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Federation awards $1.16m for engagement
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Federation awards $1.16m for engagement

Students from Rutgers’ AEPi Jewish fraternity and Rutgers Jewish Xperience join together in a barbecue celebrating Israeli Independence Day in spring 2014. 
Students from Rutgers’ AEPi Jewish fraternity and Rutgers Jewish Xperience join together in a barbecue celebrating Israeli Independence Day in spring 2014. 

The Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey awarded approximately $1.16 million in grants to synagogues, organizations, and agencies throughout Middlesex County for programming engaging the Jewish community in creative and new ways.

The grants, each totaling more than $3,000, begin July 1, said the federation’s director of community impact, Laura Safran. 

The grants do not include organizations in Monmouth County because “all these dollars were raised in Middlesex” prior to the Jan. 1 merger of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County with the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County.

Next year the federation will offer grants in both counties as it continues to synch the operations and finances of the pre-merger organizations. (These grants also differ from Opportunity grants, all under $3,000, that were recently handed out throughout the federation coverage area.) 

The Middlesex grants targeted teen activism, education for youngsters with special needs, Jewish social services, programs forging connections with Israel, senior socialization services, and leadership development.

To support its efforts to engage young people in Jewish life, grantees included the Rutgers Jewish Xperience for its JMed program pairing pre-med majors with Jewish physicians, whom they shadow through internships. Another $6,000 has been earmarked for its JFit program, a collaboration with the Jewish fraternity AEPi, focusing on health, nutrition, and exercise to engage students. 

Safran said she and her federation colleagues “love the fact they are collaborating with a Jewish fraternity. It’s unique. It’s never been done before. The students themselves are planning these events, yet they’re injecting a Jewish component. Jewish Xperience is engaging them and meeting their needs, yet at the same time educating them.”

Jewish Xperience’s Rabbi Aharon Grossman said a Yom Ha’aztmaut barbecue held in spring 2014 with AEPi drew more than 200 students and convinced Xperience leaders to explore further collaboration.

The Congregation B’nai Tikvah Chai School in North Brunswick received $15,000 to open a successful two-year-old post-bar and bat mitzva program for teens outside the congregation. Using a curriculum designed by Brandeis University, it teaches good deeds and Jewish values and provides Israel education through student-initiated long-term projects.

“We liked that they went outside for curriculum development and turned to an expert,” said Safran. “It’s really very outward facing and is targeting kids not necessarily experienced in Jewish learning and engages them regardless of whether they attend synagogue.” 

Doug Smoller, executive committee member and vice president of school and youth at B’nai Tikvah, said the grant would help with an expansion of the program that was intended from its beginning.

“We always envisioned bringing in guest speakers and new programming,” Smoller said. “This will allow us to partner with other programs and attract teenagers whose families don’t belong to other synagogues or to synagogues that don’t offer this type of programming.” 

Other grantees included:

• The Jewish Community Center of Middlesex County in Edison for its Jewish holiday and cultural programs, its Learning Throughout Life program for seniors, and its JCC Connects holiday and Judaic programming for seniors at assisted-living and other facilities. 

• The Jewish Social Service Committee of New Brunswick and Highland Park, Inc., which helps needy Jews throughout Middlesex County, for utility assistance, food vouchers, auto repair, camp scholarships, and rental assistance programs.

• Yeshivat Netivot Montessori in East Brunswick and Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva in Edison for educational programs 

• Rutgers Hillel for its LEAD Peer Network Leadership intern program and Shabbat dinners.

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