Jim Joseph Foundation awards $24 million in grants

The Jim Joseph Foundation is making major grants for teen education and programs for the outdoors as part of a planned $24 million in allocations.

The grants were announced earlier this month after the San Francisco-based organization’s winter meeting. Many of the programs to be funded involve education and Jewish identity-building programs.

Some of the biggest recipients include up to some $7.5 million set up to support programs focusing on Jewish outdoor, food and environmental education. The grantees include Hazon and Wilderness Torah.

A similar amount of money was set aside for teen initiatives, with up to approximately $3.2 million in matching funds allocated to support Jewish spring break experiences through the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, and up to some $4.2 million in matching funds going to the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles to support Jewish teen education programs.

Israel invites you to pedal with purpose, hike for hope

Three years ago, Betsy Diamant-Cohen had a double knee replacement. Once healed, the Baltimore resident got on a bicycle and slowly built up her strength to the point that she recently flew to Israel to participate in a cycling fundraiser for the Arava Institute and Hazon Israel Ride

The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies (arava.org) trains Jews and Arabs to be environmental leaders, and Hazon (hazon.org) is America’s largest Jewish environmental group. Diamant-Cohen, a 57-year-old literacy expert, said she decided to participate in the ride supporting the two organizations after her husband, Stuart, did so a year earlier. 

“He came home so enthusiastic that I decided I wanted to go with him this year,” she said. “We trained ahead of time by riding on weekends to build up endurance and muscles. But I kept reminding myself what I had been told: It’s a ride, not a race, so I didn’t push myself to exhaustion.” 

As the popularity of physically demanding fundraisers has grown dramatically in Israel during the past decade, so too has the number of participants over the age of 50, some of whom travel to Israel expressly to take part in the events.  

Diamant-Cohen said she took advantage of the option to sit out some of the tougher hills on the ride, thanks to the air-conditioned bus that accompanied the cyclists throughout their journey in southern Israel. The riders could enter the bus whenever they chose. 

“I’m proud of myself for completing the journey, exhilarated at having ridden downhill to the Arava desert, glad to have raised money for causes I believe in, and a deep sense of kinship with the other riders,” she said. 

Diamant-Cohen and her husband together raised a total of $11,395.

She said the fundraiser “allowed me to experience Israel in a way I have never experienced it before. I shared a unique experience with my husband, and I used the bike ride as an opportunity to come back to Israel to visit my friends and relatives.” 

Israel’s most successful sports fundraiser is Wheels of Love (alynride.org), the annual charity bike ride on behalf of ALYN Hospital, Israel’s only pediatric and adolescent rehabilitation center. Last month, 700 riders, including many from abroad, took part in the strenuous five-day ALYN bike ride, as well as shorter routes. This year’s event has so far raised $2.44 million “with money still coming in,” said Erez Ezrachi, director of Wheels of Love. 

Each participant commits to raising a minimum of $2,500, though many raise more than $5,000, and, as with other physically demanding events, must bring a doctor’s note certifying they are healthy enough to participate. They must also have health insurance. This year’s riders ranged from age 14 to 81, but Ezrachi said the average age of the participants was just over 50.

“Riders who have participated for years are getting older, so our average age is rising. But it’s also true that people in their 40s and 50s are more aware of their responsibility to the community, more philanthropic than their younger counterparts, and that’s who we tend to attract,” he said.

Thomas Shipley, 53, who lives in Demarest, N.J., raised a total of $22,000 during ALYN’s last two bike rides. He chose the most difficult on-road route: 350 miles, including the hilly Negev desert, from the great Ramon Crater to Eilat and then to the hospital in Jerusalem.  

As the cyclists reached the hospital’s finish line, “We were greeted by the staff and the volunteers dancing and singing,” Shipley recalled. “The children were beating drums. We couldn’t help but feel the emotion.” 

Mark Render, 62, is both a founder of and participant in the Hike for Hope, an event that has, over the past decade, raised more than $300,000 for Tsad Kadima (A Step Forward), a rehabilitation organization for children, adolescents and young adults with cerebral palsy and other motor dysfunctions. The annual event offers both extreme and newbie hikers a choice of routes. Several of the organization’s young beneficiaries participate in some of the hikes, often in wheelchairs. 

“We started with 10 hikers and now we have 45,” Render said. “We are a small but very motivated group and have a lot of fun on the hike together.” 

Render, a Jerusalemite whose daughter has cerebral palsy, said about 60 percent of the hikers are over 50. 

“Many are personal friends who come back year after year,” he said. “But aside from the personal connection, hiking is a physically challenging activity that brings a tremendous feeling of achievement and can be enjoyed well over the age of 50. Together with the younger hikers, we feel we make a difference in the kids’ lives.”

Andrew Eisen, 52, from Chestnut Ridge, N.Y., said his past participation in a fundraising walk for AKIM, an organization that serves intellectually disabled Israeli children and adults, and more recent participation in ALYN’s Wheels of Love, has given him “an emotional high.”

“It’s wonderful working together with so many for the good of Israel as a people, and physically it is wonderful to challenge myself in ways that I enjoy. Were it not dressed in the clothing of assisting others, I would not find the time to do it,” he said.

Eisen, who lived in Israel from 1997 to 2004, said traveling to Israel for a fundraiser presents only one problem: “I suffer each time I have to leave.” 

2015 fundraiser sampler:

  • Hike for Hope: March 11-12
  • Wheels of Love: Oct. 25-29
  • Arava Institute and Hazon Israel Ride: Oct. 27-Nov. 3

Behind social entrepreneurship, a surprising force

Five years ago, when I began to work for Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation, I met with a colleague who worked with early-stage nonprofit organizations that are creating new ways of involving people in Jewish community life.

How wonderful, I gushed, that there are all these people who felt outside of Jewish life and who are now trying out new approaches to Jewish engagement. “Dara,” my colleague stopped me to say, “these entrepreneurs aren’t outsiders. They are day school graduates and rabbis’ kids, and many are rabbis themselves.”

It was a surprising moment for me. Having spent several years disengaged from organized Jewish life myself, and seeing all sorts of opportunities to learn, engage and contribute that were often targeting the “unaffiliated,” I assumed that their creators were also communal outsiders. Stepping back, though, it’s not surprising that Jewish social entrepreneurs are connected to their religious communities. After all, why would someone innovate to enhance something they don’t strongly value?

So too, it turns out, are financial supporters of innovation — and the lesson applies to all kinds of religious communities, not just Jewish ones. Jumpstart’s new study, “Connected to Give: Risk and Relevance,” co-funded by the Lippman Kanfer Foundation, finds that “[t]he donors most willing to support an unproven organization generally are those who are most engaged in their religious communities. Highly connected donors generally are willing to contribute to new organizations that offer a different approach to addressing a persistent problem that has been difficult to solve.”

What sets religiously affiliated donors apart from others less willing to fund such innovation? Maybe because they are involved in Jewish life they know what they find most valuable in Judaism and want to find ways to share it with others. They experience gaps themselves, see where the gaps exist for their families and friends, and therefore provide support for promising responses. Affiliated donors are, perhaps, more willing to take risks because they can imagine, and sometimes experience firsthand, the reward.

For such donors, today’s group of innovative Jewish ventures can indeed provide myriad ways to enact and extend their Jewish values and sensibilities. Whether it’s practicing values of welcoming and applying the principle that all are created in the divine image (b’tzelem Elohim) by creating a more inclusive community with InterfaithFamily and Keshet (which works with and for LGBT Jews), or expanding opportunities for learning for its own sake (Torah Lishma) with innovative educational experiences such as Kevah (which creates lay-led religious learning circles) or project-based learning in Jewish day schools, or implementing the principle of reducing waste (bal tashchit) by supporting environmental activism and farming with Hazon (which advances healthy and sustainable communities) and the Jewish Farm School.

Supporting innovation itself embodies learning from practice: we do and then we understand (na’aseh v’nishma). When we experiment, success often doesn’t look exactly like what we anticipated. For both the donors and the organizations, experimenting is about exploring and learning together what is relevant for people, what makes their lives more meaningful, what helps to repair the world.

With religious affiliation as the engine that drives support for new ideas and approaches, we who work with innovators should be turning more often and more directly to those most deeply involved with Jewish organizations and causes. We should listen to how they talk about the gaps, opportunities and possibilities that call for important and promising innovations. Continuing to enlist more active partners in funding innovative endeavors will open new pathways for the connected and not-yet-connected alike, and will enrich Jewish life for all.

Dara Weinerman Steinberg is executive director of Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation and Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah.

Hazon and Isabella Freedman center merging

The Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center and Hazon are merging.

The New York-based nonprofits made the announcement Monday after discussing the merger since the beginning of the year. The new company will be called Hazon.

David Weisberg, the executive director of Isabella Freedman, will be the merged organization’s new CEO and Hazon founder Nigel Savage will serve as president.

Weisberg said the groups are joining forces to reach a broader audience. Both work on a national platform to impact the Jewish food and environmental movements.

“Hazon has had a huge impact on people's lives, has been at the forefront of reconnecting American Jews with the natural world, but has lacked its own physical base,” Weisberg said in a news release. “The merger is intended to bring more people to the existing Freedman site, and to enable us together to have a greater impact across the country.

“We're excited that the merged entity will have a wide range of programs, great staff and volunteers in California, Colorado and elsewhere, and the opportunity to grow strongly in the future.”

Hazon will have headquarters in Falls Village, Conn., and New York, along with the offices in Colorado and California. The Freedman center, which is part of the UJA-Federation of New York, will keep its name and be a sub-brand.

Other sub-brands will be Adamah, a farming program; the spiritual-based retreats Elat Chayyim; the Jew and the Carrot food blog; the Jewish Greening Fellowship; Makom Hadash, a support group; the Shmita Project, a joint venture of Hazon and the Jewish Farm School; Siach, an international Jewry program; and Teva, an environmental education program.

Savage said the merger reflects a growing interest in the food and the environment within the Jewish community, and the merger will aim to achieve a more “sustainable world.”

Riding across the U.S., Hazon bikers are spokespeople for food justice

Eleven Jews are pedaling—and peddling—their message across the country.

Joined by more than three dozen other bicyclists at segments along the way, participants in the Hazon Cross-USA Ride, a 10-week journey across America, are on a multifold mission.

They are bringing attention to the environment by powering their own transportation; calling for the government to make healthy food systems a priority by collecting signatures on a petition to be presented to the White House and U.S. Department of Agriculture; putting a spotlight on sustainable farming through talks with Jewish community groups; and meeting with farmers to learn firsthand about sustainable agriculture.

“This ride combines three of my major passions: Judaism, sustainable food and agriculture/environment and cycling,” said Adi Segal, 23, of Bergenfield, N.J. “So I can’t think of a better way to spend the summer than to raise money and awareness for this cause and by riding across the country for it.”

By the time the cyclists, who began their journey June 10 in Seattle, arrive in Washington, D.C., on Aug.  15, they will have visited 70 Jewish communities and participated in five community service days, including one with Missoula Free Cycle, a Montana group that repairs and donates bicycles.

The Hazon ride’s thrust on food systems and sustainable farming is part of a growing Jewish effort to focus on food justice, typically defined, says a Jewish community official, as “sharing our resources in an equitable way, whether in a neighborhood, in a country or globally.”

To Nigel Savage, Hazon’s executive director, food justice means not only ensuring that everyone has access to nutritional food. He says it’s also about “health, sustainability, local food, organic food, traditional issues around kashrut.”

“We also want to ask what would it look like if the highest Jewish standards were applied to food systems in North America,” Savage said.

Earlier this month, Hazon was among seven national Jewish groups that delivered a petition with nearly 19,000 signatures to the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Obama administration demanding a focus on food justice in the farm bill.

The U.S. Senate already has passed its version of the bill but did not include full funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides food stamps. Jewish organizations had pressed for funding. The House has yet to vote on its version of the bill but may make further cuts to SNAP.

Timi Gerson, director of advocacy for the American Jewish World Service, one of the seven groups to present the petition, says two external factors are driving the Jewish community’s growing attention to food justice. One is the national food justice movement; the other is the farm bill, which comes up once every five years.

The farm bill presents “an opportunity to change it” she said, referring to the nation’s food system. The Jewish community “for both historic and religious reasons has an interest in and ability to contribute to that conversation uniquely.”

Jewish tradition, Gerson says, “has something to say and to teach about ethical food practices and systems.”

Renna Khuner-Haber, a participant on the Hazon bike ride, also says the system is broken.

“I think we need to raise awareness about the actions we can take, and also what we can ask the local, state and federal government to do,” said Khuner-Haber, 26, of Seattle.

Participants visited Jubilee Farms in Carnation, Wash., on the ride’s first day and had a chance to meet organic farmers.

“We learned from them that it is a struggle to use farming practices that are outside of industrial agriculture and that they do it because it is important to do it,” said Rafi Rubin, 30, of Piedmont, Calif.

The cyclists also harvested artichokes—and were allowed to keep some.

“We actually went out and picked our own sustenance,” Rubin said. “It made me feel very connected to the source; it was very different than going to the store and buying an artichoke.”

Segal says one of the interesting aspects of the ride is the opportunity to meet people across the nation.

“People are blown away that we are doing this, and it provides a great platform to teach about the goals of this trip, the mission of Hazon and the greater sustainable food movement,” Segal said.

For Jeremy Brochin, 65, one of the best parts of the ride is the “greast sense of community.”

“It’s lovely to be part of a multigenerational community where everybody pitches in, and so whether you are 50 or 20 it doesn’t make any difference,” said the Philadelphian, who is participating on the trip’s first five weeks.

Virtual, viral fundraising brings real donations

Hoping to raise money for a three-day bike ride over Labor Day to benefit the Jewish environmental organization Hazon, Ariela Pelaia turned to her blog.

Pelaia, 26, thought she could find donors by raffling off books on her personal Web site, “>Facebook.com and