The Neighborhoods Initiative spearheaded by Federation encourages collaborations among area synagogues, community volunteers and representatives of Jewish communal organizations.
Take eight distinct neighborhoods throughout the Greater Philadelphia area, encourage collaborations among area synagogues, community volunteers and representatives of Jewish communal organizations, and provide financial support and professional advice to empower the creation of dynamic and unique Jewish programming and services.
This is the strategy behind the Neighborhoods Initiative being spearheaded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Center for Jewish Life and Learning. This initiative began with a conference call in August 2013 convened by center leadership about how best to maximize the Jewish Federation’s investment of $200,000 in neighborhood grants to enable communities to work together on creative and effective Jewish programming.
Lewis Gantman, co-chair of the center, along with Tracy Gordon, remembers being “impressed” by the high level of participation on the call, which engaged some 60 communal leaders — rabbis, synagogue professionals and agency heads — in animated and constructive discussions.
Following the initial call, Bucks County, Bux-Mont, Chester County, Lower Merion, the Northeast, Old York Road, Delaware County and Center City were invited to apply for $25,000 grants to fund collaborative programming that meets the needs of their particular community.
“The Neighborhoods Initiative is a key priority of the Center for Jewish Life and Learning,” Gordon said. “Through this vehicle, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia demonstrates its deep respect and appreciation for the uniqueness of each neighborhood in our community. By making available funds, and encouraging each neighborhood to determine the best use of those funds within their own region, we are partnering with our neighborhoods in a collaborative, transparent and responsible fashion.
“In addition, we recognize the tremendous benefits of bringing together representatives from the neighborhoods in order to learn and grow from each other’s experiences. To that end, Jewish Federation is the convener, holding meetings where neighborhood representatives gather to share experiences and ideas. Our expectation and hope is that this initiative will continue to grow and best position Jewish Federation in meeting the needs and interests of our community partners, while demonstrating the critical role we play in promoting a dynamic Jewish community.”
Rabbi Leah Richman, the Jewish Federation’s Community Engagement Specialist, reports that “exciting things are happening in each neighborhood through the use of the grants.”
In the Northeast, funds are being used to expand the services delivered by Rhawnhurst NORC — a naturally occurring retirement community funded by the Jewish Federation in collaboration with Catholic Health Care Services — to home-bound seniors, and provide transportation to synagogue and other Jewish events. Richman is also staffing three of the neighborhoods directly as part of their grants.
In Bucks County, the community held a Night of Learning in conjunction with the Global Day of Jewish Learning. In Bux-Mont, area groups joined together to plan a scholar-in-residence series with Rabbi Richard Address geared to the baby boomer generation.
In Lower Merion, a full year of collaborative events were planned for people of all ages, including an overnight trip to the National Museum of American Jewish History for fourth- and fifth-graders planned by the education directors of area synagogues and the Perelman Jewish Day School.
In Center City, 27 Jewish community organizations — from synagogues to museums to nonprofit startups — have come together to offer a wide range of opportunities for Jews of diverse backgrounds and interests to connect to the Jewish community through learning, prayer, social action and arts and culture.
In Chester County, successful collaborations have resulted in a summer film series, a community Chanukah celebration, a Pajama-Rama storytelling series and more.
Gantman said he is excited by what each neighborhood has done with its initial $25,000 grant. He is “extraordinarily pleased” that the Jewish Federation could be instrumental in convening these neighborhoods and acting as a catalyst for them to plan programs that appeal to and meet the needs of their residents.
“The success that these neighborhoods have had in engaging people of all ages in Jewish programming can be viewed as a wonderful outreach model,” he said.
Barbara Hirsh, director of the Center for Jewish Life and Learning, noted that several of the neighborhood groups are continuing to refer to themselves as kehillot, the Hebrew word for community.
“We see these kehillot as vehicles through which we can increase the breadth and depth of Jewish community,” she said.“With breadth, we reach further into Greater Philadelphia to inspire engagement by those not currently involved. We achieve depth by collaborating with the kehillot to bring opportunity for new or additional options for meaningful Jewish involvement to Jews where they live, work, congregate and celebrate.”
Hirsh proclaimed these collaborations to be a “win-win” for both the neighborhoods and the Jewish Federation. “The existence of these localities creates channels through which the Jewish Federation can support grass-roots programming and services.
“At the same time, our interactions with local communities enable us to understand in a more informed way what Jews in the Greater Philadelphia area are thinking and what they need,” she explained.