RIPON – Living in this small city 90 minutes northwest of Milwaukee, Zach Messitte had an idea. So he brought it to his synagogue board, where he’s a member.
“We’ve got to figure out a way here to get our community more plugged in with the Milwaukee community,” he remembers saying.
So Messitte and Board Chair Barb Kuhn recently headed down to Milwaukee on behalf of B’nai Israel congregation in Oshkosh, to visit Milwaukee Jewish Federation, have lunch at the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center in Whitefish Bay and tour the Downtown Milwaukee Jewish Museum Milwaukee. He’d made appointments in advance.
B’nai Israel has more than 40 families, Messitte said. He believes it’s important for rural synagogues like his to be linked to more vibrant Jewish communities like Milwaukee and Madison. It leads to plusses like having knowledge of the Milwaukee Jewish Film Festival, maybe starting a program to spend a day at the JCC and learning of other opportunities.
“We don’t have access to that stuff here,” he said. “It’s an hour and 30 minutes away.”
During his trip, he learned the Chronicle is free and went back home promoting subscriptions. He also connected the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation with the Ripon Middle School for possible programming there. And now plans are in the works to have someone from Milwaukee Jewish Federation to speak at B’nai Israel congregation in Oshkosh about camp programs.
Messitte grew up Jewish with a strong connection to Israel through family. His bar mitzvah was at the Western Wall.
Now, he truly appreciates the Steve & Shari Sadek Family Camp Interlaken JCC in Eagle River, where his two sons have been attending for years.
“They love it. This is how they have their Jewish identity culturally in many ways. This is how they have their friends from the Milwaukee area and they get a worldview,” he said.
“The importance of Interlaken as a way for me to pass some of these Jewish values onto my children has been such a wonderful thing living here in Wisconsin.”
Messitte has tried to pay it forward. As president of Ripon College, he’s hosted Passover for students at his home and arranged rides to his synagogue for the High Holidays.
“There are always a handful of Jewish students here,” he said.
At a graduation, he heard from one parent, something along the lines of, “Thank you for allowing my daughter to continue to have her Jewish identity at a school that doesn’t have a large population of Jewish students.”
He said, “I would want someone to do that for my kids if they were in a similar situation.”