Rabbi Idan Irelander and Congregation Ahavat Olam President Marc Freedman performed at the Brooksby Village Hanukkah luncheon last month.

Donation helps North Andover synagogue welcome Brooksby Village residents

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Donation helps North Andover synagogue welcome Brooksby Village residents

Rabbi Idan Irelander and Congregation Ahavat Olam President Marc Freedman performed at the Brooksby Village Hanukkah luncheon last month.

Earlier this year, Marc Freedman and Rabbi Idan Irelander went to Brooksby Village – a senior living facility in Peabody – to offer entertainment at the community’s Hanukkah luncheon. They left with $1,800 and 300 potential new members of Congregation Ahavat Olam in North Andover.

The two men are, respectively, the president and the rabbi/cantor of the inclusive synagogue. This was their second year performing at Brooksby for Hanukkah (some of their congregants’ parents are residents there, and Freedman, a Peabody native, has been connected with them for years). After their performance, an anonymous donor approached the president and presented him a check for $1,800 to be used to secure a yearlong membership at Ahavat Olam for all residents of Brooksby Village who wanted it.

Freedman announced the partnership that day to all who were present at the luncheon.

“That really took everyone aback,” said Harriet Feinstein, a resident of Brooksby Village and the president of the facility’s Jewish Council. “It was wonderful to hear that someone was so enamored with both the Jewish community here at Brooksby and Congregation Ahavat Olam that he or she brought the two together … I’m very grateful.”

She estimated that there are somewhere between 250 and 300 Jewish residents at Brooksby. A letter announcing the membership agreement with Ahavat Olam is being included in the January Jewish events packet that is distributed to all Jewish residents there. So far, 20 people already have signed up for Ahavat Olam’s weekly newsletter, one privilege of the membership.

In addition, membership will include access to Shabbat services on Zoom; adult learning classes taught by Irelander; a Zoom link for High Holiday services; Yahrzeit services for loved ones who have passed; and three in-person, musically driven religious programs over the course of the year.

“The biggest thing that people are excited about is the fact that they have told us that they would come three times a year to do some sort of religious program,” said Feinstein. “It’s difficult for a lot of us to get to our synagogue and our temples. And not only that, but the diversity of going on Zoom – to go to our own temple and others – makes it very nice. The fact that Ahavat Olam has included us in theirs helps make the diversity even better.”

The idea to have an institution like a senior facility become a member of the shul was something Freedman had discussed with the donor in the past, and something he envisioned as a plus for the community overall.

“There are other communities, especially senior centers and senior living communities, that really don’t have a place to go for Jewish connection,” he said. “I honestly think that the senior community sometimes gets forgotten … Those connections are available to them through this relationship that we have at Brooksby Village.”

Ahavat Olam was founded in the summer of 2022 as an unaffiliated, “One Judaism” community. The congregation has been making waves since its inception: The projected goal of gaining 40 member families in their first year ended up at a whopping 113. Today, they’re up to 130, and leaders hope only to grow. In the next year, they plan to find a new building to hold their ever-growing ranks.

Freedman said he’d love to expand this “institutional membership” opportunity to other Jewish organizations, and would love more donors to make the partnership possible for Brooksby Village – and any other group that wants it – in the coming years.

“There’s no guarantee that he’ll be able to do it again next year,” Freedman said of the donor. “He’s not even sure that he’ll be here next year. So perhaps somebody else in the Jewish community … would be willing to put up the $1,800 … for Brooksby Village to become a member.

“We’re trying to build a community based on the concept of ‘One Judaism,’” said Freedman. “We just want to celebrate the fact that we’re Jewish.” Θ

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