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Quarterly Update:
Fall 2020 / 5781
Helping people apply particular Jewish wisdom to universal human questions in the here and now and cultivate Judaism’s evolving wisdom tradition as an enduring source of value for human civilization over the long term.

 

I. Letter From The President

II. Meet Our Grantee Partners
III. What Our Partners Are Up To
IV. What We're Up To

Letter From The President

Dear Friends and Colleagues, 

 

William Butler Yeats published “The Second Coming” 100 years ago last month, on the heels of the War to End All Wars and the Russian Revolution, and following his wife’s recovery from a near-fatal bout of the Spanish Flu, which had killed millions. Over the last century, the poem has become a watchword for moments of existential anxiety, moments when, as Yeats put it,  
 

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; 

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, 

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere    

The ceremony of innocence is drowned; 

The best lack all conviction, while the worst    

Are full of passionate intensity.
 

Sound familiar? 
 

It’s been a tough stretch. As Danielle Allen, University Professor and Director of the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard, wrote on Thanksgiving Day in The Washington Post, “The last four years have been hard, and this past year hardest of all.” But she followed that observation with a hopeful tikkun, declaring that “there is one thing for which we can be thankful: We have collectively experienced an intense, accelerated education in the structure of our democratic institutions and the values that anchor them.” 

As this complex year draws to a close, I’m taking a lot of hope from the way that the American Jewish community is embracing that accelerated education. The Shalom Hartman Institute of North America dedicated the last half of October to “Judaism, Citizenship and Democracy,” a two-week symposium exploring the key civic issues facing the Jewish community today. Civic Spirit continues to train and support cohorts of Jewish and Catholic educators to weave rich, religiously rooted civics education into the fabric of the high schools in which they work. In this election year, Hillel built on the 2018 pilot of MitzVote to expand voter engagement programming for Jewish college students around the country. And as part of the launch of a suite of Jewish educational resources on civic responsibility, David Bryfman, CEO of The Jewish Education Project, wrote in The Forward in October: 

All education is political — and so it should be. … At their very core, schools exist in order to transmit knowledge and skills to younger generations so that they can become good citizens and stewards of the societies in which they live. … So, if it’s true that education is inherently political, then it should follow that all good education includes good civics in a substantive manner that advances a polity for the better. … The same holds for Jewish education.

At Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, we’ve been honored to support work that these—and many other—Jewish social-impact organizations have been doing at the intersection of Judaism and American democracy. In the lead up to the 2020 U.S. election, animated by the nonpartisan National Task Force on Election Crises and informed by consultations with leaders of 20 national Jewish organizations, we built on that work to launch Free&Fair: Our Duty to Democracy, a campaign to support Jewish clergy and other Jewish leaders to educate and prepare their communities for potential election crises.  

We’re still unpacking our learning from the campaign, but we wanted to share with you, in real time, a few emergent insights: 

First, Jewish clergy and other leaders are hungry for ways to support democracy and civic engagement in healthy and appropriate ways. We know from pre-election Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) research that Americans want religious leaders to play a role in their civic lives: 

  • 80% of Americans indicated that they believed it was important for religious leaders to speak out about a peaceful transition of power regardless of who wins the election. 

  • Similarly, 80% of Americans indicated that it’s important for religious leaders to speak out to de-escalate anger before it turns violent and to proactively encourage peaceful protests. 

These data correspond to research we conducted a year ago that indicated that more than 60% of American Jews consider their Jewishness a significant source of motivation for their civic engagement. The Jewish leaders we engaged felt this need from their communities and, at the same time, often felt ill-equipped to meet it. They were concerned about what they were allowed to say and do given their 501(c)3 status, and they were concerned about causing discord among their politically diverse communities by raising issues that might trigger conflict that they didn’t know how to manage.  

That being said, we found a lot of resonance in the distinction we drew throughout the campaign between “political” and “partisan.” Many of the Jewish leaders with whom we spoke indicated that they didn’t want to—or knew they “weren’t supposed to”—be political. But when we pointed out that every important decision an institution confronts—from its kashrut standard to its school’s tuition to its posture toward Israel—is inherently political, and that what they were trying to avoid was being partisan, they exuded relief and a sense of possibility about how to maneuver more gracefully and effectively. 

Second, and relatedly, there was and remains a deep skepticism about whether political engagement can, in fact, be genuinely nonpartisan. We established the campaign from the beginning on a set of what we consider inarguably nonpartisan bedrock commitments: 

  • A commitment to the rule of law; 

  • A commitment to nonviolence; and 

  • A commitment to a free and fair election in which everyone can vote, and every vote is counted. 

But it’s clear that the polarization that has infected so much of American political discourse has infiltrated Jewish communal life as well. Despite extensive outreach to all the denominations, including to both the centrist Orthodox community and other, more politically conservative groups in the Jewish community, we forged strong partnerships with Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and non-denominational groups but struggled to build partnerships with the Orthodox community beyond its progressive wing. 

Finally, and perhaps most optimistically, more than 80 Jewish organizations—from the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington to UpStart to the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies to American Jewish World Service to JPRO Network to the JCRC of St. Louis—embraced our call to close on Election Day so their employees could vote and participate in election-related civic engagement. We heard from folks that closing gave them an authentically nonpartisan way to symbolically and substantively endorse active civic engagement. And many of those organizations grounded their decision to close in distinctively Jewish ways. As Chancellor Shuly Schwartz wrote in her letter to the JTS community, “We believe that in the sweep of Jewish history, our status as American citizens—with the right to choose our leaders—is extraordinary, a privilege that begets a sacred responsibility to sustain our democracy.” 

Chancellor Schwartz’s message echoes a line in Danielle Allen’s close reading of the Declaration of Independence, Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality: “The point of political equality is not merely to secure spaces free from domination but also to engage all members of a community equally in the work of creating and constantly re-creating that community. Political equality is equal political empowerment.” 

It certainly feels at times in this topsy-turvy moment like the “centre cannot hold,” but I’m holding out hope that the generative commitment, energy, and investment that’s been unleashed continues to fuel an ever-expanding and ever-enriching political empowerment for American Jews and for all people with whom we share this country. 
 

With gratitude, 

Aaron 

 
Meet Our Grantee Partners
Grants for Applied Jewish Wisdom
The following, recently funded projects apply particular Jewish wisdom to universal human questions.

Universal Human Question

How might we help individuals and families discuss and plan for the end-of-life experience?

Jewish Wisdom Applied

Jewish wisdom is suffused with the notion that understanding the fragility of life, contemplating and preparing for death, comforting and connecting with mourners, and not taking life and its blessings for granted can lead to a better, richer, more fulfilling life. Just as Jewish tradition teaches that a shomer / guardian accompanies the soul of the deceased between the time of death and burial, Shomer Collective seeks to accompany people on their end-of-life journey, to promote a positive experience suffused with Jewish meaning.

Project

Shomer Collective weaves together disparate resources and initiatives in one central location, a network hub that lives within the End of Life (EOL) Collective.

Universal Human Question

Which communal narratives can offer meaning to people in post-modern culture?

Jewish Wisdom Applied

The narrative developed by Rabbi Yitz Greenberg (and presented in his forthcoming book, The Triumph of Life) is one steeped in a commitment to living Jewish values and mission. The J.J. Greenberg Institute will encourage both deep engagement in Jewish community and active participation in broader society for conscious, committed Jews. 

Project

In September 2020, JJGI became an integrated division of Hadar. Through teaching engagements, targeted fellowships, and dedicated cohorts of program participants, JJGI will engage educators and intellectuals to bring Rabbi Greenberg’s teachings to leaders and organizations throughout the Jewish community and into the next generation.

Universal Human Question

How might we learn from the massive experiment in online education due to the COVID-19 pandemic in ways that will inform better educational practices over the long run?

Jewish Wisdom Applied

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a massive realignment in the delivery of Jewish education. Almost overnight, schools, synagogues and other Jewish educational institutions moved their programming online, including countless hours of synchronous teaching of Jewish texts and topics. Suddenly, more American Jews are studying Jewish texts online than ever before. Diving deeply into the dynamics of teaching and learning in these settings is necessary for understanding best practices for synchronous online Jewish text study.
 

Project

The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University is bringing together a group of scholars and practitioners to collaborate on a set of explorations that will focus on what happens when people across diverse life stages and settings study Jewish texts online.

Universal Human Question

How might we better mark important transitions in our lives?

Jewish Wisdom Applied

The ancient ritual of mikveh allows us to step back, pause, and reflect on life's many changes; and Mayyim Hayyim has been at the forefront of reimagining this ancient tradition so that people can apply it to a wide variety of life transitions they experience.

Project

Mayyim Hayyim’s mikveh fellowship will enable rabbinic and cantorial students to enter their rabbinate with concrete tools for sharing creative and compelling ritual options with their communities. This six-month fellowship will begin with an immersive experience in person at Mayyim Hayyim, if possible, and online, if not, followed by subsequent learning experiences and mentorship opportunities. After going through Mayyim Hayyim’s mikveh fellowship, clergy will feel competent using mikveh as a central part of their pastoral toolkits.

Universal Human Question

How might we reconcile after we’ve hurt someone, and how might we better build our capacity for moral accountability as partners, parents, friends, citizens, and humans?

Jewish Wisdom Applied

Shuva draws on the Jewish wisdom of Deuteronomy 16:20, which implores us: "Justice, justice you shall pursue." Shuva further delves into the hefty textual real estate in the Bible and Talmud devoted to laws of moral accountability, restitution, and rituals of atonement, as well as Maimonides’ canonical Laws of Teshuva.

Project

Shuva will create a library of apologies, which will serve as a resource for anyone looking to explore the different ways that people have approached moral accountability and reconciliation. It will offer resources on crafting one’s own apology that will empower people to take accountability and to reconcile more skillfully in their personal and professional lives.

A More Perfect Union Grants
The following, recently funded projects apply Jewish wisdom to strengthen American democratic norms and institutions.

Universal Human Question

How might religious leaders support civic engagement, democracy, and a free and fair election?

Jewish Wisdom Applied

The presence of faith communities on the streets, in the press, and activating ethically rooted, non-partisan engagement within houses of worship is essential in this time. The unique ability of faith leaders to address anxiety about violence, to re-frame polarizing national challenges as values-based ethical choices, and to de-escalate confrontations will be crucial in the coming months to keep our people safe, stave off fascism, and be part of building an inclusive, multi-racial democracy.

Project

As one of the ten organizations on the leadership team of the Fight Back Table, a national coalition of progressive grassroots organizations, Bend the Arc is anchoring the faith engagement efforts of the table's Count Every Vote initiative, which has been working to ensure that people were prepared with the information and training they needed to cast their votes and ensure that every vote counted in this unprecedented election year. The Count Every Vote community is cultivating the space to discuss the changes unfolding in this election season, coordinate work, and ensure all groups know how to best plug in.

Universal Human Question

How might religious leaders support civic engagement, democracy, and a free and fair election?

Jewish Wisdom Applied

In the runup to the 2020 election, the RAC’s Every Voice, Every Vote: The Reform Movement’s 2020 Civic Engagement Campaign built  on the long Jewish American commitment to democratic norms and institutions.

Project

The RAC’s Every Voice Every Vote campaign trained cohorts of leaders, especially Reform clergy, about how to engage voters and how to talk to congregants about the election process and the post-Election Day period when the winners may not be immediately apparent. They forged partnerships with local and national groups to combat voter suppression and offered aid in voter registration and education.

Universal Human Question

How might religious leaders support civic engagement, democracy, and a free and fair election?

Jewish Wisdom Applied

In the lead up to the 2020 election, T’ruah drew inspiration to act from the words of the Babylonian Talmud: “A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted” (Berachot 55a).

Project

T’ruah’s election center provides text studies, divrei Torah, action steps, webinar recordings, and links to partner organizations intended to help rabbis, cantors, and the wider Jewish community learn and take action to protect voting rights and the integrity of the democratic process. Once all the votes are counted and the election results are certified, the election center will be repurposed as a democracy center, as democracy is an ongoing process that must be tended to year-round.

Universal Human Question

How might educators help their students be more informed and engaged citizens?
 

Jewish Wisdom Applied

The Jewish Education Project is focused on highlighting the critical intersection between Jewish wisdom and education and the rights and obligations of citizenship.

Project

Through TJEP’s new educator portal, educators can access a range of curated resources to support meaningful engagement around civic participation. To date, the resources draw from a diverse range of both secular and Jewish organizations speaking to the educational approach for preschool through high school.

What Our Partners Are Up To

Applications Are Open for the 2021 Bronfman Fellowship


Every year, twenty-six outstanding North American teenagers are selected as Bronfman Fellows. The Fellowship begins with a free transformative and intellectually adventurous summer in Israel (assuming the safety of travel*), followed by monthly virtual meetings and a winter and spring seminar in the United States. Fellows embark on a transformative, deeply personal journey in which they learn to see the world through a lens broader than their own. Inspired by a diverse faculty of rabbis and educators, Fellows explore the rich tapestry of Jewish texts and ideas, using them to spark conversations, engage with stimulating existential questions, and achieve a deeper understanding of themselves and one another. They also expand their perspectives through intensive encounters with a parallel group of Israeli peers. After the Fellowship year, Fellows join an extraordinarily active, 1300+ member alumni community. 
  • Applicants must be in 11th grade, self-identify as Jewish, and live in the U.S. or Canada. 
  • The deadline is December 3. Click here to apply.
  • To learn more about becoming a Fellow, visit bronfman.org.
  • Hear from the Fellows in their own words.
  • *If international travel is not possible, please know that Bronfman is committed to running a stellar experience in 2021 – whether that involves a domestic travel alternative or virtual programming.
 

Tivnu Gap Year Info Session


As a Tivnu Gap Year participant, you’ll connect Jewish life and social justice through individualized internships, discover the Pacific Northwest, and create a home together in Portland, Oregon. Whether you spend your year advocating for immigrants’ rights, creating mentorships for LGBTQ kids, building tiny houses or cooking for houseless Portlanders, you’ll know you made a difference. To learn more, check out this OpEd from the New York Times.

Join Tivnu, a winner of the 2019 Lippman Kanfer Prize for Applied Jewish Wisdom, on Zoom for an info session on December 9th at 8pm EST/5pm PST, where you'll be able to ask questions and speak to staff, participants, and their parents. You can find the Facebook event here. Reach out to Tivnu's Engagement Coordinator, Sara Starr, at sara@tivnu.org if you have any questions.



Learning Opportunities with Svara


As we strive to dismantle white supremacy, ableism, and isolation, Svara draws from our traditions to hold us and help us build resilience and cultivate connection to each other. Amidst anger, heartbreak, fear, and uncertainty, Svara finds grounding in the practice of learning Talmud, in dazzling Queer community, with each of you.

Svara is excited to serve up new online learning opportunities--we hope you'll join them in the beit midrash for learning in service of true tikkun, of bodies, hearts, minds, and systems.
    

Your Voting Story


This year—2020—marks the centennial of the 19th Amendment’s ratification and millions of women gaining the right to vote, even as many others were excluded from the franchise. It is also the year of a momentous presidential election in which gender and identity played a major role. JWA's Story Aperture App invites you to reflect on the significance of women’s voting in the past, present, and future. See here for prompts.
    

Faith In/And Democracy Grant Recipients


We're very excited that grantee partner, PACE’s Faith In/And Democracy project has announced its six grant recipients for the coming year.
    

Powered by Courage


Join Encounter for a special opportunity to meet Palestinian civil society leaders from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in conversation with Jewish leaders from across North America and Israel. The Powered by Courage series honors the courage of the many Palestinians who have hosted thousands of Encounter participants in their homes and communities over the past 15 years, and the Jewish leaders who are bravely engaging them in conversation. Join them in making space to hear the voices and stories we don’t often get to hear and change our communal conversations. Register at www.poweredbycourage.org
What We're Up To



At the beginning of October, in partnership with ignite:action, we launched the Free&Fair campaign in support of Jewish organizations and leaders navigating the extraordinary climate of this election cycle. With a commitment to the nonpartisan principles of getting out the vote, counting every vote, and advocating nonviolence, we sent a series of weekly emails in order to:
  • Disseminate informative resources to help Jewish organizations and their constituencies understand and navigate the election process and potential outcomes.
  • Surface and/or sponsor trainings and other resources tailored specifically for Jewish leaders and clergy.
  • Encourage as many American Jewish organizations as possible to close on Election Day, to enable their staff both to vote safely and to participate in nonpartisan GOTV and other forms of election-related civic engagement, as well as to demonstrate a symbolic commitment to democracy. Over 80 organizations signed the pledge and closed for Election Day! 

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