led congregations are: Temple Beth El and Ahavat Shalom in Traverse City; B'nai Israel in Petoskey; Temple Beth Sholom in Marquette-Ishpeming; Temple Jacob in Houghton-Hancock; and Temple Beth Jacob, which is located in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada, and also serves Jewish families on the Michigan side.
In October, the women leaders at each synagogue formed the L'Dor v'Dor Northern Michigan Jewish Women's Rural Leadership Consortium with the help of a $15,000 grant obtained by Pamela Ovshinsky, a member of Petoskey's B'nai Israel Congregation. L'Dor v'Dor means "from generation to generation" in Hebrew.
The $15,000 grant from the Jewish Women's Foundation of Detroit funds the pilot project to build leadership, plan and create shared Jewish educational and social programs and connections.
Consortium members brainstormed several ideas and goals in a workshop last fall and will meet again in April for a follow-up session. Among the ideas discussed:
n Find ways to provide more leadership training and support for women and girls.
n Pool resources to create more educational and cultural events for northern Michigan Jewish congregations to help build and celebrate continued Jewish connections, identity and community.
n Develop family retreats, field days or other events to bring members of the congregations to provide a wider community for Jewish families and young people in northern Michigan
"If I had to sum up what we want to do in a few words: Activities, support, connections and developing new leadership," said Joan Slyker, a Congregation Beth El past president and now vice president. "That last one is a big part of it for those of us who have been doing it."
The six congregations have many similarities other than being led by women. None have full-time ordained rabbis or staff. Volunteers often wear many hats, performing lay services, running Sunday Schools and other activities.
"Most of the volunteers are women and mothers," said Megan Shapiro, an Ahavat Shalom member and mother of two young children. "It's hard to keep some of those traditions going and that's why the community support is so important."
B'nai Israel in Petoskey is northern Michigan's single biggest congregation with a membership of 110 family units, said Ovshinsky, consortium project coordinator.
Traverse City probably has the largest Jewish population, with two congregations of about 50 to 60 family units each. Both share monthly Shabbat services, a Sunday School for about 30 children and interim rabbi Arielle Rosenberg, a third-year rabbinical student.
Temple Beth El is Michigan's oldest continuously running synagogue. It was founded in 1885 and is located in a small 19th-century wooden building near the Grand Traverse County government complex off Washington Street. Ahavat Shalom was founded in 1997 under the leadership of Rabbi Chava Bahle, who retired in 2007 to pursue other interests.
The monthly Friday Shabbat service rotates between Temple Beth El and Ahavat Shalom, which meets at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Grand Traverse on Center Road at the base of the Old Mission Peninsula.
Jewish holidays also are held at UU because it is large enough to hold both congregations, said Terry Tarnow, Beth El president.
"Right now we would burst at the seams if we tried to hold them at Beth El," she said. "And Beth El is not yet handicap accessible."
But it will be. The congregation has decided to build a small addition at the back corner of its synagogue that will not jeopardize its Michigan Historic Site designation, Tarnow said. The $170,000 project will include a lift, handicap-accessible bathroom and new stairway.
Petoskey's Temple B'nai Israel has been incorporated for 116 years and in the same location at Michigan and Waukazoo streets for 102 years. It has had a working relationship with Cincinnati's Hebrew Union College, which sends rabbinical students to live in Petoskey during the summer and lead Friday Shabbat services. A student rabbi comes once or twice a month the rest of the year.
Temple Beth Jacob in Ontario has 22 active member families, many of whom who live in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
Temple Jacob in Hancock celebrated its 100th anniversary last year and has 15 member family units with approximately 40 Jewish households in the four-county area.
The Record-Eagle was unable to obtain membership totals for Temple Beth Sholom in Marquette-Ishpeming by press time.