Everyone’s Jewish story is different, and some find themselves disconnected from their community for extended periods of time. Although Chana Grove, the director of the JCARE Fellowship at Etz Chaim, once felt this way, she credits her Birthright trip with reconnecting her to Judaism. Now, after 16 years of working with Jewish youth and young professionals, Grove facilitates similar potential life-changing trips to the Jewish state as part of Etz Chaim’s rapidly growing fellowship, which upon completion, subsidizes a trip to Israel for the fellows.
For the past five years, Grove, 38, her husband Dan, and their five children — three daughters and two sons ranging in age from 3 to 13 — have called Pikesville their home. Grove, who calls herself an extrovert and a giver, has made chesed a central part of her professional and personal life, holding epic Shabbat dinners along the way.
You are the director of the JCARE Fellowship with Etz Chaim. What’s that all about?
We started the fellowship a little over two years ago. It was started on the premise that what is at our core and what is our essence as Jews is giving back to the community, doing a lot of chesed volunteer work and really trying to make a difference.
In the fellowship, we have multiple levels of that. It’s not only about giving back, it’s about creating an environment for young professionals and like-minded people who want to make a difference. There’s also a lot of learning. If you want to be a giver you have to work on yourself in order to be the best version of yourself in order to give.
How does the Jewish Caring Network fit into the program?
Jewish Caring Network takes care of families that are dealing with terminal or long-term illnesses. We run different programs with them. We just had a Chanukah party for families. For a lot of families with an ill family member, it’s difficult to overcome the financial burdens and stresses caused by what’s going on in their lives. It’s hard to take a two-hour break. We just want to put smiles on their faces.
Fellows end up going to Israel too, right?
Yes. It’s a six-month fellowship. We meet twice a month on Sundays. Those will be either volunteering or learning sessions, or both. Then we have a few Shabbatons where we’re together for the weekend. If the fellows complete the whole thing, they qualify for a subsidized trip to Israel.
When we’re in Israel, it is set up the same way the fellowship. We have one-third fun, one-third volunteering and one third-learning. We went to hospitals, we packaged food pantry packers and we went to Shalva, which is an unbelievable institution for special needs kids.
How did you come up with the idea for the partnership?
I was trying to figure out a way to do something that is chesed– oriented but is also a young professional community. I met Keren Traub, one of the founders of the Jewish Caring Network, and for The Shabbos Project a few years ago, I brought a bunch of women to her house for lunch and she told me about what she did. I started thinking, “This is the most unbelievable organization and I wish we could partner up.” I contacted her about creating a fellowship and she was thrilled about it. She put me in touch with Stacey Goldenberg, who runs the JCN, and after a few meetings everyone was on board.
The first fellowship started off with 10 people and finished with eight. But now we have 33 people in the fellowship and this is only the third one. It’s pretty amazing.
What is your favorite pastime when you’re not working?
Oh my goodness, I have so many side projects that I run outside of Etz Chaim. I run a sholom bayis group for newly married people. I’m very passionate about people having good marriages. I teach in one of the local girls high schools to inspire the young women about Judaism. And then, on the side, we host around 17 to 20 people every Shabbos.
I mean, I do game nights and fun things, but between five kids and running this program, that doesn’t leave a ton of extra time.