Cutting Edge Grants from the Jewish Community Foundation


The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles has named nine initiatives the recipients of its annual Cutting Edge Grants program, intended to support creative thinkers, social entrepreneurs and innovative organizations in the local Jewish community. 

This year’s winners will use the funds to assist underserved communities, support Jewish organizations embracing technology and explore new models of synagogue leadership. Each initiative will receive up to $250,000 over three years for a total of $1.85 million — a 23 percent increase from last year. Since 2006, the foundation has awarded more than $13.2 million to 72 initiatives.

The largest grant recipient this year — and the only one awarded the maximum amount — is the Jewish Los Angeles Special Needs Trust, the first pooled special needs trust in the county, according to foundation officials. Under the fiscal sponsorship of Bet Tzedek, the initiative’s founders will launch a new nonprofit that will allow families — many of whom would not otherwise have the financial means to create independent trusts to care for their loved ones with special needs — to buy into a collectively invested fund. That money would then be carefully managed in order to support these children later in life.  

The trust hopes to be in business within nine months under the leadership of founding board Chairman Sandor Samuels, a former CEO of Bet Tzedek, a nonprofit that provides free legal services to low-income individuals and families. Over the last few years, Bet Tzedek used funding from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to develop a business plan for the trust and to conduct a community-needs assessment. 

“We know there are potentially thousands of families that could benefit,” said Journal columnist Michelle K. Wolf, the trust’s founder and a special needs parent.

Another Cutting Edge Grant recipient is Custom and Craft (” target=”_blank”>haggadot.com. With a three-year $200,000 grant, Levinson will create a studio and media lab in Los Angeles to teach and assist Jewish organizations and individuals to improve their use of technology, design and social media. 

“A lot of what we are doing is based on the model of these YouTube networks. We want to train organizations to operate almost as online talent. Anybody who has a compelling voice can start their own YouTube channel or Instagram account,” Levinson said. “I want our most interesting Jewish organizations to learn how to do the same.”

In addition to consulting with organizations across the city, Custom and Craft’s studio will offer monthly public worships and drop-in sessions. 

The Shalom Hartman Institute of North America will receive $240,000 over three years to create learning modules to build bridges across Jewish constituencies and institutions, and the residential treatment center Beit T’Shuvah will use a $200,000 grant to develop the Elaine Breslow Institute for Jewish Clergy and Educators, which will train hundreds of Jewish educators to identify and support those suffering from addiction. 

Overall, this year’s winners each reflect a vision of innovation for the future of Jewish Los Angeles, according to Elana Wien, director of the Center for Designed Philanthropy at the Jewish Community Foundation. 

“These grants are designed to meet diverse Jewish participants where they are, using creative and innovative strategies to most effectively address their needs,” she said. “The potential is here to make Jewish life in Los Angeles more vibrant, inclusive and engaging for all Jews.”

The remaining Cutting Edge Grants were awarded to: Chai Lifeline, for an afterschool program for children affected by the illness or death of a parent or sibling; Federation, for a rabbinic fellowship program; Shalom Institute in Malibu, for an expanded internship program on its Shemesh Organic Farm; Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles and Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, to develop inter-congregational, neighborhood-based villages for elderly congregants who are interested in aging-in-place; and Theatre Dybbuk, to continue its arts education program.