When it was released two and a half years ago, the 2009 "Jewish Population Study of Greater Philadelphia" alarmed — but didn't exactly shock — local Jewish leaders.
The findings painted a portrait of young Jewish adults far less connected to Jewish life and Israel than prior generations and less likely to marry Jews or raise their children as Jews.
The study also showed that couples raising Jewish children are having fewer of them.
In the fall of 2010, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia officially adopted a new set of priorities, based on the study, that emphasized engaging young and unaffiliated Jews and strengthening bonds with Israel.
The document also stressed that maintaining a safety net for Jewish seniors and other vulnerable individuals and families would remain part of Federation's core mission.
Now, Federation has completed its first grant-funding process that was guided by that population study and the follow-up priorities report.
The result? A large swath of communal dollars has been awarded to programs that fall under the rubric of Jewish identity-building and engagement.
"Our Jewish community is not replenishing itself and this is one of the greatest challenges that the community now faces," CEO Ira M. Schwartz said at the Federation's July 26 board of trustees meeting. "The long-term implications are significant if we don't act — and act smartly and wisely."
At the meeting, the board approved the community disbursement of $22.1 million for the upcoming fiscal year — some $100,000 less than last year — to support a wide range of Jewish institutions and programs.
Of this money, $15.7 million was directed to support Federation's three centers — Jewish Life and Learning, Israel and Overseas and Social Responsibility. The figure includes donor-designated gifts as well as funding to other national and communal programs. Of that, $11.9 million was directed to the three centers to fund programs within their established priorities in an unrestricted manner.
Of the $11.9 million awarded in grants, $6.3 million — a little more than half — went to a range of Jewish identity-building programs, with a particular emphasis on the young through programs supported by the Center for Jewish Life and Learning and the Center for Israel and Overseas.
Lewis Gantman, co-chair of the Center for Jewish Life and Learning, said his board's goal is to create a "continuum of funding" that will support programs that "attract the Jewish lifeline of Philadelphia."
"We want to bring more people in, to keep them in this endeavor so we end up with people who are more committed and better educated," added Gantman.
The question of how to most effectively use dollars to bolster connections to Jewish life is one that federations — and nearly all Jewish institutions — continue to grapple with as they search for best practices. This is a particular challenge at a time of decreasing birthrates and increasing intermarriage.
Shari J. Odenheimer, chair of the Policy, Strategy and Funding Committee, which manages the funding process, said that although it may be harder to gauge the impact of a Jewish educational program than an initiative that feeds the hungry, one shouldn't think of Federation funding for the former as experimental.
"This isn't a test," said Odenheimer. "We can't afford a test. We are funding programs that work," she said, adding that the question they will continue to ask is: "Do they work as well as we need them to?"
"If we had an unlimited pot, we could meet all the needs," Odenheimer said, adding that the volunteers who work on the process would all like to fund more than current resources allow. "We'd like very much to grow the campaign so that we can meet more needs."
The Federation funding process is a complex one, involving back-and-forth discussions and deliberations that take about six months. Groups submit grant proposals for specific programs. Federation professionals and lay leaders on the center boards, as well as on the Policy, Strategy and Funding Committee, determine which programs to recommend for funding. The recommendations are then submitted to the Federation's board of directors and board of trustees for final approval.
Some of the single largest grants this year came not in new areas but in existing ones. These include:
· $1,462,500 in grants to six area Jewish day schools, the bulk of which is for scholarships. That figure was the same as last year, although the final number will depend on actual enrollment figures at each of the schools.
· $897,300 to the Jewish Learning Venture to run the Kehillot initiative, which focuses on family engagement, institutional strengthening, Jewish educational leadership development and early childhood education. This is the last year of a three-year arrangement between Federation and Jewish Learning Venture. Future funding will be based on the strength and impact of individual programs, according to Federation officials.
This year's allocations also went to some programs that had never previously been funded by Federation or by Jewish Life and Learning in particular. Those include:
· a $50,000 grant to the Jewish Learning Venture for an early childhood education initiative. This is on top of $240,000 for jkidphilly, an initiative aimed at engaging young Jewish families. jkidphilly includes the PJ Library program, which distributes books with Jewish content to families with young children.
· $20,000 for Davai! to develop young leaders in the Russian Jewish community.
· $100,000 for Gratz College's Individualized Teacher Education program. The aim is to create individualized plans to improve the knowledge and pedagogic skills of selected teachers in Jewish settings.
· $20,000 to Bible Raps, an organization that seeks to "strengthen Jewish identity among children and young adults using rap and hip-hop music."
"The priorities report really said we need to look at Jewish continuity and identity, and that is the lens" through which the Center for Jewish Life and Learning approached the entire process, said Rena Kopelman, the co-chair along with Gantman.
Funding for programs that serve young adults, college-age individuals, young families and campers all increased from the previous year. Dollars devoted to family-engagement programs nearly doubled from last year, going from $180,000 to $365,000.
That figure includes a $20,000 grant for Mother's Circle, a program for non-Jewish women "raising Jewish children within the context of intermarriage or a committed relationship" that will be run by InterFaithways.
This is the only funded program dedicated exclusively to interfaith families, though much of the outreach to young families is intended to target interfaith as well as unaffiliated families.
The center board was intrigued by the Mother's Circle programs, which are run in other cities, and were willing to accept the notion that results can sometimes be hard to quantify, said Kopelman and Gantman.
Funding for post-college young adult programing increased from $145,000 last year to $175,000 this year, with grants going to several programs that try to Jewishly engage young professionals.
Dollars earmarked for area Hillels increased from $355,500 last year to $410,000 this year. Total funding for scholarships to Jewish camps increased slightly to $315,000.
The only funding area related to Jewish education and identity that received fewer dollars this round were those related to supplementary Jewish education and synagogue strengthening, for which total funding dropped from $933,000 to $720,500.
Specifically, two major programs run by the Jewish Learning Venture — the Reshet synagogue strengthening initiative, and the Catalyst for Congregational Education, which last year received $67,000 and $150,000, respectively — got no funding this time.
Gantman pointed out that the center awarded $257,300 to JLV for what is called institutional strengthening through the Kehillot program.
"While it could be viewed as an allocation away from institutional strengthening, it is really a redirection of money to different strategies," he said.
In a strategic shift this year, the Center for Israel and Overseas awarded $1,853,500 — more than half its allocations — to programs aimed at fostering Jewish continuity and identity.
Illustrating the increasing overlap in goals between the centers for Israel and Overseas and Jewish Life and Learning, each has designated $50,000 to help fund Federation's Mega Mission to Israel in December. The Mega Mission is targeting families and first-timers to participate in the highly subsidized trip.
With trips to Israel seen as a critical identity-booster, a total of $592,000 is being distributed by the Center for Israel and Overseas for various forms of Israel travel, including $200,000 for Taglit-Birthright Israel trips.
"When we get people to identify by going to Israel, it seems to be much more beneficial than teaching about it in the classroom," center co-chair Holly Nelson said.
In total, the Federation funding committee awarded Israel and Overseas $3.6 million to distribute. The bulk of the Jewish identity programs being funded by Israel and Overseas are operated by the Jewish Agency for Israel. These included $700,000 to the Jewish Agency for Israel for its core programming, which includes projects that range from social activism in Israel to bringing Israeli emissaries to build connections with the Diaspora communities. The Jewish Agency has also been awarded a grant of $480,000 for its Partnership 2Gether with Netivot/Sedot Negev, which is Philadelphia's partnership community in Israel.
Most of the rest of the funding from Israel and Overseas is going to programs that serve disadvantaged youth and other Jews in need in Israel and in the former Soviet Union.
Also reflecting the focus on identity building and serving the disadvantaged, the center opted not to renew $50,000 in security grants to the Netivot Municipality and the Sedot Negev Regional Council.
Nelson said that although the security issue "is not something that is a closed book," the center board felt that "in this current climate, our funds are better served elsewhere."