27 and Counting! The Circles Story

Small group Zoom meeting for Beth El Circles
These days, who doesn’t love some good news with a happy ending and a bright future? Temple Beth El is delighted to share a story about our multigenerational members-only program, Beth El Circles, that they have been looking forward to tell, and the best part is that YOU can join in too!

The idea for Circles was already in the planning stages long before our lives changed and things shut down during the pandemic…but bringing it to fruition at a time when it was truly needed most, was imperative to the temple. And yes, through a lot of hard work and perseverance, we did it …and we are brimming with pride…we began with 6 and to date we have 27 Circles and growing!!

Small Groups with Meaningful Experiences

Elinor Josephson, Director of Engagement & Programming shares the backstory with us:

We’re a very large congregation with 1500 families, and it’s sometimes hard to connect or meet other people that you might not realize you have much in common with. Several years ago, Amy Asin from the URJ – Union for Reform Judaism (our reform movement’s advocacy organization) spoke to our staff about her message for synagogues of “Beyond Counting Heads.” That a successful synagogue program is not about packing 100 people together into a room; it’s about small groups with meaningful experiences who meet each other and develop relationships.

We took this message to heart and have really run with it. We already have a lovely Chavurah program, which is specifically a friendship program, as well as Sisterhood, Brotherhood and Parenthood…but they’re all based on demographics. We wanted to expand that idea and create something that could connect members who may have never crossed paths, who were like-minded in their shared interests, hobbies and passions. It would also take into consideration those who might be isolated and alone, who would enjoy the prospect of having a new connection with a friendly member who would check in with them on a routine basis and establish a sociable rapport.

A Circle for Everyone

Gina Shugar, Temple Board member and Vice President of Membership & Engagement was a huge champion of this idea. She felt to do it correctly, we needed to have a dedicated person to oversee this …and we knew that person was none other than our own devoted Engagement and Programming Coordinator Julie Guzy.

Julie describes why Beth El Circles are a unique opportunity to connect with other temple members: “Circles is a program where age or gender no longer matters. It’s your common interest that helps form a bond of friendship that transcends demographics. Every Circle has at least one leader who is responsible for helping facilitate it. I take care of all of the emails and the meeting scheduling, and if I am not going to be on a Zoom, the leader will take over. Participants have told me how much fun they’re having and are so delighted to meet new people in the congregation.”

The best part of Circles is that the sky’s the limit on topics…all you need are three people and an idea, and there is no maximum for joining in.

We have Art and Artisans, Book Worms, Beach Lovers, Canyon Connection, Circle of Life, Cooks’ Corner, Entrepreneurs, Exercise Enthusiasts, Fiber Arts, Families of Children/Adults with Special Needs, Grape Expectations, Israel, LGBTQ+, Ma’agal Ha-Ivrit, Mah Jongg, Movie Time, Peloton Passion, Photography, Runners, Singles, Single Parenting, Tech Grandparents, Technology – Today and Tomorrow, Walking and Yiddish Yacking…with more in the works!

“I am delighted to say that it went from a dream of making these Circles to an abundance of Circles due to the dedication and the sheer tenacity that Julie has. She is the friendly, warm, welcoming and engaging staff member that has made this happen.”
-Elinor Josephson

Circle of Life…A Friendship Shidduch

Elinor and Julie along with the Chaverim team had always reached out and made phone calls to our members, but they felt there was opportunity for deeper connection. Establishing one-on-one relationships who would be in touch on a weekly basis could lift the spirits and be a lifeline for another member.

Together with 2 member leaders: Liliana Abramson and Marci Kessler, Julie created Circle of Life. There are many wonderful anecdotes that have come from this, but a notable one is about a busy young family who has touched the lives of two of our seniors.

“Interestingly, busy young working families are the hardest for us to get connected to the temple – they have so much going on. This family has made time, and not only has formed deep connections with another member, they have become more deeply connected to the temple,” says Elinor.

“Having Elaine in my life makes me feel good because she tells me about her family and important stuff happening in her life. She gives me good book recommendations. We talk about sports we’ve both done. I think Elaine likes talking with me too because she sounds happy when I call her.”
-Lucy McDougall

“This connection is so special. Lucy is very intelligent, kind, and lovely. We talk about her Bat Mitzvah preparations, her grandparents, her parents, athletics, academics and all sorts of things. She is a delightful young lady. It is my pleasure to talk to her and get to know her. As a matter of fact, during Covid at Purim, Lucy and her mother brought me Hamentashen. She just asked me the other day, what kind of blintzes I would like for Shavuot. I taught 6th and 8th grade English. This relationship reinforces my philosophy of keeping in touch with young people and keeping current. It’s time for people of all generations to be in touch with each other.”
-Elaine Erenstein

Joanne and Shawn McDougall’s son Max (age 14) and daughter Lucy (age 10) have forged a poignant bond with their matches …two seniors….Elaine Erenstein and Brian Sindel. “My hat is off to Mom and Dad… maybe it was their idea…but all I know is that these children followed through,” said Julie. Max who loves sports – especially baseball and golf and, is a little quieter, so he was matched with Brian who is funny and chatty and although not a big sports fan – happy to hear all about it from Max.

“When I talk with Mr. Sindel, I share my day or week with him. He sounds enthusiastic when I call him or he calls me. Mr. Sindel has told me about his college experience, career, his family and some childhood memories.”
-Max McDougall

“Max is a great kid and I really enjoy talking with him. We got to meet in person when Max and his family made Hamentashen for me for Purim. His family is delightful and his parents are obviously doing a terrific job.”
-Brian Sindel




Hear from Circle Leaders & Members!

The feedback we are receiving touches us deeply and truly speaks for itself.


Cycling Circle
Have you dreamed of riding in the Tour de France? Why not try the Tour de Beth El? Join other cycling enthusiasts and beginners for beautiful bike rides, exercise, friendships and fun.

“Last weekend’s weather was great for our rides. I think all riders had a good time. Saturday, we spent as much time talking at the coffee stop as we did in the saddle. The trail ride is a great way to enjoy the outdoors, socialize, and get a bit of exercise in safely at your own cycling pace, with our support.  We usually organize two separate rides. One route is for experienced riders the other route is for family or less experienced riders where any bike is appropriate.”
-Michael Simon
Cycling Circle Leader


Movie Time Circle
Break out the popcorn and jammies! Watch the Circle’s movie choice of the month and follow it up with a discussion with other members…a perfect pairing!

“Beth El and the Movie Circle brought my co-leader Roberta Presser and I together as we each have a deep love of film.   As we developed a good working relationship talking about film and about life, we found that we share much more than our love of film and of Temple Beth El. Our working relationship in the Circle blossomed into a lovely friendship.”
-Nancy Bowen Sinrod
Movie Time Circle Co-Leader


Canyon Connections Circle
Whether you live in the Isles, Lakes, Springs or Trails, you can be part of the Canyon Connection to get to know other Temple Beth El families. Share a virtual happy hour, or perhaps join a bring your own picnic at a park or maybe even find someone to carpool with to the Temple when things get back to normal.

“When we scheduled our first meet-up, we thought it would be great if we could get four families to join us; to our delight and surprise, over 10 families came out to connect with other Canyon residents! We are looking forward to many more group activities, caravans to services, Shabbat dinners/Religious school drop off bagels and carpools!”
-Michelle Trembley
Canyon Connections Circle Co-Leader


Trivia Circle
Do you know the name of every song title? Are you a history or sports buff? Not sure – that’s okay too! Your pursuit of virtual trivia games is over. Join this Circle to share laughter, great conversation and the thrill of the challenge.

“I work in the health field so I’ve never missed a day of work since March 2020 when everything was shut down. As time went on, I was emotionally feeling the isolation. During a virtual Oneg after services in a breakout room, I expressed my feelings and someone mentioned a Trivia Circle. I joined and I’ve had so much fun…I’ve connected with new friends and joined multiple circles! I’m so glad I allowed my emotions to come out and say I needed more and TBE, as usual stepped in, to help the day. I recommend joining a Circle or two for laughter, fun, and no more isolation.”
-Evelyn Boccanfuso-Swid
Trivia Circle member


Special Circles Projects

Fiber Arts Circle
If you have a knack for knitting, are eager to embroider or you crochet creations, this is the Circle for you. Whether it is cross-stitch, sewing, knitting, embroidery or crocheting, join other Temple members to share ideas, tips, patterns and more. New and experienced fiber art crafters are welcome.

As part of the temple’s June Pride Month commemoration, our Fiber Arts leader, Randi Paul-Heskins has initiated a program open to everyone at the temple…it is …Yarn Bombing. We will be working on a piece that spells “LOVE” and it will be put up at the Schaefer Family Campus for Pride Month in June.


Cooks’ Corner Circle
Let’s get together to share our favorite recipes through email and friendly conversation via a virtual happy hour! We will focus on a different cooking topic each time.

As part of our Cooks’ Corner, a “chef of the month” shares a recipe with Julie in advance which she provides to the members so they can get the ingredients to make either before or after the Zoom meeting. There’s now an entire collection of recipes in PDF format going to the group members…so there is even a mini cookbook evolving!


What’s Next?

All of these connections have the potential to evolve into long-lasting relationships that go beyond the Circle…and how heartwarming is that??!! Adding in-person meetings as the temple re-opens will add a whole new dimension to already dynamic groups! Visit our website for more information on how you can start or join a Beth El Circle, email Julie Guzy or call her at 561-314-2918.

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