Jewish Federation Innovation Grants Fund Fresh Approaches to Building a Brighter Future

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While fortified by Jewish tradition and 115-plus years of experience, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is also continuously looking for new, cutting-edge ways to help grow our Jewish communities. This is why two years ago the Jewish Federation launched its Innovation Fund. This fund seeks to support out-of-the-box, early-stage projects that are using new methods to engage today’s rapidly changing and diverse Jewish community, as well as creative social service programs addressing needs facing vulnerable individuals in Greater Philadelphia and Israel.

After a request for proposals went out this past summer, approximately 40 organizations applied for Innovation Grants for the 2016-’17 program year. A committee comprising Jewish Federation leaders and staff carefully considered the applications, ultimately awarding $75,000 to the following three programs — two in Israel, one in Philadelphia — that are now underway, using the funding to make a real difference.  

Ethiopian-Israeli “Celebrating Communities”: A New Model for Community Empowerment, a Joint Project of BINA and Friends by Nature

Despite much success and progress in the face of great challenges, the Ethiopian community remains one of the most vulnerable communities in Israel. This program is the first of its kind and aims to strengthen Ethiopian-Israeli young adults by connecting them to their own culture while empowering them to become leaders and to share their culture with others.

Through “Celebrating Communities,” groups of Ethiopian-Israeli young adults will gather every other week to study Ethiopian-Jewish texts, stories, history and traditions alongside non-Ethiopian-Jewish texts. Each group also organizes public holiday events for the local community and workshops/activities for local youth so they can teach local youth about Ethiopian holiday traditions, and involve them in the holiday event activities. In addition to the work in each city, the groups will come together on a national level to learn and celebrate together, in order to build a “community of communities.”

Dialogue Expansion Project of the Hand in Hand (HIH) Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel

Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel, comprising 80 percent and 20 percent of the population, respectively, generally live, study, work and socialize separately. Separate school systems and minimal social ties can lead to a reality of fear and dehumanization, thus perpetuating the conflict. HIH’s Dialogue Expansion Project will strengthen the bonds between HIH’s Jewish and Arab principals, teachers, parents, community members and staff — providing them with tools to discuss the issues of conflict both past and present.

This project seeks to create a thriving adult community where Jews and Arabs can create a viable shared society. The Dialogue Expansion Project allows for deep engagement and reflection in a safe environment and enables Jewish and Arab participants to address and process their own feelings about the conflict and continuing violence; listen and learn how the “other” understands the situation; understand the various parts of identity and the different viewpoints that are derived from these identities; and build deeper connections with others who have different perspectives. Key to the program are workshops and open sessions in HIH’s six locations (Jerusalem, Galilee, Wadi Ara, Haifa, Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Tira-Kfar Saba) for teachers and community members; intensive teacher in-service training that exposes participants to important dialogue facilitation techniques; and overnight retreats where teachers can openly address issues in a more relaxed environment.

Jewish Relief Agency (JRA) Mobile App

JRA provides vital food support to nearly 3,300 low-income households with the support of more than 11,000 volunteers and more than 200 community groups. Now, JRA is creating a mobile app for volunteers to make their Jewish service work in the Greater Philadelphia area even more fulfilling.

While providing support for low-income individuals, older adults, people with disabilities and individuals with chronic illnesses is central to JRA’s work, JRA also seeks to unite and strengthen the Jewish community through service and fulfillment. This new app will provide innovative, educational and user-friendly volunteer experiences that engage the Jewish community in meaningful service. The app will also provide real-time feedback on JRA’s services to enhance its work and inspire more personal interactions between volunteers and service recipients. To achieve these goals, the app will have the following capabilities: turn-by-turn directions to recipients’ homes and drop-off locations; a feedback mechanism for volunteers to report crucial client information; social media sharing capabilities; mileage and service summaries for tax purposes; and religious and secular messages encouraging service to others.

For more information on the Jewish Federation’s Innovation Fund, please contact Han Jacobs Meadway at [email protected] or 215-832-0862.

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