Center for Jewish Life and Learning Funds $25,000 to Local Projects


A new fund is helping nonprofit organizations in the area get a financial leg up.

With a little extra cash in the piggy bank, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Center for Jewish Life and Learning has launched a fund for original and engaging community outreach projects. The catch: Only those organizations that have never received support from the Jewish Federation before need apply.
The CJLL Innovation Fund allocated a total of $25,000 to five local Jewish programs in hopes of helping them expand outreach in the Jewish community in Philadelphia in new and exciting ways.
Warren Hoffman, associate director of community programming for CJLL, said the new fund addresses the fact that the way people identify as Jews is rapidly changing — and allows CJLL to help organizations identify and adapt accordingly to those changes.
“We can be partners in this sort of evolving nature of what it means to be Jewish,” he said. The projects, he added, “are also a barometer as to where the current interests of the Jewish community are going and how can we be partners in that.”
Hoffman said that as much as CJLL is committed to funding its core programs such as Jewish day school and camp scholarships, local Hillels, and young adult programming like The Collaborative and Moishe House, there are other organizations and start-ups that need just as much help financially.
Fifteen organizations applied for the grant, with five making the cut.
Repair the World was given $2,500, which will go toward hosting community food justice dinners during the holidays. Three organizations received $5,000 grants: the Gershman Y, for programming for 40- and 50-somethings; Shir Singing Circle, for developing a larger community concert; and Jewish Public Media, for producing podcasts. Finally, Challah for Hunger was awarded $7,500 for new programming with broader groups of people.
Each organization was allowed to ask for up to $10,000.
“We were trying to do the best we could with limited resources, and we’re happy with what we ended up doing,” Hoffman said.
CJLL committee members chose the winning projects based on their individual merits and how they were going to make an impactful benefit in the community. They turned out to be distinct both from each other and from programs already being funded by the Jewish Federation, focusing on areas such as social justice, programming for people in their 40s and 50s, and arts and culture.
“This is a way to broaden our reach and scope,” Hoffman said. “If we don’t fund those things, we have to be as relevant as the projects that are coming out.”
The Innovation Fund was created from an excess of the Jewish Federation’s allocation out of its annual communal fund.
For now, these grants are a one-time only deal, and if the fund continues next year, new projects will be selected. But Hoffman said he is looking forward to checking in with them in-person throughout the year to see how they grow and scale themselves in new ways.
“It was so great to see where the action is happening, maybe in places that we weren’t even cognizant that it was going on,” he added. “They’re the ones telling us where the community is going.”
One of those recipients Hoffman will check in with is Carly Zimmerman, CEO of Challah for Hunger, who is thrilled about receiving a grant and is eager to expand the organization outside college campuses.
“Challah for Hunger brings people together to bake and sell challah in an effort to raise money and awareness for social justice causes,” according to its mission statement. Half of the proceeds go toward MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, and the other half goes to local charities.
The nonprofit has almost 80 chapters across the country, primarily working with college students. Two of those chapters in Philadelphia are at Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania.
Thanks to the Innovation Fund, Zimmerman said she is now able to try to expand the programming to young families and people with disabilities.
“With the innovation grant, we are able to really begin to think about taking the step of what it means to operate beyond the college campus,” she said. “This grant allows us to now work with a larger demographic.”
She said Challah for Hunger is a fun and welcoming environment that’s open to volunteers anywhere along the religious spectrum. As a result, it creates an open space where people come together for a common cause, which is what Zimmerman said drives people to participate.
Zimmerman is excited about the new support from the Federation, and by the possibility that more diverse communities will be inspired to do similar work or join the nonprofit.
“It’s clear to me that” the Jewish Federation is “opening themselves up to learn about programs of all sizes and that are a little bit different,” she said. “We are a small team, we have a small budget, but I think we still make a pretty big impact.”
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