The Bottom-Up Revolution Is…Turning a Historic Synagogue into a Community Cultural Center

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What would you do in your community if you knew you couldn’t fail? That was the question guiding Rabbi Donna Berman as she looked at a crumbling historic synagogue building in Hartford, Connecticut. It was home to a small nonprofit on the verge of closing, but Rabbi Donna saw a future there and she knew that things could only improve from their current state.

Hired on as executive director of the Charter Oak Cultural Center, she and a single volunteer board member started a small newsletter and some simple events to start getting people through the doors of the building. Through a process of building trust with neighbors, slowly raising the money to incrementally fix up the space and finding out what the neighborhood needed most, the Cultural Center has grown into a space that serves hundreds of youths with arts programs, offers resources and education for homeless residents, and operates as a space for the whole community.

In this conversation on The Bottom-Up Revolution podcast, hosted by Rachel Quednau, you’ll hear about the step-by-step approach that Rabbi Donna and her colleagues had to renovating the building and creating community programs—and how those things worked in tandem.  You’ll also hear about how they’ve adapted to neighborhood needs over time, especially during COVID. Rabbi Donna also touches a bit on the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, repairing the world, and how that guides her work.

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