Making Jewish Connections In Smaller Environments

In her 15 years living in St. Paul, Deanna Scher has experienced the challenge that many transplants have: making close connections with Jewish friends. When Mount Zion Temple rolled out their MZ Small Groups on Rosh Hashanah this year, she found a way to forge those connections.

“At the synagogue, there are people of all ages,” said Scher, who started the Scrabble group. “I don’t know how to make small talk very well or start conversations with different generations. I think it’s nice having the focus on specific interests or experiences.”

Shai Avny, Mount Zion’s Congregational Engagement Director, said that the small group concept is one that came out of the URJ movement and is based on the chavurah group idea. But with MZ Small Groups, they can stay open or phase out at the will of the participants.

“In our synagogue, it’s amazing to see that people want to start,” Avny said. “They’re really excited about it.”

The concept started at first with 4 groups; already there are 18, with at least three more that will start in early 2019. There are a variety of options varying by interest. For instance, there are groups like the Classical Musical Lovers Group, the Meditation Group, a Parents Social Group, and Random Men Noshing.

Executive Director Larry Solomon said the great part of MZ Small Groups is that it connects people with synagogue programming in a way that can be less intimidating.

“Sometimes we desire events surrounded by our robust community. At other times, we want smaller settings,” he said. “These groups are designed to inspire us and transform our lives and the world around us, with deeper relationships and a greater experience of joy and meaning.”

Avny said that the early success of MZ Small Groups caused some shock.

“(Some synagogues) really need to go after congregants to ask to host groups; here it’s the opposite,” he said.

While the Scrabble group has only met once Scher is looking forward to more meetings in 2019.

“I’ve been in a few failed chavurot,” she said. “When you come together in something with a shared passion, it helps keep it going. The more connections we can make, the better.”

These groups are open to both members and non-members. To learn about the various MZ Small Groups options, go to