An Israel advocacy mobile unit for college campuses. A community rabbi to cover the West San Fernando Valley. A series of cultural events to forge bonds between the Jewish communities of the East Valley. These are just a few of the innovative programs to be launched by grants from The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance.
Every year for the past 10 years, members of the Valley Alliance’s planning and allocation committee have met to decide the fate of proposals for their Incentive Regional Allocation (IRA) program. This year, the committee approved 13 of 15 projects, doling out a total of $82,360. The other two projects, Temple Aliyah’s Center for Spirituality and Temple Beth Haverim’s Family Shabbat in the Park, were asked to apply for synagogue grants instead.
"The IRA program enables the Valley Alliance to have sole control over some of the campaign funds and to help agencies and synagogues, in coalition with agencies, to do new and innovative programming, over and above their usual budget allocation," said Saundra Mandel, director of planning and allocations.
Rabbi Jordan Goldson, director of Hillel at California State University Northridge (CSUN), said he is thrilled. The committee not only approved the two projects he proposed but increased one grant by $1,100.
"We came to them with the proposal for the Israel advocacy mobile unit, and they found it so interesting they actually gave us more money than we asked for," Goldson said.
The mobile unit, which is being co-sponsored by American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), will have of an intern from CSUN Hillel, along with materials, to assist Jewish students at outlying campuses, such as Moorpark College and the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, to develop Israel advocacy programs.
"We found that when we put tables up here [at CSUN], students came out of the woodwork," Goldson said. "So we wanted to take our own experience and put it to use at campuses where they don’t have these kinds of resources. We hope to be able to present Israel in a positive light, as well as dispel some other the myths surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and also to encourage students to go visit Israel."
CSUN Hillel also received a grant for a second project, a kosher meal program that will include weekly hot lunches Monday through Thursday and a hot dinner one night a week. Each dinner will be preceded by a cooking class taught by Kohava Yosef, Hillel’s chef.
"The idea was to enable us to offer kosher meals to students at a comparable price to what they would pay on campus for a nonkosher meal," Goldson said. "Food is one of the best ways to get to the hearts of students.
"They’re not always interested in a lecture or a film about Israel, but if you offer a free pizza night, they’ll come. The other aspect is we do have an increasing number of observant students who go to CSUN and come to Hillel from time to time, and this will be a way to serve their needs," he said.
Another IRA grant will fund a project long a dream of Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.
"One of my charges when I came here two years ago was to revamp the chaplaincy program," Diamond said. "We’ve had rabbis visiting health-care institutions and prisons for the past 40 years.
"It’s a wonderful program, but it became clear to me we needed to reinvigorate it. We see the community rabbi as a way to bring Jews into the synagogue world and into The Federation, not to mention the mitzvah of being there for those who are ill or in nursing homes. This rabbi will touch people in powerful ways," he said.
Diamond said he envisions the community rabbi as a way of bridging the gap between synagogue members and the unaffiliated. The position will initially be part time and include both chaplaincy work with hospitals and nursing homes and work with synagogues creating bikkur cholim (visiting the sick) and other outreach programs.
The Board of Rabbis will work in conjunction with the West Valley Rabbinic Task Force to choose a candidate to serve the area west of the 405 Freeway. Diamond hopes to eventually expand the program to have community rabbis serving the East Valley and the city as well.
Cantor Ira S. Bigeleisen of Adat Ari El said he is looking forward to developing cooperative cultural programs with Temple Beth Hillel, Shaarey Zedek and other members of the East Valley Cross-Organizational Development team. The group received a grant of $5,000 to put together a series of four cultural events in the first joint programming effort by East Valley synagogues and organizations.
"The congregations on this end of the Valley are older and more used to running on our own rails," the cantor explained. "We’ve been so busy building our own communities [within the synagogue] that we haven’t worked together like people do in the West Valley or the Conejo Valley. So we decided the best way to come together was to share events."
Among the other projects approved for IRA grants were a children’s Jewish art contest and exhibition; Shabbat Across the Valley, a program for students at Pierce and Valley colleges; several programs serving teenagers, and a project to increase community awareness of domestic violence.
"At our board meeting, a number of members of the planning and allocation committee commented on the quality of the submissions this year and how pleased they were to see the breadth and the depth of them," Mandel said. "We’re happy to provide the seed money for these innovative programs."