Once in a while you get shown the light...

This past Tuesday evening, I stepped on stage to sing with a band, and, for the first time in the nearly two years since I moved here, I felt completely at home.

Federation can impact people in powerful ways, whether providing vital sustenance to our extended Jewish family across the world… or building Jewish community here in Upper Fairfield County.

This happens to be my story.

I moved to the area in August of 2016, and, even with the advantage of moving here to become the lead executive of our Jewish federation, this, quite frankly, can be a challenging place to move, especially for a single person moving here without family. I’m nearly 50 years old. I’m single. I moved here without any family. While it may surprise some, I am tremendously shy and introverted. I only knew one person who lived here, and she was herself a transplant and a relative newcomer. And this is a place where there are few people who aren’t part of families. A place where couples do things together. And, for me, for much of two years, it’s been a challenge to feel fully at home here.

Sometimes it’s the unexpected things that enable someone to find that important, elusive connection. Sometimes it’s the things that don’t necessarily make sense to everyone else.

In previous professional roles, I’ve experimented, with some success, in building new Jewish micro-communities based on areas of common interest. For example, I created Jewish retreats for those with a shared interest in baseball that I ran for several years. That probably doesn’t seem so odd. 

But perhaps the greatest success I had in that area -- programs that were written up in national newspapers and mimicked by other Jewish communities throughout the country -- were a series of Shabbatonim, Jewish weekend retreats, that I created for Jewish fans of one of my favorite musical bands, The Grateful Dead. The retreats that I created over four years, called “Blues for Challah” (a playful adaptation of the Grateful Dead album, Blues for Allah ), not only brought together Jews of shared interest, but created a powerful, validating community that brought together a diverse collection of Jews, from those with black hats and payes to those who had never felt connected to their Judaism.

Over my two years here, I’ve been curious about what success we might have in building similar micro-communities around areas of interest in this Jewish community, and how doing so might create new portals for engagement and relationship-building.
And so, going back to my crazy past success story, I began looking to see if we could create a list of Jewish Grateful Dead fans -- or “Deadheads,” as we are called -- here in our community. I found that we could develop a substantial, diverse, and growing list. And, indeed, we have our first local Jewish Deadhead gathering scheduled for Sunday evening, October 21, at The Acoustic in Black Rock, featuring a special appearance by Grateful Dead friend and photographer Rosie McGee, herself a member of our extended Jewish family.

In the process of putting together this circle and this event, I received an email from someone in the group, someone I would not have known had I not begun creating this community, asking if I knew of someone who might be interested in singing with a local Grateful Dead cover band they had put together. I had a quick response: “Yes… me!” I’ve performed for many years, but hadn’t had much of an opportunity to do so since moving to Connecticut. It’s where I’m most comfortable. I hadn’t been in a Grateful Dead cover band since college. I leapt at the opportunity. A few weeks later, I was singing with Exit 43, many of my bandmates being members of our local Jewish community.

And, this past Tuesday evening, I stepped up to to the microphone to sing with Exit 43 at 323 in Westport, in a room packed with friends that I’ve met over my nearly 24 months here; and, for the first time in two years, I truly felt at home here.

This was my personal story of the power of Federation in creating community and in welcoming newcomers. And while my story may in some ways be unusual, in so many ways it’s not.

I recently met with a middle-aged single newcomer to the community who told me of the challenges she has had making relationships here, but how she’s been able to overcome some of those hurdles and build relationships by finding a Mah Jongg group.

While this community has multiple Mah Jongg groups and book clubs -- and now one circle for Grateful Dead fans -- I wonder what other micro-communities might bring together people of common interest and open the door to new engagement and new friendships, helping others feel at home. 

If there’s an interest that you have that you think would be a prime opportunity to build a Jewish micro-community -- maybe it’s shared love of video games or hiking or Harry Potter or who knows what -- I’d love to hear from you. Please email me at dweisberg@jewishphilanthropyct.org and we can talk about whether we might create a new informal circle together. 

And, if you’re a Jewish Deadhead, I’d love to add you to the circle that’s been a game-changer for me.

As the Grateful Dead say, “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right."
Celebrate Shabbat in our beautiful outdoor spaces!
Free and open to the community
In case of iffy weather, contact the congregation in advance.

Every Friday, 6:30 p.m.
Aug. 17, 24, 31: 6 p.m.
Beth El Fairfield Musical Kabbalat Shabbat Beach Services
East end of Jennings Beach by the marina -- use Turney Road entrance
Bring dinner, snacks, chairs, and blankets
Parking: A beach parking permit is required and available in the Beth El office
In the event of rain, services will be held at Beth El, 1200 Fairfield Woods Road, Fairfield
Info/parking permit: (203) 374-5544 / office@bethelfairfield.org

Friday, July 27
6 p.m.
Temple Shalom Picnic Dinner & Kabbalat Shabbat in the Park
Pinkney Park, 177 Rowayton Ave., Rowayton
Info: (203) 866-0148 / admin@templeshalomweb.org

Friday, Aug. 3

6:15 p.m.
The Conservative Synagogue Kabbalat Shabbat at the Beach
Compo Beach, Westport - west end by the boat launch
Parking: A beach sticker is required; if you do not have one, request a parking pass for TCS at the beach entrance and park in designated spots.
Info: (203) 454-4673 / tcs@tcs-westport.org  

6:30 p.m.
Congregation Beth El-Norwalk Shabbat Under the Stars
Private home on the shore
RSVP/location: (203) 838-2710 / office@congbethel.org

Friday, Aug. 10
6 p.m.
Congregation B'nai Israel Summer Services at Lake Mohegan
960 Morehouse Highway, Fairfield
Parking: Parking and admission to the service are free and don't require a lake pass. Park in main parking lot and proceed to the beach area adjacent to the lot. Lake Mohegan is accessible for people with a disability and for people in a wheelchair. There is ramp access directly to the beach.
Please bring a beach chair and everyone is encouraged to bring a picnic Shabbat dinner for your family (or feel free to organize a potluck with friends) for before or after the service. In the case of rain, service will be held at Congregation B'nai Israel, 2710 Park Ave., Bridgeport. Check the synagogue website after 2 p.m. on Friday for a weather update.

Friday, Aug. 17
6:15 p.m.
The Conservative Synagogue Kabbalat Shabbat at the Beach
Compo Beach, Westport - west end by the boat launch
Parking: A beach sticker is required; if you do not have one, request a parking pass for TCS at the beach entrance and park in designated spots.
Info: (203) 454-4673 / tcs@tcs-westport.org  

Saturday, Aug. 18
6 p.m.
Congregation for Humanistic Judaism Annual Havdallah at the Beach
Compo Beach, 60 Compo Beach Road, Westport 
Parking: A beach sticker is required; if you do not have one, request a parking pass for Congregation for Humanistic Judaism at the beach entrance and park in designated spots. Look for the CHJ sign. Bring a picnic; desserts provided.  [Rain date: Aug. 25]
Info: (203) 293-8867 / info@humanisticjews.org

Friday, Aug. 31
6:30 p.m.
Beit Chaverim Synagogue Kabbalat Shabbat with live music
Compo Beach, Westport – south beach near the cannons
Parking: A beach sticker is required; if you do not have one, request a parking pass for Beit Chaverim at the beach entrance and park in designated spots. 
Info: (203) 227-3333 / office@beitchaverim.com

If your congregation is not listed, check with them for information!
Watch this space for updates every week.
Looking to make a difference?
Get involved in Jewish education! 

Looking for dynamic, passionate and engaging teachers for Upper Fairfield County Jewish religious schools.
Positions available for weekday and Sunday programs.

with your resume and the days of the week you are available and she will forward your information to the various Religious School directors.
from our community partners
Chaifetz Family Hospice volunteer training
9 a.m.–5 p.m.
Sunday, Aug. 19 & Sunday, Aug. 26

Jewish Senior Services
4200 Park Ave., Bridgeport

Training materials and meals will be provided free of charge. 

To learn more or to sign up, please contact Ellen Ashkins:
(203) 365-6417 / eashkins@jseniors.org