Addie Lewis Klein wasn’t sure whether now, with the Israel-Hamas war raging, was the right moment to make an announcement about Jewish life in Baltimore. But “there is no better time to declare that we’re here, proud to be Jewish and proud to stand with Israel,” wrote Klein in an email announcing the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Jewish Connection Network.
The Macks Jewish Connection Network, also known as The Network, is the new name and brand of the Macks Center for Jewish Connections, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore.
“It’s crucial to maintain a strong Jewish identity and stay connected with our fellow members of the Jewish community,” the email continued. “We understand the importance of standing united in times of challenge, and The Network is here to provide that support.”
This is the organization’s second big change in as many years. In summer 2022, the Macks Center for Jewish Connections was formed when Jewish Volunteer Connection joined with the family engagement work of the Macks Center for Jewish Education, establishing an agency focused on building relationships and resources for Jewish Baltimoreans.
“We took a year to really say, ‘Who are we? What are we going to be doing? How do we introduce ourselves to the Baltimore Jewish community?’ That’s the stage that we’re at now,” Klein, executive director of the Macks Jewish Connection Network told the JT.
The aim of The Network: To connect people to each other, to connect those people more deeply and to connect them to resources that enrich their Jewish identities.
“Our mission is to empower people to explore and deepen their own Jewish journey, inspiring them to form lasting connections to a diverse, inclusive and vibrant Baltimore Jewish community,” Klein said.
The vision for The Network is an outgrowth of the findings of a 2020 study of the Baltimore Jewish community.
“One of the most surprising bits of information” from that study, Klein said, was that nearly 40% of participants said they weren’t deeply involved in Jewish life — up more than 10% from 2010.
“That spurred leadership at The Associated to say, ‘Let’s think more deeply about how we’re reaching people that aren’t deeply involved in Jewish life, how are we communicating with them, where are we finding them,’” Klein said.
Since then, The Network has been able to do further research and reorganize financing to seriously “create flexible, low-barriers on-ramps to Jewish life and help people find their own entry points to Jewish Baltimore,” Klein said.
“I want to make sure we’re holding the tent flaps of Jewish life open and really welcoming people in however they want to connect to their own Jewish journey,” she added.
In the spirit of diversity, equity and inclusion, many members of The Network’s connector program are LGBTQ, multifaith or Jews of color. Later this month, The Network will host an event to celebrate Sigd, a holiday of the Ethiopian Jewish community. Additionally, The Network participates in disability advocacy and provides sensory-friendly experiences and accessibility and inclusion consultations, as well as support for people who are deaf or hard of hearing and for families raising children with special needs.
“We know that everyone is looking for ways to connect and see possibilities for their own Jewish life,” Klein said.
The Network will continue to work on expanding opportunities for people 55 and older. Currently, it also offers programs for a variety of civic interests, as well as Shalom Baltimore for newcomers to the area. There are also chances to explore Israeli culture.
Right now, The Network is encouraging people to make bracelets with the names of hostages in Gaza to show that Baltimore Jews are thinking about each individual.
“It’s really fitting to launch this brand that’s all about strengthening Jewish identity, especially during this time where being proud of our Jewish identity and supporting the community is so important,” said Arielle Insel, marketing manager for The Associated.
The Network is also currently encouraging people to gather in small groups to make casseroles and then freeze them. The casseroles will then be collected on Giving Tuesday, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, to be donated to service partners and distributed to people in the city and county experiencing food insecurity.
In December, for Mitzvah Month, The Network will host a series of educational events on economic insecurity, which will culminate in the packing of winter care packages made up of items including snacks, toiletries, scarves, hats and gifts. The programming will emphasize Jewish values of helping people in need.
“We really believe that people’s lives are enriched when they have Jewish values as the foundation of the choices that they make,” Klein said. “We understand that people’s Jewish journeys and their communal connection is really important to live a fulfilled Jewish life of meaning.
“We want to be connecting people to resources anywhere in this Jewish community,” she said. “We have so much to offer in Baltimore.”