HomeSeptember 2023A Shul for You (But Actually Not a Shul)

A Shul for You (But Actually Not a Shul)

Jewish Collaborative of Orange County

Background: The Jewish Collaborative of Orange County is a creative, collaborative, and compassionate community mosaic dedicated to innovating and supporting local and national programming that enriches the landscape of Jewish life and encouraging individuals and families to connect their passions and purpose with Judaism. It was founded in 2016 to provide an open and inclusive pathway for people seeking a deeper connection between their personal passions and commitments and Judaism. Since then, through social action campaigns connected to the Jewish calendar, artistic initiatives in theater, music and dance, creative religious services, spiritual engagement, and educational programs, JCoOC has been an inspiring pathway to experience the “Joy of Jewish.” Rabbi Marcia Tilchin is the current spiritual and executive leader. There is no membership. More than 2,000 people receive emails from the Jewish Collaborative with a 33% open rate. For more information, visit
What are some the unique aspects of the congregation?
    Rabbi Tilchin explained, “First and foremost, the Jewish Collaborative is not a shul.  Never was. Never will be.  Its’ a non-profit that serves the entire community, kind of like a small Federation.  No members (everyone’s a member). Like Federation, people donate to support our important work in the community. We work with many shuls, schools and organizations in OC, LA and nationally. Our excellent and diverse programming is all offered in collaboration with local and national organizations. We have a very nice board of directors. We are entirely philanthropically supported. No dues. With rare exception, our programs, events, services and classes are free and open to all. What we do is amazing, a little out-of-the-box, small-group focused and needs-based.”
What programs or services do you think capture the synagogue’s underlying philosophy?
   This NON-PROFIT (not a synagogue) convenes people with common needs and interests for programs under five pillars: Jewish Arts, Social Justice, Spiritual Growth and Healing, Concierge Education and Creative Worship. The Jewish Collaborative also works with smaller congregations that need resources to maintain robust programming and leadership. It is currently helping three local communities, and it is very gratifying to support them, according to Rabbi Tilchin.
    She added, “We always host open high holiday services with great spiritual and musical talent and we serve meals because we know that many people have nowhere to spend Yom Tov. All are welcome. We encourage people who might be looking for a more intimate, passionate experience to join us. We have been the host organization for the community-wide Kever Avot services for the last four years. This year we are starting Hesed Shel Emet: OC’s Jewish Burial and Comfort Society. These are the kinds of programs we shepherd in the OC community. There really is no other organization that could do that.”

Marcia Tilchin

What are the most popular of your organization’s programs or services?
    According to Rabbi Tilchin, “None of our programs are popular, but they are all cool. All small and mission-driven. We co-host the Tisha b’Av Refugee service every year in partnership with the OC Jewish Coalition for Refugees. That is a select audience. Two years running we hosted a T”u b’Shevat Seder dedicated to worker Justice causes in partnership with C.L.U.E. That is a select audience. We host a monthly Friday night service, potluck dinner and speaker in private homes called Shabbat by the Shore that is attended by as many people as our host home can hold. Those are beloved. Last year we started a program based in Laguna Beach geared for families with children 0-5 called Gan Laguna that is now entering its second year.”
    About 30 rabbis, scholars, and other professionals lead Jewish Collaborative programs.  There is a weekly Jewish bereavement group online, a weekly twelve-step Torah study online in collaboration with Our Jewish Recovery, and many other distinctive programs that are used by people from around the county who are in need of these specialty programs
    Rabbi Tilchin added, “One of my missions is to help people in the community find the Jewish spaces that are right for them – kind of like a concierge. It’s very cool.”
What would you say to encourage someone to join your congregation?
   “There is no way to join the Collaborative, but we hope people will take advantage of some of our unique programs that speak to them and/or make tax-deductible donations to support our important work,” Rabbi Tilchin explained. “We are part of the Life and Legacy Program through the Jewish Community Foundation of Orange County, so people are also able to remember us in their estate planning.”
    She concluded,” Since I have no congregation, I am everyone’s rabbi as needed. If someone is looking to have a personal relationship with a thoughtful clergy, reaching out to Rabbi Tilchin might be a nice idea. Some hospitals know to call me when someone is dying and I have a colleague that I send to them if I cannot go. If someone is looking for a mainstream institution, I can generally guide them on where to go that feels right for their needs. For those who do not need a shul or synagogue, the Collaborative can absolutely be their primary Jewish home.”   

Ilene Schneider has been chronicling Jewish life in Orange County for five publications since 1978. She has served as a communications consultant for a number of Jewish organizations. She is a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine.


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