Bev Kagan

Created a "community center without walls" to connect Jewish Grand Rapids community

Date of Birth: February 4, 1948

Date of Death: --

Place of Birth: Detroit, Michigan

A kindergarten teacher and volunteer who, among other activities, organized a school “Grandperson’s program,” Bev Kagan knew the mutual benefit of bringing youth and seniors together. But it was her first trip to Israel in 1986 that spurred Bev to want to make a lasting change in her own community in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“I learned about the positive activities being done in other small Jewish communities to benefit their local needs,” she said. At the time, Grand Rapids was home to Temple Emanuel, Congregation Ahavas Israel, Chabad, and Jews unaffiliated with any congregation, but there was no central community center.

“We are small in numbers,” she said, “And I felt very strongly that people, both young and old, needed to share in social activities regardless of affiliation.”

Bev enlisted the support of all three community Rabbis, congregation leaders, and the Jewish Community Fund Board of Directors to help her achieve her dream of a “community center without walls.” From 1986 to 1992, the number of followers increased.

Forty to sixty seniors regularly attended monthly events such as theater and symphony outings, color tours, and “Out for Lunch Bunch.” Holidays and celebrations helped attendees meet new people in the Grand Rapids Jewish community. Financial, medical, nutritional, and transportation needs were handled by volunteers.

Monthly activities for youth included apple picking and hayrides, bowling, ice skating, music performances, magic shows, miniature golf, and “Frolicking Fall Fun.” A two-week summer camp, “Camp Shalom,” grew in attendance and, by 1992, had 110 campers. All ages came together during the Purim Carnival and annual Chanukah party garnering up to 400 attendees.

Bolstered by the success of the “community center without walls,” Bev acted as consultant to other small Jewish communities, served as representative to the Michigan Jewish Conference in Lansing and annually attended the Council of Jewish Federations General Assembly with other representatives nationwide.

“All of this laid the ground work for current Jewish life in Grand Rapids,” said Bev, including a United Jewish School with students from both the Temple and the Synagogue. The Jewish Community Fund has since evolved into the Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids.

“That connects us with all the other Jewish communities, both large and small, throughout the United States,” Bev said.