Grants for Applying Jewish Wisdom to the COVID-19 Pandemic
The following recently funded projects find innovative ways to apply Jewish wisdom to the COVID-19 pandemic.
How might we record and preserve the experience of this unique moment in history so that future generations will be able to access and learn from it?
Historically, crises have been crucibles in which much of Judaism’s greatest wisdom has been forged. How we chronicle and tell the story of the Jewish community’s experience of the COVID-19 pandemic—as well as the Jewish community’s responses to it—will shape the very nature of Judaism that will emerge from it.
AJHS is collecting 36 oral histories from American Jews with diverse experiences of and perspectives on COVID-19 so that future generations will be able to tell a more full, nuanced story of the Jewish response. This project seeks to capture the fear, anxiety, and loss associated with the pandemic, as well as the hope, creativity, and innovation that this moment has inspired.
How might we learn from the past to address essential questions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic?
The spread of the novel coronavirus has shown that contemporary questions – Is it ethical to order a delivery? How do we honor our dead? What is God’s role in this crisis? – are part of larger, essential, enduring questions. Jewish wisdom accumulated over generations can help us respond.
How might we explore the liminal nature of the COVID-19 pandemic?
The In[HEIR]itance Project’s CYCLES initiative connects lived experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic to shared, inherited, Jewish stories like Noah’s emergence from the Ark, the Israelites exiting the parted sea, Solomon’s ring with the inscription “gam zeh ya’avor” (“this too shall pass”), Kohelet’s wisdom about turning seasons, and others. CYCLES uses these Jewish tales, along with texts and lore from other traditions and cultures, to explore the legacy of cycles and, particularly, transitions between one experience and the next.
CYCLES will devise virtual theater that responds to the present moment of pandemic and our coming emergence into the “new normal” by applying a unique, open-process approach that pairs shared inheritances with civic dialogue. In this COVID-19 moment, CYCLES leverages the uncertainty of liminality to imagine new worlds ahead
How might we transform the crisis posed by the COVID-19 pandemic into an opportunity for re-imagining the practices and institutions for the era that follows it?
The Institute for the Next Jewish Future is anchored in Judaism’s “wisdom of the wilderness.” The transition into new periods inevitably includes passage through a “wilderness”—chaotic, unstable, and scary, but also filled with opportunity—to open the gates to a new era of Jewish thought and practice. INJF embraces the wilderness as the most dynamic and creative “place” in Jewish history and myth, including the “digital wilderness,” and it seeks to apply Judaism’s deep wisdom about transforming itself to the current time of wandering.
Throughout the COVID-19 physical-distancing period and following it, INJF’s jewishLIVE aims to be a central portal to, and hub for, a vast array of digital Jewish experiences available on the internet. It also serves as a producer, co-producer (with partners), and curator of high-quality Jewish experiences, especially those specifically designed to convey Judaism’s wisdom of the wilderness and apply it to this period
How might we live with greater courage, resilience, and sacred purpose during the COVID-19 pandemic?
IJS offers a path for using Jewish practice to cultivate the inner life and sustain balance in order to respond to the current challenges with greater courage, resilience, and insight. IJS’s mindfulness-based approach to traditional and contemporary forms of Jewish practice helps provide the skills, experience, and community to apply Jewish wisdom and reconnect to ourselves and one another.
How might we find grounding, connection, and solace through the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Reconstructing Judaism’s Ritualwell is a vital hub for creative revisioning of Jewish ritual to aid spiritual nurturance. By creating, using, and sharing Jewish prayers, poetry, and practices, Ritualwell provides wisdom for healing and resilience..
In response to the challenges of the pandemic, Ritualwell will build its offerings to more deeply engage individuals and communities both as contributors of ritual, and as participants in virtual interpersonal offerings such as workshops, learning sessions, and meetings with rabbis.
How might we think about, and prepare for, the long-term psychological, religious, and philosophical implications of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Shalom Hartman Institute of North America is using its role as a premier convener and think tank on major questions facing Jewish life to investigate how the COVID-19 pandemic is raising questions and reshaping attitudes about community, citizenship, nationalism, democracy, interpersonal relationships, theology, spirituality, resource allocation, and more.
Shalom Hartman Institute of North America will feature COVID-inspired learning at its month-long summer learning program, bringing thought leadership and wisdom about the pandemic to hundreds of Jewish leaders. Then, in time for the High Holy Days, the Institute will publish a special issue of its new long-form journal featuring essays that address the ways in which the pandemic shapes Jewish life.
How might we address the growing ethical questions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic?
T’ruah’s group of rabbis, academics, and scholars will draw on classical Jewish texts, as well as historical information about what Jewish communities have done in times of crisis.
T’ruah will bring together a group of rabbis, academics, and others with strong text skills for a series of virtual “ethics hackathons,” in which they identify key ethical questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, research these questions off-line, and publish responses that members of the Jewish community can use to guide their actions.
Grants for Applied Jewish Wisdom
The following recently funded projects apply particular Jewish wisdom to universal human questions.
How might we help individuals and families discuss and plan for the end-of-life experience?
Jewish wisdom is suffused with the notion that understanding the fragility of life, contemplating and preparing for death, comforting and connecting with mourners, and not taking life and its blessings for granted can lead to a better, richer, more fulfilling life. Just as Jewish tradition teaches that a shomer / guardian accompanies the soul of the deceased between the time of death and burial, Shomer Collective seeks to accompany people on their end-of-life journey, to promote a positive experience suffused with Jewish meaning.
How might we reconcile after we’ve hurt someone, and how might we better build our capacity for moral accountability as partners, parents, friends, citizens, and humans?
Shuva draws on the Jewish wisdom of Deuteronomy 16:20, which implores us: “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” Shuva further delves into the hefty textual real estate in the Bible and Talmud devoted to laws of moral accountability, restitution, and rituals of atonement, as well as Maimonides’ canonical Laws of Teshuva.
Shuva will create a library of apologies, which will serve as a resource for anyone looking to explore the different ways that people have approached moral accountability and reconciliation. It will offer resources on crafting one’s own apology that will empower people to take accountability and to reconcile more skillfully in their personal and professional lives.
Which communal narratives can offer meaning to people in post-modern culture?
The narrative developed by Rabbi Yitz Greenberg (and presented in his forthcoming book, The Triumph of Life) is one steeped in a commitment to living Jewish values and mission. The J.J. Greenberg Institute will encourage both deep engagement in Jewish community and active participation in broader society for conscious, committed Jews.
In September 2020, JJGI became an integrated division of Hadar. Through teaching engagements, targeted fellowships, and dedicated cohorts of program participants, JJGI will engage educators and intellectuals to bring Rabbi Greenberg’s teachings to leaders and organizations throughout the Jewish community and into the next generation.
How might we learn from the massive experiment in online education due to the COVID-19 pandemic in ways that will inform better educational practices over the long run?
The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a massive realignment in the delivery of Jewish education. Almost overnight, schools, synagogues and other Jewish educational institutions moved their programming online, including countless hours of synchronous teaching of Jewish texts and topics. Suddenly, more American Jews are studying Jewish texts online than ever before. Diving deeply into the dynamics of teaching and learning in these settings is necessary for understanding best practices for synchronous online Jewish text study.
The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University is bringing together a group of scholars and practitioners to collaborate on a set of explorations that will focus on what happens when people across diverse life stages and settings study Jewish texts online.
How might we better mark important transitions in our lives?
The ancient ritual of mikveh allows us to step back, pause, and reflect on life’s many changes; and Mayyim Hayyim has been at the forefront of reimagining this ancient tradition so that people can apply it to a wide variety of life transitions they experience.
Mayyim Hayyim’s mikveh fellowship will enable rabbinic and cantorial students to enter their rabbinate with concrete tools for sharing creative and compelling ritual options with their communities. This six-month fellowship will begin with an immersive experience in person at Mayyim Hayyim, if possible, and online, if not, followed by subsequent learning experiences and mentorship opportunities. After going through Mayyim Hayyim’s mikveh fellowship, clergy will feel competent using mikveh as a central part of their pastoral toolkits.
How might our communities be places of dignity and belonging for all people?
Keshet grounds its education and training work in Jewish values of dignity and justice, and it pushes back against the ways that Jewish text and tradition have too often been weaponized against LGBTQ Jews. The organization teaches that LGBTQ Jews are not “others” to be marginalized by Jewish tradition, but owners and shapers of the Jewish tradition itself.
Keshet’s vision is full integration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Jews who span various races, ethnicities, ages, economic backgrounds, physical abilities, and political perspectives. Their work includes providing resources, skills training, and consulting expertise to support LGBTQ inclusion and equality in Jewish institutions across the country.
How might we engage more people, especially youth, in reflective social justice work?
Jewish texts and tradition offer ancient wisdom for addressing the unique challenges of this moment in history. The RAC will explore a diverse array of Jewish stories and teachings that offer insights that can be applied to the COVID-19 pandemic, racism, voter suppression, and other important issues today.
The RAC’s “Wisdom for a World Transformed: New Mediums, New Audiences” will create and expand access to social justice materials based on Jewish text and interpretations, with a particular eye toward curating content for use by teenagers and social justice advocates, on the issues of: civic engagement; racial equality, diversity, and inclusion (REDI); mental health for youth; and living in the reconfigured reality created by COVID-19.
How might we create educational opportunities that allow people of color to flourish and ensure that communal leadership is fully representative of the community?
Ammud draws from the tradition of living Judaism, holding the concepts of chavruta / pair-based learning, and ahavat ha’ger / loving and welcoming the stranger, at the center of the educational process.
Ammud provides Jewish education for Jews of Color (JOCs) by JOCs. Ammud exists to empower JOCs who often find themselves alienated or sidelined by racism in majority-white Jewish institutions, and to create space that celebrates marginalized customs and traditions, uncovers lost histories, and (re)builds culture.
The Dinner Party’s Finding What Feeds Us project draws from the deep well of Jewish wisdom surrounding grief, mourning, and community, including shiva, sheloshim, Kaddish, Yahrzeit, Tisha b’Av, Shabbat, and neshamah yeteira, an “extra soul” we welcome in through the breath. Participants delve into Jewish wisdom and explore longstanding practices, values, and beliefs, determining for themselves what speaks to them.
Together with a group of established spiritual leaders in the Jewish tradition and other faith and cultural traditions, The Dinner Party will create a guidebook elevating an array of rituals and practices that people throughout time have used to navigate loss and life after loss. They’ll commence a yearlong pilot program across the country with 10 Dinner Party tables whose members are explicitly interested in exploring the intersection between grief and spiritual practice. Hosts and participants from each table will pick practices to try out and reflect on during each of their bimonthly dinners, and their feedback will be incorporated into a revised guidebook to be shared with the wider Dinner Party community.
How might we support and guide families as they navigate the challenges and joys that arise as children enter their teenage years?
Moving Traditions’ framework is rooted in Jewish wisdom that gleans lessons from rabbinic literature, Musar, Hasidic sources, and contemporary Jewish feminist ritual and thought, while addressing questions of what it means to be a teen, how to create communities of radical inclusion, and how to build strong relationships between parents and teens.
Moving Traditions will hold a B’nai Mitzvah Family Education Convening to build on the learnings and success of Moving Traditions’ new model of family education, which integrates leading-edge approaches from the fields of adolescent and family development with Jewish wisdom and community and advances the field of Jewish family education in adolescence.
How might we help students connect (sometimes seemingly) esoteric content, including Jewish wisdom, to their day-to-day lives?
The Idea Institute applies the wisdom of na’aseh v’nishma (learning by doing) through project-based learning (PBL) — driven by student interests — to connect Jewish wisdom to real-world situations.
An institute in which day-school educators learn to use PBL in Jewish studies classes.
How might we make social-impact organizations great places to work?
Leading Edge applies the wisdom of cheshbon hanefesh (a spiritual accounting / an ongoing process of self-reflection) to help leaders reflect on — and improve — their organizations’ culture and ways of working.
Leading Edge’s offerings include dissemination of an annual employee engagement survey that asks Jewish organizations to think about how they have or have not been building a culture that enables all stakeholders to thrive.
Jewish Studio Project (co-led by one of this year’s Covenant Foundation Pomegranate Prize recipients, Rabbi Adina Allen) applies the wisdom of the opening chapters of Genesis, positing that the fundamental nature of the divine is to create, and that humans, made in the image of the divine, are therefore creators. It does so by integrating this insight with creative inquiry, rooted in Jewish learning, to manifest new ways of seeing and being.
A core curriculum that will help strengthen the capacities of social entrepreneurs by weaving Jewish wisdom into UpStart’s internal operations and programmatic offerings, as well as leveraging Jewish wisdom to teach entrepreneurs the foundations of nonprofit management.
How might young, life-long committed couples better navigate their lives together?
With a heavy focus on family life, the Jewish wisdom tradition contains many resources and tools—from ideas and values to rituals and traditions—for couples to draw on in their shared lives.
A core curriculum that will help strengthen the capacities of social entrepreneurs by weaving Jewish wisdom into UpStart’s internal operations and programmatic offerings, as well as leveraging Jewish wisdom to teach entrepreneurs the foundations of nonprofit management.
What steps must social-impact organizations take to become safe, respectful, and equitable workplaces for all of their stakeholders?
The Safety Respect Equity Coalition is founded on the ethical standards of Jewish tradition to address sexual harassment, sexism, and gender discrimination in Jewish workplaces and communal spaces. In our work with the Coalition, we’ll be bringing a particular focus on the development of Jewish approaches to justice, such as t’shuvah, for all involved.
The Coalition serves as a catalyst and a resource among Jewish institutions: to support, coordinate, and amplify change in individual organizations, as well as to accelerate a broader cultural shift. It will focus both on short-term field-building needs and on longer-term capacity-building and program development.
How do we translate deeply-held personal values into the public sphere and apply them to the task of creating the society in which we want to live?
The Jeremiah Fellowship contains both structured and unstructured opportunities for Fellows to explore “what is Jewish about justice,” as well as for Fellows to reflect on how their own Jewish and spiritual journeys have informed their commitment to social justice. The Fellowship curriculum uses a mix of traditional and contemporary Jewish texts, representing a diversity of identities, perspectives, and media—from songs to poetry to prayer.
Bend the Arc expanded its Jeremiah Fellowship to eight sites nationally in 2019 and will expand up to 13 additional cities in 2020. The Jeremiah Fellowship develops young leaders who can anchor and guide the development of the organization’s grassroots base, and centering the voices and work of young people in building Jewish power toward an inclusive, multiracial democracy.
In this era of increased identity politics, tribalization, and polarization, how might we support people to live fully integrated lives across their various identities and communities?
Dimensions‘ approach to Torah and broader areas of spirituality presents several Torah sources as tools to care for the soul/energy source, emotions, beliefs, mindset, and connection to the infinite that Jewish Women of Color (JWOC) are invited to integrate within their social justice activism.
Dimensions will build on its pilot JWOC Resilience Circle, which develops rooted social justice activism and emergent movement leadership across an intersectional community of women. JWOC retreats connect Jewish women leaders of color, leaders of color within the contemporary social justice movement, and non-people-of-color Jewish social justice leaders to prioritize their collective need for wellness, spirituality, and the capacity to engage in loving, restorative activism as an integrated practice for movement building.
How might we design pedagogy that makes wisdom more accessible and actionable for learners?
M2 will explore distinctively Jewish forms of pedagogy, including rituals that employ a particular pedagogy, such as the Seder, or theological commitments that find expression in pedagogic practice, such as tzimtzum.
M2 is embarking on a new program, The Jewish Pedagogies Project, which posits that there are, or may be, a set of distinct Jewish pedagogies or pedagogical concepts, although not necessarily particular to Jewish educational practice; and that naming, lifting, and articulating these pedagogies would be a service to educational practice. M2 will distill these pedagogies to interrogate how they have contributed to the success of Jewish education and explore how they can be employed in contemporary culture to better Jewish life and humanity at large.
How might we counter the trends of disconnection and loneliness that many young adults face?
OneTable uses the ritual of Shabbat dinner to gather people together. It also practices hachnasat orchim to nurture both the individual and the broader community.
OneTable will engage its hosts and guests in qualitative research to understand the issues of wellness and loneliness on a deeper level, and to uncover the impact of OneTable and Shabbat dinner on connection, community, and a sense of belonging among young adults. Based on the research findings, OneTable will develop and disseminate Jewish content specifically designed to increase a sense of belonging and combat isolation, as well as resources that enrich and enhance peer-led Shabbat dinners hosted on the onetable.org platform, to bring participants into a welcoming and inclusive Jewish community.
How might we foster a healthier relationship with the technology we use?
Let It Ripple is bringing the ritual and teachings of Shabbat—the importance of rest and renewal, joy (simcha), returning and reflecting (teshuvah), and realigning with our life’s purpose (kavanah)—into as many lives and homes as possible.
Building on its five years of experience producing global Character Day (which has scaled from 1,500 groups to over 200,000 groups), Let It Ripple has launched the Global Technology Shabbat Movement, a multi-dimensional campaign to encourage people to disengage from all screens from Friday evening to Saturday evening every week.
How can activists find and sustain wellbeing, spiritual connection, and energy for their work in these challenging times?
In Reset II: Jewish Resilience Practices for Social Justice Organizations, Reconstructiong Judaism will work with three to four organizations to help make regular Jewish spiritual practice sustainable. Organizational leaders and influencers will commit to and engage in Jewish spiritual practices that promote resilience; learn about organizational practices that support resilience; and pilot some of these practices in their organizational systems.
How might we make sophisticated ancient wisdom available and accessible to people and organizations seeking to address universal human questions?
This project will engage other grantee-partners in a partnership with Sefaria to explore and articulate the text-based Jewish wisdom that animates their various missions.
Expanding on a pilot partnership between Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah and Sefaria over the past year, Sefaria will work with 8-10 of the Foundation’s grantees to co-create Sefaria Sheets that highlight the Jewish wisdom being applied by each grantee, identify new textual connections between the grantees’ work and primary sources, and empower the grantees to become even better facilitators of Jewish learning and education using digital technology.
How might we respond to the climate crisis, guided by the unique and powerful insights that art and artists can provide?
Jewish thinkers and artists bring diverse sources of Jewish wisdom to bear on the climate crisis.
Living Under Water is a magazine that was produced in Venice in 2018 by a group of leading Jewish artists and thinkers striving to build a fresh frame for the climate crisis within Jewish tradition. Hazon will leverage this publication as an educational tool to energize the American Jewish community around climate issues and to provide a framework for empowering individuals, communities, and organizations to incorporate this wisdom into their daily actions.
How might we build a community that honors—and benefits from—the unique value and dignity of each of its members?
The JOCFBI grantmaking team will identify grant applicants that wish to incorporate Jewish wisdom into their programming and work with them to share their learning and reflections broadly to amplify their impact.
The JOCFBI is working to build and advance the professional, organizational, and communal field for Jews of Color. LKFLT’s support focuses on deepening the use of Jewish wisdom by JOCFBI’s grantees. The grantmaking portion of the Initiative provides opportunities to explore developing insights into how an emerging field navigates its research and communications strategies, leadership development work, and coalition-building efforts.
How can people join together to transform an increasingly fractured world and avoid becoming broken themselves?
JOIN currently teaches from a variety of Jewish wisdom sources to address every organizing question it encounters, but it seeks to use this grant to interrogate the available wisdom more deeply so that it may determine how it can meet the needs of organizers in today’s highly politicized and challenging environment.
This project will be part of a larger curriculum-building process that expands upon JOIN’s core focus on relational organizing, while exploring and expanding into areas defined by its strategic growth plan: (1) Jewish wisdom and spirituality; (2) movement building and other organizing models; (3) collective liberation and anti-oppression; and (4) resilience, self-care, and collective healing. It will inform all areas of JOIN’s programming.
How can social activists be the change they want to see in the world, living lives of dignity, courage, and compassion that reflect the social systems they are working to create?
The Kirva Institute draws on various Jewish spiritual technologies for personal transformation, particularly Mussar and Chassidic wisdom, to help people live holistic, integrated, meaningful lives; and it helps activists apply that wisdom to the task of creating the just and equitable organizations and societies Jewish tradition demands.
The Institute’s Inside Out Wisdom and Action (IOWA) Project works with cohorts of rabbis and Jewish educators to create spiritual communities of practitioners with the ability to integrate classic Jewish wisdom with their social justice work. LKFLT’s support will allow Kirva to offer and evaluate new programmatic elements designed to both strengthen the bonds among the practitioners and increase the likelihood of making positive impact in their communities.
How might we help people gain the knowledge and basic skills necessary to fight human trafficking, which touches industries with which we all engage?
Mitzvah Matzos draws on the Jewish insight that empathy can be cultivated by eating the food that our ancestors ate when they were slaves. It reimagines Passover matzo as a ritual tool for fighting modern-day slavery in the form of human trafficking.
Mitzvah Matzos will use LKFLT’s support to expand its educational reach by creating an anti-trafficking haggadah anddeveloping its curriculum to reach 1,000 people, as it introduces its soft matzo to buying clubs around the Northeast.
How might organizations support the holistic professional development of their staff and board members?
Moishe House’s Jewish educators offer all of the organization’s staff and board the opportunity to explore how Jewish wisdom can help them grow personally and professionally.
Moishe House offers one-on-one Jewish learning to all of its staff. With LKFLT’s support, it will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of this program to assess the impacts on the participants. It will also determine the value proposition of expanding such a model to other Jewish organizations.
How might we help people become more empathic, more able to tolerate contradiction, uncertainty, paradox, and ambiguity, and better able to engage with the complexities of the world in a nuanced and empowered manner?
SVARA has developed a unique pedagogy that allows Talmud to be learned directly from the original texts—even by students with only a basic aleph-bet Hebrew proficiency—allowing learners to cultivate a sense of radical empathy and shared responsibility for their learning partners, and an ability to hold and appreciate deep complexity, thus growing into a creativity, depth, and resilience which equip them for living in our challenging and changing world.
SVARA will develop the full curriculum and manual, as well as create two 2-day teacher training crash courses, for rabbis, rabbinical students, and Jewish educators who want to incorporate elements of the SVARA method into their teaching, as well as for those wishing to create grassroots SVARA-method batei midrash and bet midrash-centered communities.
How might we not only recover after climate disasters, but also build an even stronger, more resilient, and more climate-justice-focused community in the process?
This project is designed to build capacity for deep exploration of Jewish wisdom in a future partnership between Wilderness Torah and Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) Camp Newman.
Wilderness Torah and Camp Newman will spend a year exploring the joint partnership to strengthen earth-based Judaism programming as part of the rebuilding of URJ Camp Newman, which was destroyed in the October 2017 Tubbs Fire.
Social Justice Grants
The following recently funded projects support social justice in the American Jewish community, the United States, and around the world.
How might we work together to make the world a more just place?
The organizations in the Collaborative for Jewish Organizing strive to be guided by the values of Jewish tradition and history.
The Collaborative is nine organizations on the ground in 13 states and across the country joining together to collaborate, convene, share resources and thought partnership, seek support, and build programs that repair our broken world through advocacy, community organizing by ordinary Jews, and partnership with inter-faith and inter-ethnic communities who share core values.
How might we better support those working for social justice?
Jewish wisdom emphasizes the importance of building community to support and facilitate our highest priorities.
This project will identify and recommend viable and effective models for a Jewish social justice funders entity based on the interests of current and prospective funders in the Jewish social justice sector, the needs of the field, and an exploration and assessment of various models of funder entities.
How might we strengthen efforts around the world to create and maintain civil and just societies?
AJWS utilizes Jewish values, history, and social justice to inspire work for justice and offer a path forward during difficult times. This includes using wisdom from the holidays as well as tenets such as b’tzelem elohim (that all people are created in the divine image and worthy of respect) and tikkun olam (that repair of the world is a key element of existing in the world).
AJWS creates, sustains, and supports a movement of rabbis, Jewish leaders, and institutions that call upon Jewish teachings and text in their pursuit of global social justice.
New partners and projects are announced every quarter.
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