Community First Howard County Federation seeks to boost millennial involvement

Laurie and Brian Avrunin are the co-chairs of Jew Year’s Eve. (Provided)

Laurie and Brian Avrunin are the co-chairs of Jew Year’s Eve. (Provided)

On Sept. 10, the Jewish Federation of Howard County will host its Jew Year’s Eve event to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and launch its newest giving level, the Chai Society, at the Gudelsky Center Howard County Conservancy.

“You spend the first and second nights of Rosh Hashanah with family, so we thought it would be a wonderful idea to spend one night with Jewish friends to celebrate the New Year,” said Laurie Avrunin, who is a co-chair of Jew Year’s Eve along with her husband, Brian.

The event and the Chai Society are part the Federation’s efforts to encourage more young families and millennials in Howard County to get involved with the community, according to Rachael Simon, committee chair for the Federation’s young adult division, oxyGEN.

“We want people to come out, participate in our events and meet new people,” said Jeremy Goldman, chair-elect of the oxyGEN committee. “In the past, we were suggesting large donations that were out of reach for millennials. Now, we’re trying to make it a lot more than just writing a check.”

Goldman said the difficulty of getting people involved in the community is rooted in constraints that people face with time and money.

“In the past, [the Federation] was very focused on fundraising. Now, we’re doing more programming like Jew Year’s Eve,” said Goldman. “Instead of asking for money on the first contact, we’re trying to build the community first.”

I think it’s important for [my children] to see their parents giving back to others in the community and I hope it’s something they’ll do when they grow up.

Simon echoed Goldman’s sentiment and added that many people move to Howard County for things such as the school system but have the challenge of figuring out how to incorporate Judaism into their lives. That’s where the Federation is hoping to help.

The name of the giving level, Chai Society, came up after the oxyGEN committee decided what a reasonable gift by millennials would be, according to Simon. In the spirit of the Jewish tradition of giving in multiples of 18, the committee decided on $180 annually, differentiating the Chai Society from the national Ben-Gurion Society, which requires $1,000 annually.

While the Federation is encouraging young people to get involved, the millennials organizing and leading the efforts all have their personal motivations for staying active in the community. Simon, whose husband is from Baltimore, has lived in Howard County for 10 years and was originally active in a women’s leadership group at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

“It’s important to me to be involved in the Jewish community,” said Simon. “It came from my upbringing; my parents were very involved, and now I have children.”

Goldman started to get involved six years ago by joining the board of directors at his children’s preschool, Bet Yeladim.

After his children graduated, he began looking for other ways to stay active in the community.

“I think it’s important for [my children] to see their parents giving back to others in the community, and I hope it’s something they’ll do when they grow up,” said Goldman.

Avrunin echoed all of her colleague’s motivations.

“I want my children to grow up knowing that they are surrounded by the love of the Jewish people and values that we have,” said Avrunin. “I grew up with Jewish values and went to religious school; my parents were very dedicated to Judaism. They made sure that we had Jewish values, and I want to do that for my own children.”

Avrunin hopes that participants at Jew Year’s Eve leave the event feeling a greater sense of community.

“I hope people walk away and feel how many Jewish people surround us in Howard County,” said Avrunin. “I hope people walk away and say, I hope we do this every year; I hope this becomes an annual tradition.’”


Jew Year’s Eve
September 10, 2015
7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Gudelsky Center Howard County Conservancy
10520 Old Frederick Road, Woodstock, MD 21163

To purchase tickets, visit

For information, contact Meghann Schwartz, or
410-730-4976 x106.

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