The Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County launched its “new role” with the approval of funding for “extraordinary” partnerships with 13 synagogues and 34 organizations “to sustain the fabric of Jewish life.”
The funding is part of a new focus through which the umbrella philanthropy is investing in programs and services that are designed to generate collaborative partnerships, leverage resources, and broaden access throughout the local Jewish community.
The process leaves intact traditional “core” allocations to local agencies and organizations while tapping non-campaign dollars to create what officials are calling an “incubator” for new ideas in social services and Jewish identity-building among a broader array of institutions.
Trustees at a May 20 board meeting approved the distribution of $1.7 million for the year beginning July 1, $365,000 for 26 initiatives including an intergenerational Hesed/Community Service & Living History project, case management services for the at-risk population, and family engagement programs in public spaces.
“Our new model allows us to fulfill our role as conveners, partners, and facilitators for worthwhile programmatic initiatives throughout our Jewish community,” said allocations committee chair Jeffrey Schwartz.
The money was made available to Jewish organizations, agencies, synagogues, and day schools — most in Middlesex County — as part of the second phase of a three-year “hybrid” allocations model combining core and program funding. Applicants submitted proposals, which the allocations committee pored over almost weekly for months.
Laura Safran, federation director of planning and allocations, said the emerging partnerships will result in the crafting of a plan to meet community needs that is both sustainable and effective. The collaborative initiatives, she said, are designed with “a conscious effort to embody the federation’s mission statement.”
“We are all part of one Jewish family,” said federation president Seth Gross. “The federation’s unique place in the community allows it to bring the various parts of our community together to decide the most important priorities, and then mobilize the community to provide the resources to implement those priorities.”
Safran said that in some cases federation asked entities with similar ideas to collaborate on projects in order to build community ties, save money, and eliminate duplication.
The process also allowed the federation to fund three institutions for the first time: Torah Links of Middlesex County, Rutgers Jewish Xperience, and New Jersey’s Gay and Lesbian Havurah.
Among the new grantees:
• An intergenerational project involving the Conservative Solomon Schechter Day School of Raritan Valley and Reform Temple B’nai Shalom, both in East Brunswick, and the Jewish Historical Society of Central Jersey ($7,500).
Schechter middle school students and seventh- through 12th-graders from B’nai Shalom will create a “living history” of the Jewish community through interviews with seniors and with training from the historical society. These interactions will be preserved using software that can be easily distributed. Students will continue to visit and celebrate holidays with the seniors.
“Both Schechter and B’nai Shalom submitted proposals that were so similar it was hard to believe they hadn’t consulted with each other,” said Safran. “The organizations were eager to collaborate and include the historical society in their planning; it has been a pleasure to watch their ideas merge into one streamlined proposal.”
• The Jewish Social Service Committee of New Brunswick and Highland Park, Inc., will refer those in need of case management and risk-assessment services to the Jewish Family & Vocational Service of Middlesex County ($9,360).
The all-volunteer committee provides stipends for such necessities as utilities, rent, or mortgages to financially strapped Jews in Middlesex County referred by the federation, rabbis, or JFVS. It sometimes deals with clients in “desperate” need of mental health services, said Safran.
“We know how difficult it is to secure funding for case management, which is extremely time-intensive and costly. Donors usually prefer tangibility with immediate results,” said Safran. “But we recognize the imperative to provide this core service; it truly speaks to one of our core missions — to help the vulnerable.”
• Gan Yarok community garden at Temple Emanu-El in Edison, working with the Gay and Lesbian Havurah, to supply produce for its community food bank ($2,500).
The garden will provide a “low-barrier setting” for involvement among unaffiliated community members. In addition, said Safran, the federation plans to connect the temple with a federation-supported youth center in Ashkelon, Israel, which also maintains a community garden (see story, this page).
• Nondenominational young family programs planned by Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth and Conservative Congregation Neve Shalom in Metuchen ($2,500).
• The first communitywide Mitzvah Day, spearheaded by the Orthodox Young Israel of East Brunswick ($5,000).
Safran said she hopes every Jewish institution takes part in Mitzvah Day. “Federation is a great believer in the community’s collaborative spirit,” she said.