Sydney Ungar became youth director of B’nai Jeshurun Congregation in Pepper Pike as of July 6.
The 26-year-old downtown Cleveland resident previously worked at Gross Schechter Day School as a Jewish life staff member from October 2020 until she began her new role at the synagogue. Before that, she was student life coordinator at Hillel at Kent State University in Kent from August 2018 to June 2020.
A 2013 graduate of Solon High School, Ungar studied at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, majoring in sociology with a minor in Judaic studies, graduating in 2017. She’s working on her Master of Jewish Education degree at Hebrew College, concentrating in Israel education. She’s also an iFellow at the college’s iCenter for Israel Education.
CJN: How have your first few weeks been at B’nai Jeshurun Congregation?
Ungar: It has been great. I am so excited to get started. The summer is a little slower because so many kids are away at camp or busy for the summer. So, I’m looking forward to everyone getting home and for the school year to start since things will pick up then.
CJN: Why did you want this role? What interested you most?
Ungar: For me, I was looking for somewhere I could use the skills and passions I have, which are important to me. I am passionate about mixing experiential education and relationship building. Being part of a synagogue has everything to do with community. Yes, it’s a more religious entity (compared to Gross Schechter and Hillel) because synagogues are inherently religious, but that focus on community is really important to me. Community is the gateway to education. When you have this incredible community that you and other people are working to build, that is the perfect base for a really meaningful and positive Jewish education. That is kind of why B’nai Jeshurun is the perfect place to combine all of those things.
CJN: How have your previous professional experiences prepared you for this job?
Ungar: It certainly helps that a lot of students from Gross Schechter are members of B’nai Jeshurun with their families. That helps in terms of knowing people. In terms of experience, I was a staff member at Camp Wise for six summers as well, and three of them were as a supervisor. I was going through the list of kids at B’nai Jeshurun and so many were my old campers.
But in terms of hard skills, my time at Hillel was helpful for me in terms of building community and developing relationships. At Hillel, we tried to get students to have six or more positive interactions with Hillel each year. If we can do that, they are more likely to continue leading a Jewish life after college. I know the kids I’m with here aren’t in college, but the same thing applies. The more we interact with our youth and the more we can give them positive Jewish experiences, the more they’ll opt into their Judaism.
CJN: Anything else the community should know about you?
Ungar: I’m a total people person. I love meeting new people and creating friendships and facilitating relationships, friendships and community. I am happy to talk with anyone and everyone. I love hearing everyone’s ideas. I think that is more important here – listening and learning. I don’t claim to know everything, so anything I can do to continue to learn – that is what I’ll do.