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What we're doing:  instigated questions and provoked answers.
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Dear Friends:


Nigel Savage, founder and President of Hazon, said something a number of years ago that has stuck with me ever since.  The occasion was a planning meeting for what was, I believe, the first formal national conference on Jewish social entrepreneurship, held in September 2008 and co-sponsored by JESNA (where I worked) and what was then UJC, now JFNA.  I don’t remember the exact prompt for Nigel’s comment – it may have had something to do with the perceived “gap” between relatively new start-up organizations and so-called “legacy” institutions.  But, what I recall him saying (in paraphrase) was:  “This isn’t about start-ups and established institutions; this is about the shape of the Jewish community in the 21st century.”
 
As I reflect on all that has transpired since in the Jewish organizational world, I believe Nigel was right.  A new Jewish community is taking shape before our eyes, one that looks different and operates differently than the one many of us grew up with.  Old institutions are transforming; some are fading, some revitalizing, some have already disappeared.  New institutions have sprung up by the hundreds; some are flourishing, some are struggling, some of these too are already gone.  Whole new sectors of Jewish organizational activity have emerged, like the one that has come to be known as JOFEE – Jewish Outdoor, Food, and Environmental Education – the sector where Nigel and Hazon have made their mark.  It’s a messy process.  No “master plan” guides it, and there are pushes and pulls that often make it difficult to discern a clear direction of change.
 
For a foundation like ours, this process of transformation presents both opportunities and challenges.  We believe that institutions and infrastructures matter.  Effective programs and innovative initiatives rarely emerge from weak institutions, and if they do, the survival of these programs demands that those institutions get stronger.  This is a major reason why we have invested in organizations like Joshua Venture Group, Upstart, and PresenTense that build leadership and capacity among start-ups.  It’s also why we are helping the United Synagogue in its efforts to revitalize Conservative congregations.
 
Recently, we have become especially interested in what may be a new stage in American Jewish communal development: efforts to consolidate and strengthen support systems and infrastructures across major sectors of Jewish activity.  We see such processes underway today in the day school arena, with the imminent potential coming together of five major national intermediary and support organizations; in the innovation sector, where similar explorations of possible consolidation are taking place among four support organizations; in the JOFEE area, where four key organizations are working collaboratively to strengthen themselves and the field as a whole; and among alternative supplementary education programs and alternative spiritual communities, where new networks of pioneering institutions have been formed.  Notably, many of these developments have been facilitated and even catalyzed by philanthropic champions who see forging greater cross-institutional collaboration and building more capable support infrastructures as important contributors to better outcomes as well as increased efficiency.
 
We too see these efforts as promising steps toward a more vibrant and capable 21st century Jewish community.  We’ve been an early investor in the innovation support sector consolidation process.  In parallel with the developments on the organizational side, we also see a growing readiness among funders to come together to discuss shared funding interests and strategies in relation to particular sectors of Jewish activity.
 
At the same time, we are mindful of the limits of organizational collaboration and consolidation on the one hand, and of the need for modesty and self-restraint on the part of funders eager to support such processes on the other.  There’s a lot that we don’t know and much that we can’t, and perhaps shouldn’t try to control when it comes to the reshaping of the American Jewish community.

Nonetheless, a reshaping is underway, and the possibilities for what will emerge are exciting.  We intend to stay engaged in this process and to contribute what we can to support the visionaries and the activists who are building the Jewish community of the 21st century.


Yours,
Jon Woocher,
President
 

GIVING

As we look ahead to 2016, a new fiscal year for our foundation, we can't help but look back on a pivotal moment from 2015 - our response to the Statement on Jewish Vitality.  In the debate sparked by that letter and its 74 signatories, we found our voice...and we found a host of like-minded colleagues.

We continue to hold that the major challenge in American Jewish life today is not demographic or technical, but substantive: How might we, as educators, program developers, and philanthropists, help people find greater value in their Jewishness, in Jewish teachings, practices, experiences, and community?

And we see a myriad of creative endeavors underway today that are responding effectively to this challenge, from “tried-and-true” approaches in familiar settings to new ways of connecting individuals, families, and communities to Jewish teaching and practice with an eye to what matters most in people’s lives. 
 
We’re proud to have supported a number of these endeavors in 2015, including:
 
Schechter Network: To train day school Jewish studies teachers to help their students find greater personal meaning in the texts they study
Mechon Hadar: To create a new Center for Jewish Music
Shalom Hartman Institute: To develop a curriculum on gender equity and leadership
Amplifier: To strengthen the Jewish content available to Jewish Giving Circles
G-dcast: To create videos for parents to help them transmit Jewish values and sensibilities to their children
Moishe House:  To help residents develop meaningful Jewish life cycle events
BBYO:  To enhance the ability of teens and staff to create meaningful Jewish experiences
Wilderness Torah:  To develop a training institute in their methodologies for experiential educators
Hillel:  To develop an engagement curriculum using Jewish sensibilities

We see the present moment as one of great promise, not crisis. We intend to take advantage of our position as a foundation focused on applying Jewish wisdom across the many domains of our lives to be a connector, a network weaver, perhaps even a movement builder.

Two goals – making great Jewish content available and forging deeper connections among the many organizations and individuals that are revitalizing Jewish life – will be our focus in 2016.

For more expansive reflection and insights, visit Jon's full post on our blog.

Congratulations to our Director of Jewish and Organizational Learning, Rabbi Lee Moore, who also serves as Senior Jewish Educator for Hillel Kent State, and was the recipient of Hillel International's Richard M. Joel Exemplar of Excellence Award for her work on campus.  A well deserved honor, and we are grateful to be able to draw on her thoughtful work in the field as a valuable part of our institutional intellectual assets.

LEARNING

At the end of our fiscal year, we took time to ask ourselves “How are we doing? What went well? What didn’t? Where do we go next?”

Among the things we learned:

  • We pride ourselves on being a learning organization, but we have fallen short when it comes to sharing the things we and our grantees have learned with the field. Sometimes it’s because some grants take a while to have results, and sometimes it's because we've learned that we need to budget more time - not just for reflection, but for outgoing communication and sharing, and make it an institutional priority.
     
  • We’ve tried to keep our grant process as flexible as possible - but while sometimes this works great and reduces a burden for applicants, it sometimes makes the timeline and process confusing for organizations. 
     
  • Microgrants are awesome! We tried to pilot a small program this year, with a select group...and only a very few people applied for them, leaving money on the table. Just because it didn’t work this time, we haven't written off the possibility of trying again under different circumstances; we’ve learned a few mistakes to not make again, so we can move on to trying new things and making new ones!

Looking at the three examples – the common thread is communication. The amount of time and attention it takes to be responsive, thoughtful, and clear is often the weak point in a circuit.

With the start of 2016, we look forward to new mistakes, new successes, and most of all, new learnings from both.

For additional insights and an invitation to give us additional feedback to consider in the year ahead, visit Dara's full post here.

SHARING

It's a time of transition at Mayyim Hayyim - new board president Sheri Gurock explains her dream come true on their blog. (Mazel tov!)

Maya Bernstein of Upstart and Martin Linsky published an insightful and useful article, Leading Change Through Adaptive Design, in the winter issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review (apologies - the full article is behind a paywall)

A hearty Mazel Tov to JEDLAB, which recently passed the 6,000 member mark!  Join them here, read about why you want to here.

In case you missed this little Hanukkah present to us all from Darshan Project, it's all about that bass, Aleph Bass, Aleph Bass...

What might MoMA teach us about the Jewish Future? A convincing and inspiring take by Seth Cohen of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
 
What else should we be sharing?  
Click here to send us your recommendations!
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