Rebecca Missel, 32
Rebecca Missel grew up mostly in Mesa, Ariz., a predominantly Mormon city with few Jews. But when she moved to Morristown, N.J., she was surprised to find she felt a more acute lack of connection with her community.
The perception in suburban New Jersey, where Missel landed six years ago, was that, “People like me who were in their 20s or 30s without a spouse or children didn’t exist,” she said of suburban New Jersey, where she settled six years ago.
Missel found that most Jewish life in New Jersey centered on families with money, and when she was laid off from her day job, she launched an organization for other disenfranchised Jews in the area.
Thus, with about a dozen people in Missel’s living room in December 2009, Jersey Tribe was born. The group put together Chanukah care packages for Jewish soldiers in the armed forces. Now, the organization serves young Jewish adults in northern and central New Jersey, and it organizes two to four events a month, ranging from social functions to volunteer events to Shabbat dinners.
Jersey Tribe is not a singles’ group, so participants can enjoy themselves without the added pressure of looking for a romantic interest. The group exists mainly for Jews “in our own backyard that maybe we don’t always think about,” says Missel. “That are maybe on the fringe of our existence.”
This year, for the first time, Tribe members will march together in the Salute to Israel parade along Fifth Avenue. Missel herself recently began a job as manager of grants administration at the Union for Reform Judaism, which will involve new time commitments and a new apartment (still in New Jersey). But Missel will stay involved with Jersey Tribe and is excited to see it grow.
“It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” said Missel. “And it’s been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”
African dancer: Missel has been a “very active” West African dancer for six years now. “It is my zen time,” she says. “I am always on, always thinking and planning, and West African dance is very hard and you have to really focus.” Green thumb: Missel also enjoys gardening in a local community garden, though she will have to find a new place to grow things after she moves.
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