From Hip Hop Instruction to Stories of Failure:
Micro Grant Recipients Make It All Happen
Imagine walking into a Bedouin-style tent in a lush backyard. It’s a warm, early fall evening. The lights are low and atmospheric. On the ground, rugs are spread out for some 100 guests to sit and get comfortable. Each one has brought a dessert—something that represents their unique family history and photos intended to evoke home. They’ll use the latter as prompts to share personal stories of their family roots.
This was one evening during the Sukkot holiday. The event, called “Dwell,” was the result of a collaboration between two ROI Community Members, Rebecca Soffer and Iris Mansour. It was made possible by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation’s #MakeItHappen micro grant initiative.
“This was an incredible gift,” Rebecca Soffer said right after the holiday. She and her co-producers were able to “create something hinged on the essence of harvest, the meaning of home, the ephemeral nature of home—all the different threads of the holiday and modernize it.”
An immersive, DIY magical event, “Dwell” used theater, spoken word, exquisite food and dancing to create a new way of celebrating Jewish values, traditions and community.
As one of more than 60 projects this fall to receive a micro grant of up to $2,500, this #MakeItHappen initiative represented just one of the creative ideas launched from this holiday campaign. Collectively, this fall, the micro grants reached an estimated 10,000 people, from California to Chile. First launched in 2013, the initiative prompts dreamers and doers to seed and grow new ideas that will make a meaningful difference in the world. With opportunities to engage in the Jewish holidays in meaning ways, #MakeItHappen is inspired by the groundswell of young people who are contributing their time and talent to strengthening the Jewish future and who are also drawing on Jewish values as they give back to their communities.
Available exclusively to ROI Community members and REALITY alumni, this latest round asked applicants to come up with initiatives tied to themes from the High Holiday season: rebirth, shelter, forgiveness, memory and more.
Here is a small sample of what took place around the world:
In Liberia, REALITY alumna Blair Glencorse organized “Alternative Teshuvah: Failure Faire,” perhaps the country’s first public celebration of Yom Kippur.
In Buenos Aires, ROIers Ezequiel Sporn and Gabriel Buznick hosted “The First Hummus World Championship,” an interfaith event aimed at bringing together young Jews and Muslims through the most universal of interests: food.
In the Bay Area, REALITY alumnus Elliot Gann hosted “StreetBeats: Healing Through Hip Hop,” which took into account these fractious political times and invited anyone to come in and make music.
In Santiago, Chile, REALITY alumna Cecilia Anriquez organized a Rosh Hashanah Seder for 20 community leaders where she spoke of her experiences in Israel and endeavored to “share the message of diversity and tolerance based in Jewish culture.”
And in Israel, ROIer Yael Zelnik convened “Ushpizot,” a women-only Sukkah in Tel Aviv built “around the concept of women helping other women start over or start something new."
What these and the other micro grant recipients share is a desire to bring people together and discover how Jewish values can be explored in dynamic ways. Moreover, each recipient’s undertaking reflected their own unique relationship to Jewish history, tradition and values For instance, “Alternative Teshuvah” sought to explore “the idea of repentance,” Glencorse wrote, “but with a slightly different take — the idea that failure is a learning process, and it is only through being willing to fail that we can learn and improve what we do.”
His idea resonated: 40 people attended, a handful of whom shared stories of their biggest failures — anecdotes the group then used to examine “what that meant and how we could all learn similar lessons,” he said.
“It was a fantastic way to build a community that was drawing on a very old concept in a new way, spread some understanding of the Jewish faith in a place where there is very little.”
Yael Zelnik, who teamed up with ROIer Narkis Alon, invited women over the course of three days to make appointments with mentors. Mentors were not strictly people with business acumen; they could be people who’d made it through a tough challenge and had, therefore, some kind of insight to offer another woman.
Two hundred people took part in what was an unexpectedly intimate exchange, Zelnik said, that raised money which went to a digital print shop that employs female ex-offenders, “allowing,” she wrote, “more women to start a new chapter … with the new year.”
For his part, Elliot Gann came up with a unique take on the literal definition of “Sukkot,” or booths. Generally understood to be temporary dwellings, booths embraced an alternative definition as music-making places, a.k.a. recording booths, set up in four locations around Oakland and San Francisco.
“We saw StreetBeats booths as sort of ‘shelters-from-the-storm,’ so to speak, in a time where there’s much intolerance around race and religion,” he wrote. For Gann, Hip Hop has great “power to engage, unify, heal, and give voice” to those who’re often overlooked, and StreetBeats tried in its way to rectify that.”
“The Bay Area boasts some of the most religiously, ethnically and racially diverse neighborhoods,” he said. StreetBeats brought these communities together.
His project, in which more than 130 people (some as young as four-years-old) took part, grew out of his REALITY experience, where he explored his “Jewish identity, culture, heritage and what it means to be Jewish,” he wrote.
“I think of StreetBeats as my mitzvah to the Bay Area community, a way to bring my research, teachings, and passions to Jews and non-Jews alike,” Gann said. This is a mitzvah all of the micro grant recipients, arguably, performed.
“We had people say,” Soffer reported, “‘Wow, if this had been Judaism for me when I was in my teens or 20s I would’ve been all in.’”
The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.