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A Virtuous Cycle of Vibrant Jewish Life

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This first appeared in The Peoplehood Papers, volume 11Jewish Peoplehood in Practicepublished by the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.

When my late husband, Charles, and I embarked on our philanthropic journey 25 years ago, we were committed to doing our part to ensure a strong, vibrant future for the Jewish people and the State of Israel. We shared a vision of spreading the joy of Jewish living, giving and learning, and we sought to make our contribution where we could make the greatest difference.

Charlie and I identified our focus from the outset: we would invest in keeping the next generation of young Jews connected to and engaged with Jewish life and the Jewish state. “If you can get a bright and talented mind at a young age,” Charlie (z”l) wrote in one of his many notes, “you’ve got a lot with which to work.” To that he added: “If we are serious about Jewish renewal, we must make it more attractive to be Jewish.”

This philosophy has been our compass over the past two-plus decades. The path we have charted for our foundation aims to perpetuate a virtuous cycle of young adult engagement that promotes a culture of service, connects young people with Israel and welcomes all who seek to lead actively Jewish lives.

It begins with increasing numbers of young Jews participating in meaningful, relevant Jewish experiences that strengthen their ties to their Jewish identities and communities. As they become more deeply involved, they take ownership for creating compelling experiences that will attract their peers. Ultimately, they assume leadership roles in their communities, helping to shape and perpetuate a Jewish ecosystem equipped to engage future generations.

The focus of our foundation has remained steadfast, even as our approach has evolved to reflect the landscape in which we operate. We recognized early on that young Jews need opportunities to become and remain involved in Jewish life that speak to their personal interests and enable them to live as global citizens in accordance with Jewish values.

In response, we have developed two interdependent strategies that power the virtuous cycle by putting young Jews at the center of a continuum of Jewish experiences and opportunities.

First, we use grantmaking to support pluralistic organizations that directly engage large numbers of young Jews from teens to young adults. We focus on these years because they encompass critical life stages when people begin to assume increasing ownership over their identities.

Our support is targeted toward organizations that have a global reach with strong community-based components, including BBYO, Birthright, Hillel and Moishe House. We also support capacity building within particular fields, like service, LGBT inclusion and Israel advocacy. These investments engage young people through diverse interests and enable them to be actively involved in shaping their experiences.

Our grantmaking supports a pipeline of engagement in which individual Jewish journeys are nurtured from high school through college and into young adulthood. It requires organizations to work together to ensure smooth transitions across life stages. Ultimately, we want to see every teen who participates in BBYO welcomed onto the college campus by Hillel and other groups and effectively transitioned into post-college life with support from organizations like Moishe House and Birthright NEXT.

Second, we operate proprietary programs that invest in building the capacity of individuals who demonstrate significant leadership potential. We provide participants with a suite of opportunities for learning, skills-building, professional development and networking, with a particular focus on both entrepreneurs and those who are creating change from within organizations.

This strategy is grounded in a commitment to investing in people rather than programs and projects. It targets a specific subset of the young Jewish population, ranging from those who are deeply connected to those who are relatively unengaged. Specifically, our ROI Community nourishes the entrepreneurial talent of a global network of young innovators already working within the Jewish world. Our REALITY program helps to bring new social change agents into the fold through a values-focused curriculum.

Our dual grantmaking and programming strategies are mutually supportive, operating in tandem to engage as many young Jews as possible and build a pipeline of talent prepared to take the reins of leadership in their communities. They are designed to foster connections between people and organizations with complimentary interests, creating formal and informal networks that spark innovation, collaboration and empowered leadership.

Finally, they seek to ensure Israel’s central role in the Jewish narrative. Many of our investments expand opportunities for young people to engage with and explore modern Israel, her rich history, diverse society and fertile cultural landscape. Ensuring an enduring connection between young Jews and the State of Israel is intimately tied to our broader investments in strengthening the social fabric of Israeli society, including working toward the renewal of Jerusalem as her modern, open capital.

We work together with a range of peers and partners who use different strategic approaches to make vital contributions toward shaping a strong Jewish ecosystem able to meet our community’s needs today and evolve in the future.

Collectively, if we are successful, we will see a time when the vast majority of young people readily participate in Jewish life, draw on Jewish values to inform their worldviews and take on leadership roles in their communities. We will see their journeys supported by a global Jewish infrastructure that embraces, incubates and scales effective efforts to meet the needs and interests of all Jewish people. And we will see Jewish communities around the world, strengthened by a surge of engaged young people, an appetite for innovation and a strong communal infrastructure, connected to each other and contributing to the greater whole.

Indeed, we will achieve our shared vision of a diverse, dynamic Jewish people deeply connected to a strong State of Israel and committed to making the world a better place. For 25 years we have been contributing to working toward this vision. In this time, we have seen the global Jewish community make great strides, and yet, we have a long way to go. As we look toward the next 25 years, we remain committed to doing our part to perpetuate a virtuous cycle that leads to a vibrant, thriving Jewish community.