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Dear Friends:

Winter is not my favorite season of the year.  Having lived in Minnesota for seven years a few decades ago, I feel that I’ve seen enough snow and experienced enough cold to last a lifetime.  Nonetheless, winter has its uses, one of which is to provide a period of dormancy during which plants and animals can prepare themselves for the bursts of new activity that come with the spring.

For us at Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, winter also is an opportunity for gathering our energies and preparing for a flurry of new grantmaking and initiatives that we plan to launch in the coming months.  We’ve just completed a thorough strategic review and program planning and budgeting process that has set our priorities for 2016.  We’re enthused about two major new projects that we will be announcing in the next few weeks.  But, beyond the specific activities we’ll be undertaking, we’ve also set a strategic goal for our work that is ambitious and somewhat daunting: we want to help build a movement for applying Jewish wisdom that will cut across boundaries of sector, setting, and ideology and connect the many organizations and individuals who are using Jewish teaching, practice, and community to inspire and enable people to live better lives and shape a better world.

We don’t use the term “movement” lightly.  In fact we debated long and hard whether the term is appropriate and useful to describe what we envision.  Looking at the vast literature on movements as well as our experience of social movements today and in the recent past, we identified four characteristics that seemed to us to fit with what is beginning to happen and is worth nurturing in Jewish life today:

  1. Mobilization at the grass-roots
  2. Collective action with a common frame (shared vocabulary and concepts)
  3. A sense of collective identity
  4. A long-term vision for change 

As we look synoptically across many arenas of Jewish activity today, from formal Jewish education to Jewishly-inspired social change efforts, we see these four elements becoming increasingly visible.  In settings as diverse as day school classrooms, family bedrooms, Shabbat tables, and urban farms, we see growing numbers of Jews (and their partners) engaging with Jewish ideas, stories, and practices as real sources of enrichment and meaning for their lives.  We see an expanding cadre of organizations and educators creating a broad array of experiences that make that connection between Jewish teaching and daily life more tangible.  We see networks of individuals with shared passions and visions emerging both within and across sectors of activity, recognizing one another as allies in a larger endeavor and seeking ways to collaborate more effectively.

We see these as hallmarks of a nascent movement, one that is not yet fully articulate, organized, or self-aware – but one that is heading in this direction.  Already, these early intuitions have taken us beyond the era of “Jewish continuity” into a new period when the focus in Jewish life is increasingly on Jewishness and Jewish wisdom as powerful vehicles for promoting human flourishing, for responding to the universal desires for meaning, connection, and efficacy, for guiding us in our efforts to create a more just society in a sustainable world.  We believe, therefore, that strengthening these independent efforts into a full-fledged movement is a strategic opportunity and responsibility for our foundation.

We do not imagine that we can do this by ourselves or that our actions can be decisive in shaping the future course of events.  The literature and experience tell us that building movements takes time and that it is messy.  But, we have learned as well that there are actions that we can take as a funder that can support the movement that is emerging.  These range from working with others to develop framing language for the movement that is both descriptive and evocative, to convening gatherings where movement members and prospective members (especially across “sub-movement” boundaries) can meet and seek common ground, to making grants that enable organizations to undertake activities that help build their effectiveness within a movement context, to participating in collaborative funding that helps movement organizations achieve greater scale and impact and that helps build a movement infrastructure. 

Looking around in winter, it’s easy to see what appears to be a barren landscape, just as it’s easy to read some of the statistical portraits of Jewish life in America and see only decline and decay.  But, in both cases, that’s a false (or at best, incomplete) picture of what is occurring.  In the end, whether we call what is happening in Jewish life today the emergence of a movement is less important than recognizing the positive momentum that undeniably exists.  Our goal for 2016 is to help accelerate that momentum, and we’re excited to have the opportunity to do so.

Jon Woocher,


We typically write about aspects of our giving; this is, after all, our newsletter.  But we are also incredibly grateful for our partners as the nascent movement Jon describes comes into clearer focus, and we are delighted when we see other funders recognizing programs and organizations that embrace or embody an Applying Jewish Wisdom framework.

Jim Joseph Foundation, after looking back on 10 years of operation, wrote about their fall and winter 2015 grants here.  

We're enthusiastic about them all, but are following with particular interest the Jewish Emergent Network's rabbinic fellowship program that's now funded for 2 cohorts to test the impact of practical leadership training on innovative community builders - we find most of these individuals are - explicitly or instinctively - are emphasizing the application of Jewish Wisdom in their outreach and organizing principles.  We hope this experiment will not only be a success, but uncover important learning for the field.

Covenant Foundation, another funder whose thorough and thoughtful approach we deeply appreciate, announced $1.6 million in new grants at the start of the year.

We were pleased to observe a theme of bringing new tools and techniques into full integration with Jewish practice, thought, education - so many of their 2016 funded projects and organizations focus on bringing Jewish Wisdom into people's lives in relevant and immediately applicable ways - from farming to practical training in bikkur cholim to animation to theater to cooking lessons, and so very much more.  Our perspective is that Torah is meant to be lived, to be intentionally brought into all aspects of our complex modern lives (and make them better) - and we are incredibly gratified to see other notable institutions independently supporting that philosophy.
To make change happen, gathering a band of passionate enthusiasts is not enough. You need to make your purpose clear, establish values and create a plan for success.  Most of all, you need to understand that the change you seek will not happen inside the movement, but outside of it. - Greg Satell

Where have you created change?  How do you see change happening in American Jewish Life? 


A profound expression of Jewish wisdom comes to us every week, with the opportunity to slow down, become present and join our loved ones for a different way to inhabit time – namely, Shabbat!  Given the non-stop pace of the world we live in, nothing can be more healing than to stop. The opportunity to remember that we are a human being (not always a human doing), and to do so with others on a regular basis build a kind of resiliency that can’t be found from only focusing on accomplishing in the world.
We were honored to join our friends at Schusterman et al  three weeks ago at their Rekindle: A Shabbat Studio event. In the middle of a week, we shared demonstrations of the forms Shabbat practice is taking. For a taste of what was shared, check out Michael Hebb’s 2011 Ted Talk on TableMaking, Schusterman’s TableMakers project  and the great work of our friends at OneTable, who are helping people ‘Shabbat together.’

It was heartening to see  how innovative people and organizations are making Shabbat come alive in 2016 - an exceptional example of all we mean by Living Torah.


Congratulations to Becky Voorwinde, on her new role as Executive Director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships - the first alumna of the program to take on top leadership...and a hearty mazel tov to Mishael Zion as he pioneers the role of community scholar and rabbi for the Fellowships.

The 9 Adar Project, a movement to "celebrate" constructive conflict, runs from February 12 -18.  Learn more and sign up to participate here.

Why a week dedicated to conflict in its positive, productive forms?  G-dcast explains the dark history we commemorate by doing better. 

Jewish Public Media is looking to tell stories of queer and trans Jewish experience - if you've got ideas for what they should include, or personal tales to tell, let them know.

We're delighted by the emergence of Jeducation World, a new blog publishing items of interest to anyone working in or around Jewish Education.  We're subscribed to their weekly digest!

Transparency in foundation work is a topic near and dear to our heart.  This piece by Marc Gunther touches on some of the concerns we share, and provides a good backdrop for our dedication to learning openly and taking risks - a case of Applying Jewish Wisdom leading organizational work!  
What else should we be sharing?  
Click here to send us your recommendations!
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