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Dear Friends and Colleagues:

My name is Aaron Dorfman, and I’m honored and humbled to be taking up the role of President of Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah. I spent nearly a decade working closely with Marcella Kanfer Rolnick in her role on the board of American Jewish World Service and have long been inspired by the Foundation’s serious engagement with Jewish text and tradition, commitment to supporting values-driven work, and humility in the face of complexity. I can’t imagine a purpose more aligned with my own life’s work than the Foundation’s mission to promote and support Judaism as a powerful, evolving wellspring of accumulating wisdom and sensibilities that enriches people’s lives and helps create a better world. I’m excited to be launching into this journey with the partnership and support of my esteemed predecessor, Jon Woocher, who will be serving as the Foundation’s Senior Fellow, and a talented and committed team of staff colleagues. And I’m eager to work and learn with and from the extraordinary network of thought partners with whom the Foundation has built relationships.

This summer, on the recommendation of a friend, I read the essay Prisons We Choose to Live Inside. In it, the Nobel Prize-winning writer Doris Lessing writes:

I think children should be taught about history not as is usually  
the case now, that this is the record of long past events, which one ought to know about for one reason or other. But that this is a story from which one may learn not only what has happened, but what may, and probably will, happen again.

[From l]iterature and history, these two great branches of human learning, records of human behavior, human thought…one may learn how to be a citizen and a human being. We may learn how to look at ourselves and at the society we live in…


Lessing could just as well have been writing about Jewish wisdom, and the ambitions of Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah are no less grand than the ones she describes. The complex, nuanced, profound, sometimes conflicting, always challenging core of Jewish wisdom is rich with potential: to enrich our lives, our relationships, our choices as Jews and as humans, and, beyond our Jewish community, to influence the way we as Americans grapple with the critical public issues of our time.

It felt particularly serendipitous to step into this role just before Labor Day weekend, as it marks the anniversary of one of my first conscious, real-world applications of Jewish wisdom: When I was 10 years old, I persuaded my parents to let me stay up all night to watch the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon to raise money for research and treatment for muscular dystrophy. (I had otherwise spent the weekend stuck at home—one of only two times my parents ever resorted to grounding me—for a misadventure involving the local candy shop, but that’s a story for another time.) I argued—and, in a moment of parenting insight I called upon often as an educator and even more regularly now as the father of three young children, my parents agreed—that the Telethon was an authentic expression of Lewis’s commitment to tzedakah, and that staying up in solidarity with Jerry—and contributing a good chunk of my saved allowance to fight MD—was a Jewishly grounded act. I’m not sure that humming along with Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” at 3:00am really fit the bill, but in the safe confines of my living room, the Jewish value of tzedakah was a subversive act, and, as such, the inheritance both of the religious values and the secular skepticism of my Jewish upbringing.

Jewish wisdom, collected in its great books and midrashim, its fables and artwork and humor, is a profound, complex, flawed, majestic record of the Jewish people’s behaviors, thoughts, and encounters with their experience of the divine. From it, we have and will continue to learn how to be both citizens and human beings. Let us proceed on this journey together.

Aaron Dorfman

Our application deadline has passed - and we are thrilled by the response.  Congratulations to our 211 Semi-finalists!  Watch for the exciting announcement of the 12 Finalists in late October.  Stay tuned - and check out some of our initial observations and learnings below. 


As a small-to-mid-sized foundation, we are constantly thinking about how we can make all of our work – grants, programming, thought leadership, and communications – more effective and have stronger and wider impact.  A recent planning grant to the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable (JSJR) is exciting, not only because of the grant’s own merits, but because it is our first experiment in what we’ve been referring to as “sector grants.”
We have long sought to leverage our grants to impact multiple organizations through sharing results and learnings we gain from each grant, but now hope to add grants that enhance applied Jewish wisdom across a particular field.  We approached Abby Levine, Executive Director of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable and asked whether she’d be willing to help us think through a series of phone calls to bring together a subset of JSJR organizations to identify: 1) their needs around applying Jewish wisdom in their organizations and 2) their willingness to work together to see if there was a potential project we could fund.
We’re excited that those initial calls turned into a 6-month planning grant for them to go deeper in scoping a project for a subset of the sector and to see who would like to be the initial organizations participating.  Each field differs, but we’re hoping to learn from this process how we might fund other collaborations that both meet our strategic goals and truly serve the sectors’ needs around creating life-relevant and substantive Jewish programming.
For more on our approach to sector grants, read our blog post here.
For more on our process with JSJR, read our co-authored article in eJP.

Over 48,000 groups in 70 countries have already signed up for the third annual Character Day, set for September 22, 2016! Character Day is a global initiative where groups around the world screen films on the science of character development from different perspectives (including The Science of Character, The Adaptable Mind, and The Making of a Mensch), dive into free printed discussion materials, and join an online global conversation around the importance of developing character strengths (resilience, grit, empathy, courage, kindness)–all rooted in evidence-based research.  Learn more (and sign up) here.


What if you gave a Prize and nobody came?  To be honest, when we launched the Lippman Kanfer Prize for Applied Jewish Wisdom, we weren’t sure how many programs there were out there that a) were deliberately and self-consciously applying Jewish wisdom to help people live better lives and shape a better world; and b) would take the time to complete an application and share details about their work.
Well, now we have the answer, and it’s way beyond our expectations.  If you visit you’ll find 211 profiles of programs, local, regional, national, and international applying Jewish wisdom in a myriad of creative ways,   
So who are these visionaries?  We look forward to delving deep into the tremendous dataset they represent – looking not just at statistics, but examining trends and shared experiences, exploring the modalities and specific wisdoms being used, and learning from each of the Semifinalists.  For now, we are pleased to share some of our very early insights into the texture and breadth of a movement far larger than we imagined.
  •   The variety of organizations engaged in applying Jewish wisdom is tremendous and the populations with which they are working are diverse, ranging from young children to senior adults, highly engaged Jews to individuals with few prior Jewish connections – and even some non-Jews.
  • Jewish wisdom is being employed to address almost every aspect of human life from personal spiritual growth to investing.  Programs are demonstrating that Jewish wisdom can illuminate and enrich how we deal with the challenges of growing up and growing old, how we relate to friends and family, how we eat and how we produce and distribute our food, how we pray and celebrate, how we vote and make the world more just, and so much more.
  • The vehicles and settings in and through which Jewish wisdom is being transmitted and applied are as diverse as the areas of life being addressed.  The program profiles highlight dozens of approaches: new models of text study, varieties of experiential learning from cross-country trips to baking challot, podcasts and videos, mussar practice and yoga, service and philanthropy, intimate conversations and public events, and many more.
  • Programs are not only transmitting Jewish wisdom, they’re embodying it in the values that animate them.  Time and again, sensibilities like b’tselem elokim (all humans are created in God’s image), elu v’elu (respect for diverse opinions), na’aseh v’nishma (the power of doing), and bal tashchit (do not waste) are cited as central both to what the programs teach and how they operate.
These are just a few early gleanings from the 211 programs that applied for the Lippman Kanfer Prize.  We look forward to sharing more learnings as we dig deeper and invite you to read the profiles on line and share your own insights.
Sh'ma Now returns to publication on September 15th, after a summer hiatus, with an issue on Hineni - being present for oneself and others.  Browse old issues now and remember to check back when the issue goes live this Thursday for materials to consider and converse on this timely Jewish wisdom.  Hineni.  Here I am.


There's a new season of Shaboom! out now - the series from BimBam for younger kids (with accompanying parent videos) that teaches Jewish ideas.  Mensch training!

Mayyim Hayyim's new video, Becoming Jewish: At the Water's Edge, is recommended viewing.  Their curriculum for post conversion groups and individuals will be available for purchase soon.

Have your thoughts turned to High Holidays?  Some great resources for everyone preparing for the (late) holidays - from NewCAJE.

ICYMI, Natan announced a new slate of grantees in Mid-August.  A worthy collection of programs and organizations - and interesting to watch some of their investments mature! 

Reminder:  November 20, 2016, the Global Day of Jewish Learning - register your community!

What else should we be sharing?  
Click here to send us your recommendations!
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