Generations: Creating Jewish Austin’s Future: Part Three
Editor’s Note: This article is the third in a series taking a look at Austin’s Jewish community of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
By Tonyia Cone
It is no secret that Austin is growing. Demographers predict that by 2040 the city’s population will double, making Austin home to nearly 4 million people.
Rabbi Daniel Septimus, Shalom Austin CEO, expects the city’s Jewish community to mirror the trend.
“We need to prepare for that growth,” he said, “to meet people where they are and to ensure they can meet their best Jewish lives. That happens where they are and it also happens by coming together.”
Local Jewish congregations and organizations have added services and features in the past few years to meet the needs of Austin’s larger, more diverse community.
In order to keep up with Austin’s explosive growth and increased needs, Shalom Austin launched Generations, the first capital campaign since the Dell Jewish Community Campus opened in January 2000.
The campaign’s $25 million goal will support new construction, renovations and sustainability initiatives.
Septimus said, “Generations is enabling us to meet the needs of today and build the community of tomorrow. It's not just for future generations, it's for this generation, and it will enable us to build the vibrancy of Jewish life we all want to enable for generations to come.”
After organizers raise $12.5 million, half of the goal, Michael and Susan Dell will match dollar for dollar what is raised of the remaining $6.25 million.
Keith Zimmerman, who was involved in the founding of the campus and is Generations co-chair, explained that the Dells want to create momentum for the campaign and ensure its completion.
Generations addresses lack of space on the campus, which is currently limiting what is available to the community. The transformation will include a new 50,000 square foot building that will provide space for Jewish Family Services to move onto campus, meeting space for additional programming for people of all ages, a state of the art multipurpose community hall, a Jewish Learning Center and space for staff to work in one professional area on campus.
The Generations campaign will make possible gastronomic Judaism at its best in a remodeled kitchen and J Café, and a new entrance and lobby will serve as the living room of the community, providing a pleasant place for people to plug in a laptop or relax with friends.
Those looking for additional fitness opportunities will find what they need in a new health and wellness center featuring pilates, yoga and spinning rooms. A new water park will offer a new family pool, splash pad and snack bar in addition to the existing lap pool. New lighted tennis courts and an outdoor sports and camp pavilion will provide space for outdoor activity.
Generations will also enable Early Childhood Program renovations and the addition of an Israel-themed playscape.
Judy Waxman, a Generations co-chair, explained that the additions and renovations will bring Jewish children and adults together.
"Everything we’re doing will make the Jewish community more vibrant, and allow us to enhance and expand programming for all ages," said Judy Waxman, Generations co-chair. “It’s going to be a happening place.”
Zimmerman said, “What we build today is our legacy in terms of what kind of community we want to help build.”
While organizers are still in the process of conducting due diligence, focus groups and thoughtful planning, Harriett Kirsh Pozen, Generations campaign director and a co-founder of the Dell Jewish Community Campus, said planners expect Generations to break ground around fall 2018.
Septimus said, “We’re striving to build what is an engaging and meaningful Jewish experience for people regardless of where they live, that allows them to live their best Jewish lives. That means that we're meeting people wherever they are around town, and yet there's a place where they can go where we can be together and celebrate together and grow together, which is the Dell Jewish Community Campus.”
Should you have any questions or ideas about the future of the Dell Jewish Community Campus, feel free to contact Generations Campaign Director Harriett Kirsh Pozen at 512-735-8076.
Temple Beth Shalom, Austin Jewish Academy and Other Groups
In 2013, Temple Beth Shalom dedicated its building on the Dell Jewish Community Campus. In 1997, Austin Jewish Academy came on to campus, a school which teaches transitional kindergarten through eighth grade students on the campus.
Other organizations like Congregation Beth El, Chabad-Lubavitch of Austin, the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center at UT, Congregation Havurah Shalom, Congregation Kol Halev, Congregation Shalom Rav, Congregation Shir Ami, Firepit Minyan and Texas Hillel of The University of Texas represent, serve and connect all kinds of affiliated and non-affiliated Jewish groups, individuals and families across the greater Austin area.
Congregation Agudas Achim
With a membership of more than 700 families, Congregation Agudas Achim is giving its next generation the experience of writing a Torah, and has commissioned the first full Torah in Texas to be written by a soferet, a female Torah scribe.
Choosing one of the few sofrot to write the congregation’s newest Torah, “helps to define and promote the values that Agudas Achim stands for: equal access for men and women to be part of our tradition, that we’re an open tent and that we welcome anyone who seriously wants to engage our tradition,” Blumofe said.
Their new Torah will be dedicated in February 2018.
“As the Austin Jewish community has transformed so much in the last 20 years, I think there’s a renewed effort and importance of underscoring our community with the values that we appreciate. Certainly Torah learning is one of them,” CAA’s Rabbi Neil Blumofe told The Jewish Outlook in November.
Blumofe explained that along with traditional learning, a priority of egalitarianism is very important, as Judaism struggles to find its place in the American landscape and Conservative Judaism looks to define what it is in the 21st century.
Congregation Beth Israel
Congregation Beth Israel has expanded its reach into Austin’s interfaith community. Rabbi Sam Rose has served on Austin Interfaith’s strategy team for the past year and a half. He has spoken at a number of their events, including candidate accountability sessions, and has been involved in city budget discussions, participated in press conferences and met with statewide political newspaper editors. He explained that he works for the issues affecting families in need from an interfaith community perspective.
Rose has also been a part of Texas Industrial Areas Foundation, a statewide expansion campaign through which he was a speaker at a meeting in San Antonio last April that launched a plan to expand an interfaith organizing presence in more counties throughout Texas.
CBI has also made an effort in being inclusive of people with all abilities. Executive Director Jennifer Smith explained that the congregation installed a ramp from the chapel to the sanctuary and modified the parking lot this year in order to make the building and outdoor areas accessible to everyone.
The congregation also brought on Melanie Kaplan, special needs coordinator, this school year.
CBI has taken measures to preserve the planet for future generations, as well. In 2014, the congregation installed 152 solar modules on top of its education building.
Last year, the congregation received national attention when it was the first recipient of Property Assessed Clean Energy financing. CBI used the funding for new chillers, new boilers, window tint and updated controls for the chillers and boilers.
“The primary idea of covenant is that the way we behave reflects the situation that the people after us are going to inherit. As one religious environmental leader I’ve heard put this in a talk, she says, “The real question is do we care about ourselves more than we care about our great grandchildren? If we do, then stay the course,’” said Rabbi Steven Folberg.
Selah School of Congregation Agudas Achim is making an effort to include people in South Austin in Jewish life. Nina Miller, the school’s director, explained that as the city has grown, so has the Jewish population in South Austin.
“A lot of people can't live at Far West; either logistically it’s not convenient for them or their work or it's too expensive or whatever. Now there are Jews all over Austin and greater South Austin. So our mission is really to find those people and make sure they are being served in whatever way they want to be,” explained Miller, who added that Selah has attracted Jews from as far away as Buda and Dripping Springs.
When Selah was formed about five years ago, leaders knew immediately that they wanted Jewish education for their kids that was local, convenient and accessible. With support from CAA, they started a Hebrew school, which now includes four teachers and 22 students who meet weekly for project-based education taught through cooking, drama, art and music. Miller explained that the low teacher to student ratio makes Selah School’s learning customized and personal.
“Because we don't have any kind of bureaucracy or establishment to answer to, we can be very creative and change course and adjust to what our parents and our community want," she said.
Selah School leaders and teachers strive to create an energized and interactive afternoon each week for students to enjoy with their other Jewish friends, which she explained many of the students do not have outside of the school.
“We've built a very intimate community of people who know each other and are happy to connect. For a lot of them, they don't have Jewish community outside of that,” Miller said.
Congregation Tiferet Israel
Congregation Tiferet Israel made headlines in 2015, when its new home was moved from Brenham, Texas, to the Dell Jewish Community Campus. Since then, the Modern Orthodox congregation has filled the B’nai Abraham Brenham Historic Synagogue with Jewish life.
Rabbi Daniel Millner of Congregation Tiferet Israel said, “The B'nai Abraham Brenham Historic Synagogue has been a huge benefit and asset to growing a shul. Having a place to call your own is essential.”
He explained that the building, and even seeing the congregation’s name on campus direction signs, gives his community a sense of permanence.
Millner has seen a steady increase in his congregation’s membership – CTI’s numbers have almost tripled over the last three years – that is reflected in the life of his shul. Adult education classes are well attended every day by congregation members, members of other congregations and unaffiliated people; minyans are successful every morning; and CTI has had to expand youth programming to accommodate diverse ages and growing numbers.
In 2015, a major component of Orthodox Jewish life, the Austin Community Eruv, was established in Northwest Austin. An eruv forms an enclosure around what would, according to Jewish Halacha, otherwise be considered a public area, making a public domain into a private domain, allowing Orthodox Jews to carry or push objects, such as keys or strollers, on the Sabbath.
“It’s a really exciting opportunity to be in a city and watch the population that the group at Tiferet Israel is so invested in, watch that grow and see how the congregation is turning more and more into a larger community and offers everything that Modern Orthodox or Orthodox couples or individuals would want,” said Millner, who recently attended Orthodox Union’s Emerging Communities Fair, which offers information to people who want to relocate to affordable Jewish communities. “We’re very excited to see that potential growth out there because the interest is out there. People think Austin’s where it’s at.”