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Posts tagged ‘community’

Russian Jewish Community Spends Passover in the Desert

For the fourth year in a row, members of the the Russian Jewish Community of the Jewish Community Federation participated in Passover in the Desert – an experiential celebration of liberation from slavery and exploration of Jewish heritage and legacy.  The participant-driven activities included learning about history, traditions, and rituals, playing music, practicing yoga and kung fu, singing and dancing, hiking, communal meals, arts and crafts, and generally enjoying together the beautiful space they were in.  Watch this video to see it for yourself!

Connect with the Russian Jewish Community on Facebook – LIKE their new page now:

Starting the Conversation: Engaging More Families in Jewish Life in the South Peninsula

In late July, seventy people gathered at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto.  It was mid-day, mid-week, in mid-summer but the room was buzzing with energy.  The crowd was eager to commence a community conversation on how to engage more families in Jewish Life on the South Peninsula.


The event was part of the South Peninsula Regional Impact Committee’s grantmaking process.  The Committee is one of JCF’s new regional grantmaking bodies employing innovative, high-impact grantmaking methods, aiming to achieve measurable impact and positive change in the local Jewish community.

Committee members, a group of 16 people from a variety of ages, backgrounds and denominations, had come together over the prior months to narrow options for which community challenge to focus this year’s grant round.  This year’s issue for the South Peninsula — “engaging families”– reflects a growing concern.  Each generation of Jews (with the exception of the Orthodox) is less and less engaged in their Jewish heritage and culture, and therefore less connected to one other and our Jewish community.  At the same time, many in the South Peninsula are looking for connection and relationships with like-minded people who share an interest in participating in Jewish life.

Who better to ask than the residents themselves?

The Committee invited the community and potential grantees to share in dialogue. The goal: for community members, the committee and those working on grant proposals to be in same room, associating with one another and gaining a deeper understanding of some of our local community challenges.  What works?  What is broken? What are some compelling solutions?

Each of nine small table groups sat immersed in deep discussion.  People were chatting with strangers from various areas of the Jewish community, having conversations and finding common ground with people who don’t intersect in their daily lives.

“The event was conceived of to enrich the proposal development process.  What we didn’t anticipate was how the conversation itself would be a meaningful connection for so many of us who were there.” ~ Adina Danzig Epelman, Program Officer, Regional Grantmaking

At the close of the session, participants were asked to share one word that described what they were thinking or feeling.

Connection.  Hopeful.  Possibility.  Relationship.  Empowered. Collaboration. Pride and Joy.

These were just some of the responses.  These words, and the significant attendance confirms that we are headed in the right direction.  Local Jews are hungry to connect and eager to share ideas.

This first South Peninsula Impact Grant Initiative (IGI) round will grant $500,000 over the coming three years. And we hope the next grant round will motivate even more conversation and collaboration.  There is much to do.  And it’s reassuring to know that there are so many of us out there who are interested and willing to add their voice.

IGI applicants meet members of the granting committee to ask questions and learn about the grantmaking process.

An Interview with an Impact Grants Initiative Grant Maker

The Impact Grants Initiative (IGI) employs a high engagement and empowerment approach to grantmaking modeled on social venture philanthropy. We launched the IGI last year as a way to provide donor-participants with a “hands-on” way to make a real difference in our community by making high impact grants that focus on a pressing community need. Through the IGI approach we have provided innovative Jewish programs within traditional organizations or new nonprofits with the multi-year funding needed to be successful, as well as the type of nonfinancial support that helps them thrive. And ultimately, the grants awarded as a result of this new model help build a more vibrant, connected and enduring Jewish community. In fact, the IGI approach has proved so successful that we have launched another grant round for engaging young adults, another to engage our young Russian community, and incorporated it into our current Regional Impact effort in the South and North Peninsula, and will soon launch one focused on Israel. We spoke with Lois Wander, a participant from the first grant round to get her feedback on her experience:

Lois Wander, a first round IGI Initiative committee member

How has being part of the first IGI grant round changed how you approach philanthropy?

“I really appreciate the new approach to treat the grantees as ‘investments,’ a la the venture capitalist model. It allowed us to select grantees that were innovative and new, yet with a solid business plan to help mitigate risk. A large focus of our criteria was to support organizations that were scalable and serving a current need. I think we achieved that with our grantees.”

How have you been involved with the grantee since they received the grant? What has that experience been like for you?

“Yes, I along with Brett Goldstein serve as the liaisons for G-dCast, led by Sarah Lefton. Sarah is a real dynamic leader, with tons of enthusiasm and skills. We’ve met with her several times the past year to hear her progress, provide suggestions and resources. We’re excited to follow her progress.”

Do you think the IGI is a good approach for a more hands-on approach to grantmaking?

“Absolutely! I really enjoyed the process of designing the application and goals and assessing the applications. I always appreciate hearing other people’s opinions and the lively discussion that inevitably ensues when strong minded, passionate people come together. ”

What about as a way to involve young adults with the Federation?

“I think it’s a great way to get young adults involved with the Federation. You learn a lot about philanthropy, including new approaches, and get to know some great people in the process.”

Year-one reveals promising results

The Impact Grants Initiative committee met to review the seven grantees’ progress to date and their second year plans. On the whole, the grantees have made tremendous strides in building their own capacity to engage more people in the Jewish community. For example, Kevah expanded its services from 250 to 420 participants, the Idelsohn Society engaged 25,000 visitors through its Tikva pop-up store, and the Russian Moishe House has attracted 745 participants through nearly 50 programs. Other organizations took a little longer to launch, but they expect to make great progress in their efforts by the end of 2012.

IGI reflects the Federation’s move towards more results-oriented grantmaking and better positions the organization to meet the challenges and opportunities of the future. This effort is funded by a $1,000,000 allocation from the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, which will be distributed over a three-year period.

For more information on IGI: please contact Adin C. Miller, Senior Director of Community Impact and Innovations.

An Opportunity to Listen at the Community Roundtables

We ran an experiment at the recent Jewish Community Celebration – Israel in the Gardens. A section of Yerba Buena Gardens was set aside for roundtable discussions. Members of our community were welcome to sit and share their personal perspectives on our community, and most importantly, to listen to one another. The result was a deeply meaningful experience for each participant as they were able to express their views without being criticized or judged. “I know that for me personally the experience absolutely opened my eyes to views and voices I’ve never really listened to,” said Nathan Pam, Community Roundtable Coordinator.

Over and over again participants expressed a feeling of fracture in our community, and that fissures in the community needed to be fixed.  When a particular discussion veered toward Israeli politics, Danny Gal, the facilitator, gently brought the conversation back to how this related to the local community. Suddenly everyone, despite their political views, nodded in unison. They agreed. They were all voicing essentially the same concerns through uniquely colored lenses. We all want a strong, vibrant and flourishing community. We want to feel welcome and to welcome others. We want a connection to a strong, just, and safe Israel. And we want to heal.

When I invited people to refer to their lives here in the Bay Area they could let go for a minute of their different political views and see what unites them as a community,” said Danny. “It felt like everyone wanted to find a way to keep us together as one community although there are so many differences among us.”

Danny has led similar events on a much larger scale all around the world, including in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. Anyone who attended a session at Israel in the Gardens could see how incredibly skilled he is at excavating people’s deepest concerns, airing them out, and somehow, against all odds, getting people to find common ground and understanding. He hosted three sessions throughout the day, each beginning with a series of three questions posed to participants:

  1. Share a personal story in which you felt proud of being part of the Bay Area Jewish community.
  2. What worries you or what is your concern regarding your being part of the community?
  3. What are the practical ideas and actions that you are willing to take to address these challenges?

Each session concluded with a “check-out process,” in which participants were asked to say one word that represented how they felt after the conversation. People said: hope, open, wow, power of listening, together is better, taken, thank you, connected.

For Nathan, the roundtable coordinator, it was refreshing to hear people’s innermost concerns being expressed so openly. “I don’t think a single person left the tables feeling the same way about their community as they did when they first sat down,” he said.

Be a Part of The Power of Community

When you give, you are sending a message that the Jewish people both take care of each other, and strive to improve the world.

Donate Now
We are approaching the end our 2012 Campaign – the collective effort that allows us to make a greater impact and ensure a vibrant Jewish community locally, in Israel, and around the world.  With less than 1 week to go before the close of the 2012 Campaign on June 30, every act of support, every gift, makes a difference.

With your help, we make grants to solve challenges that effect our entire community, and offer donors a range of options to connect their giving with issues that align with their passions. Contributions of any amount provide support to those who need our help most, ranging from aid to Jews in need, connecting our people and resources on the ground in Israel, and ensuring that our diverse community and its children are able to build a welcoming and meaningful relationship with their heritage and values.

Please join me in giving as generously as you can. We can do good individually, but when we work together, we are an even greater force for change.

With warm regards,

Jennifer Gorovitz

CEO, Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund

Engaging the Bay Area Russian Jewish Community

By Yelena Kozlova

In the Bay Area’s cradle of innovation, the newly minted Mishmash Philanthropy Group Impact Grants Initiative (MPG) is working on kindling fresh sparks of community building and connection among Russian immigrants to Jewish culture and tradition.  The 13 Mishmash participants, each of whom are immigrants from the former Soviet Union, have committed to identifying promising community entrepreneurs and help get their projects off the ground with financial and strategic support.  Though these young professionals hail from a range of sectors including engineering, technology, finance, marketing, and education, they share a common passion – to make philanthropy in the Russian Jewish community central to fostering new social impact initiatives.

While some group members are seasoned volunteers with a successful track record of creating and organizing events in the Russian Jewish community through the Mishmash group and other initiatives, others are excited to apply their start-up and corporate experience in the Jewish philanthropy world for the first time. Everyone is united by the mission of creating sustainable, scalable and innovative projects. Potential recipients of these mini-grants can be an established initiative wanting to expand their reach or a fist-time entrepreneur who wants to take a fresh approach at engaging Russian Jews.  Projects can focus on Jewish history, culture, ethics, education, religion,  innovative use of technology – as long the goal is to create community connection with a Jewish flair, the subject matter is wide-open.

The Mishmash Philanthropy Group

The Mishmash Philanthropy Group

At the group kick-off meeting last month, the members met to establish guidelines for grant distribution and to learn and be inspired by prior successes in the field. Galina Leytes, who established I-SAEF with her husband Lev came to share her experiences on the path to philanthropic success. She was originally inspired to become a leader in Jewish philanthropy after someone told her how her own immigration, and that of her fellow Russian Jews, was made possible through the generosity of others. Galina advised the group to leverage their own strengths, just as she has done turning her years of experience in technology entrepreneurship into a successful philanthropic fund  that focuses on innovation in the alternative energy field.

Grants of up to $5,000 will be made for initiatives carried out between August 2012 and July 2013 . Once initial grants are awarded in August 2012, grantees will get consultative support from MPG to ensure successful completion of the project. Get your creative thinking hats on, review the criteria  and dream up those project ideas big and small.  Contact the MPG group soon – they can even help you to prepare your proposal by the June 21, 2012 deadline.

“We believe in joint responsibility to build and sustain our community and its connection to Jewish life.  If you do too and are ready to lead these efforts - we want to hear from you!” – the Mishmash Philanthropy Group*.

*A project of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund’s Impact Grant Initiative, the  Jewish Agency for Israel, and the Genesis Philanthropy Group. 

Our Common Thread is You!

People from all walks of life, of all ages – some young and some a bit less young – are all working together to shape our future as a Jewish community. It’s your continued support of the Federation and of each other that keep us going, for the next 100 years and beyond.

Donate Now

Passover in the Desert Festival

The Dome = The Temple 2.O, Photo by: Igor Dralyuk

44 people bravely abandoned the slavery of comfort (or comfort of slavery?) and embarked on their own 4-day Exodus to the “desert” of San Benito wilderness to celebrate Passover with Mishmash. Together under the sun and the stars, aided by nature’s gifts and challenges, we embraced each other into a community, related to our ancestors’ story of Passover and discovered new paths to spiritual freedom. The desert became a blank social and environmental canvas, upon which we had the freedom and ease to create the magical reality we wished to have. Committed to mutual co-inspiration, participants empowered each other to reveal and share their gifts of skills, creativity, wisdom and enthusiasm. We cooked for each other, danced zumba and span poi, celebrated Israel’s quest for independence, discovered our real selves in a role game and Shaolin meditation, discussed secrets of Torah and tradition of Tfilin, jammed in a drum circle and played guitars, reflected on the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and preserved the memories with newly acquired photography skills. The organic blend of three generations, four dogs and a multitude of Jewish personalities embodied our collective spirit of “letting ourselves be” and asserting the freedom of our community. This event made possible by enthusiasm of participants, our dear friends visiting from Jerusalem and New York and excellent implementation of an unorthodox vision by the Mishmash leaders.

The campsite overview- Panoche Hills (approx. 150 miles from SF)

44 attendees, 4 parents, 4 children,
4 dogs, 4 days, 4 questions, 4 opinions.

Examples of our activities:

1. Building the camp.

Preparing decorations and rules for the kitchen

2. Jewish explorations: ʺExodus – a hidden agendaʺ
Ever wondered why G-d needed Pharaoh’s consent to take the Jews out? How is it moral to punish someone after you harden their heart? How come Jews did not receive diplomatic immunity for the 10th plague? Why is the holiday called Passover?
(Pesach) and not Yom Haatzmaut or Day of Freedom? We will re-visit the story of Exodus with a critical eye to look for “a hidden agenda”. Leo Hmelnitsky

2. Zumba Dancing with Ira Kotlik-Konev.

Photo by: Igor Dralyuk

3. Warsaw Ghetto Uprising with Boris Dolin

Boris Dolin captivates us with the story of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

4. Making and baking Matzos over the campfire

  • “Very warm and positive atmosphere, community-oriented intention all around.”
  •  “The location was fantastic!!! The lectures and spontaneous discussions with other participants were wonderful and great energy.”
  • “The most exciting part for me is that everyone contributes…nobody there is just an audience, everyone is on stage sharing something they like – food, story, song, tradition.”

– by Irin Kutman Levy, JAFI Emissary for the FSU Emigrés Community San Francisco and Bay Area.

Jewish Community Endowment Fund grant deadline fast approaching


If your agency, school or synagogue is engaged in work to make the world a better place for the Jewish or general communities, then the Jewish Community Endowment Fund might be able to help you. The Endowment Fund issues grants twice-a-year. The grants support social-welfare initiatives to aid those in need, art and cultural events, educational programs, and other innovative programs. The application deadline for the spring cycle is March 2.

To find out more, go to the Endowment Grants web page or contact:

  • Laura Mason, 415.512.6273, [ lauram AT sfjcf DOT org ]
  • Mark Reisbaum, 415.512.6251, [ markr AT sfjcf DOT org ]

Click here to view the JCEF’s policy statement on grants.

Broaden Your Community with YAD

Young Adults Division - Challah Back!
The Young Adults Division (YAD) provides an excellent opportunity for young Jewish professionals throughout the Bay Area to network and make friends. It’s all about community coming together, one of YAD’s three main goals.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed one of our many well-known, community building programs, including Blue Monday, Latke Ball and Summer Sizzle. These programs, which are organized by the Community Building team of the YAD Board, serve as the gateway to the Jewish community. For a number of people, their first contact with the young adult Jewish community happens at our events.

While Community Building programs are intended to be social in nature (and they are certainly lots of fun), they allow YAD to realize an even greater mission — philanthropy. In Judaism, we have an obligation to “heal the world” (tikkun olam). We can do this by performing good works, promoting peace and understanding and helping those less fortunate than us. By attending one of the Community Building events, you are helping us to raise money to pay for many of the important charitable causes that the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation sponsors. (In case you didn’t know, SFJCF uses its financial resources to help meet short- and long-term community needs in the Bay Area and globally. The list of sponsored causes is long and impressive.)

For instance, when you buy a ticket to attend the Latke Ball, the proceeds from your ticket provide funding for programs that care for those in need. That means you are helping to heal the world – one step at a time.

Michael Lawrence

Michael Lawrence

If you’ve ever attended one of our events, you will have seen first-hand what a robust, thriving Jewish community we enjoy in the Bay Area. If you haven’t attended one of our events, I encourage you to check out the YAD calendar to find upcoming programs.

Michael Lawrence
Co-Vice President for Community Building
Young Adults Division Board


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