It was only when Rabbi Hillel Kapenstein began to reflect upon this past year that he realized the magnitude of the Jewish community’s accomplishments. As the outreach director for Kollel, Kapenstein sprang into action at the onset of the pandemic, working with his team to develop creative ways to continue their Jewish learning programming.
“We have to be thankful for the technology that allowed us to really connect. And, I have to say, it’s nothing short of a miracle that we didn’t lose any Torah learning,” says Kapenstein. “We’ve only maintained and gained. In other words, more study partners, more classes and, perhaps most excitingly, we were able to bring in new families as well.”
“We have to be thankful for the technology that allowed us to really connect. And, I have to say, it’s nothing short of a miracle that we didn’t lose any Torah learning. We’ve only maintained and gained.” — Rabbi Hillel Kapenstein, Outreach Director for Kollel
In an era of economic collapse, societal unrest and political turmoil, Kapenstein says he saw the Jewish community step up like we’ve never seen before. From launching a robust Community Response Fund to transitioning Jewish Day Schools to virtual learning, community organizers and innovators flexed their muscles.
Of all the Kollel programs that thrived in the past year, Kapenstein says that one stands out among the crowd: Shabbat Table, a program for Jewish young professionals. This program was made possible through the work of JewishColumbus, which secured a grant for the program through the Diamond Family Foundation Endowment.
“It took off like wildfire, to put it mildly,” says Kapenstein. “And it was particularly remarkable because this was the perfect program for COVID to kill. It needs social interaction. But when a person is determined to continue their Jewish program and Jewish learning, they’ll find a way. And we did find a way.”
“It took off like wildfire, to put it mildly. And it was particularly remarkable because this was the perfect program for COVID to kill. It needs social interaction.” — Rabbi Hillel Kapenstein, Outreach Director for Kollel
In a WhatsApp chat full of Jewish young professionals, Kapenstein saw someone pitch the idea of hosting a Thursday night Shabbat Table virtually on Zoom, complete with a little take home dinner box to feel like the group was sharing Shabbat together. In a matter of minutes, the chat flooded with responses: I’m in! Count me in! Brilliant idea. Love it! Plus one!
“Now, we have 12 cities around the country participating,” says Kapenstein. “We had a Zoom session on Thursday from 8 to 8:30 p.m., and afterward we had breakout rooms, which were randomly selected, and people got to meet and network with other guys and gals around the country.”
To add even more value for this young professional community, Kapenstein now hosts a similar virtual event with world-renowned keynote speakers. From M/I Homes CEO Bob Schottenstein to JewishColumbus Board Chair Audrey Tuckerman, these virtual roundtables introduce our community’s young professionals to inspirational role models in a variety of fields.
These programs are vital for the continued growth of both the Columbus Jewish community and the overall community.
“It’s interesting to see how the Jewish community and the general landscape of Columbus are in sync. If you look at the different businesses and the real estate in Columbus and in Central Ohio that are growing, our Jewish community is right there with them,” says Kapenstein. “We’re all on the rise. Everything is growing and we couldn’t be more excited to see where Columbus, Ohio goes in the years to come.”