Planting Roots

Project Shoresh strives to connect the local Jewish community, no temple required

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Rhode Island’s Jewish community comprises about 2 percent of the state’s population. While local synagogues serve as a point of contact for many, others – particularly those new to the region – are often unaffiliated. Project Shoresh is a local organization whose mission is to connect with those who may have limited or minimal contact with traditional Jewish agencies. 

Shoresh, which means “root” or “source” in Hebrew, is “dedicated to making it practical for Jews to connect to their roots, regardless of their current or past connection to Judaism,” says Rabbi Naftali Karp, who leads the organization. While attending the New England Rabbinical College, he noticed that many Jews in the Providence area were not formally connected to a Jewish organization. 

“It used to be that people were affiliated with synagogues, JJC’s, and other institutions with actual physical places,” explains Karp. ”I noticed that there were a lot of young people who were happy to be involved in their Jewish community but not in the traditional way. People wanted a more grassroots, a more relaxed atmosphere, more social settings as opposed to formal ones.” 

Karp soon established programs at Project Shoresh for different age levels – teens, college, young professionals, and young families. “The goal was to run some fun events that would be social, educational, and religious in an open, relaxed environment…meeting people where they’re at and kind of listening to what people are looking for,” says Karp.

Events run statewide throughout the year, especially around Jewish holidays. Shoresh started with just a single staff member (Karp), and has grown to a staff of 13. The organization is not connected to any formal Jewish denomination like Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform – “We’re just Jewish,” Karp says with a laugh. “When I started in 2012, I found that I had the most success with recent college graduates who decided to live here, and formed the young professionals group. That was pretty much a singles’ social scene with a Jewish twist to it. Of course, young professionals move on; they find partners and have families, and that means a whole different type of programming.”

So he hired his brother Rabbi Noach Karp. “He runs all kinds of programs with families, some with the whole family together, and other programs more for the kids, or the moms, or the dads, or couples. He just returned from a trip to Israel, which he tries to do every year, a trip for dads with children who are being raised Jewish,” says Karp. 

Another popular monthly program is called “Scotch and Schmooze,” which is just what it sounds like, along with a brief presentation on a Jewish topic. Karp is currently developing outreach programs for seniors and empty nesters. They even have a program at Classical High School, where students formed the Jewish Student Union. “We come in with some pizza, talk about Jewish-related topics. It’s usually a nice mix of Jews and non-Jews,” says Karp.

“It’s a crazy world out there,” he continues. “People need to feel like they have community and Project Shoresh is here to strengthen Jewish unity and identity.” ProjectShoresh.com

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