Funding the Future

In the past, the Jewish Community Foundation has used its grant-making powers to help senior citizens, Conejo Valley preschoolers, and teens traveling to Israel. Now it has announced a major initiative on behalf of Jewish college students on local campuses.

Marvin I. Schotland, the foundation’s president and CEO, notes that “roughly 25,000 Jewish students are currently attending colleges and universities in greater Los Angeles, and many of them are not Jewishly active.” The foundation’s hope is to change that picture, by way of an eight-year, $1.9 million Comprehensive Development Grant and an innovative partnership that will include Los Angeles Hillel Council (LAHC), the Shalom Nature Center, and Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC) of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Created byFederation in 1964, the foundation is a philanthropic agency with the power to allocate millions of dollars each year.

Its new College Campus Initiative, spearheaded by program director Susan Grinel, was launched because it is in college that young people generally form the attitudes that shape their adult lives. As the foundation’s Lewis Groner puts it, “The college audience is really a group that we can approach and access for the last time before they venture out beyond our borders and disperse into the world.”

The goal of the initiative is to connect these young Jews to the Jewish community through a range of attractive offerings that capitalize on their interest in hot topics like social action and the environment.

To implement its initiative, the foundation is looking to Hillel and its existing network of Jewish Campus Service Corps fellows. These are young men and women who work on campuses throughout the nation, encouraging Jewish students to get involved in Jewish activities. Eventually, fellows will operate at seven local universities.

The scope of the initiative does not stop here. Research shows that unaffiliated Jewish students tend to gravitate toward social activism and environmental causes. This is why the Shalom Nature Center and the JCRC have been brought aboard, to contribute quality programming in their areas of specialization.

The Shalom Nature Center, established with the Foundation’s help in 1999, is a brand-new adjunct of the Jewish Centers Association’s Shalom Institute Camp and Conference Center in Malibu. Beginning this September, the Nature Center will be able to hire two full-time Jewish educators to provide college students with hikes and other challenging outdoor activities. The $552,000 coming from the Jewish Community Foundation will also fund campus lectures on such topics as “Environmental Issues in Israel,” “Jewish Perspectives on Genetic Engineering,” and even “The Influence of Hollywood on Our Fear of Nature.”

Bill Kaplan, Shalom Institute executive director, points out that “most of the world’s environmental leaders are Jewish. But a lot of people don’t know that love of nature is a strong ethic in the Jewish tradition.”

JCRC executive director Michael Hirschfeld looks forward to introducing college students to social action projects from a Jewish perspective.

The JCRC will receive $255,000 to help hook college students on meaningful social service and public policy activities. Hirschfeld acknowledges that today’s students possibly may not be as public-spirited as his own generation was. He says, “I want to think that politics and social action are still interesting to young people. We’ll soon find out if I’m right or wrong.”

Eitan Ginsburg, acting executive director of Los Angeles Hillel Council, is delighted by the magnitude and scope of the Foundation’s investment in college students. He makes clear that “we want to sustain this over the long term, not only the eight-year duration of the grant.”

As time passes, he predicts that other subject areas will be explored, with special programming for Jewish students interested in sports, the arts, and the Greek scene. Ginsburg notes that Hillel has learned over the past decade that “one size doesn’t fit all. We don’t try to program one single activity that’s going to attract every student.” He suspects “there’re probably things we haven’t thought of, that the students will think of. If we do less talking and more listening, the students will tell us what they want.”