Sukkot is a time of gathering. Family and friends gather in temporary huts outside to mark the fall harvest and the time the Israelites spent wandering through the desert. I used to take for granted the fact that we could gather in person to celebrate Sukkot and other holidays. After the Covid pandemic, this is no longer the case. Simply being able to come together as a community is now something to be thankful for.
The temporary huts, the sukkot themselves, are a symbol of impermanence. This holiday more than any other reminds us that everything that we have in life is ephemeral. One strong gust of wind, one virus, one bad investment can change everything. This is of course deeply relevant to our shared work fighting poverty. According to the Pew Research Center’s 2020 survey of Jewish Americans, 17 percent of Jews are either just barely meeting or are not able to meet basic expenses, meaning they are one bad event away from everything falling apart.
As we sit in our sukkot this fall, let us renew our dedication to help those who most need a solid dwelling, a good meal, and a regular paycheck. Alleviating poverty is not an easy task, and often we do not get to see immediate results. But this work is meaningful and necessary. As Pirkei Avot teaches: Lo alecha ham'lacha ligmor, V'lo ata ben chorim l'hibatil mimena - It is not your duty to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
Thankfully this year we are free to gather again and can continue to support each other. I look forward to seeing many of you in person at the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in Chicago in October and the Hillel International Global Assembly in Dallas in December. Please join our Poverty Affinity Group sessions and gatherings at both. We can’t wait to be with you in person again! You will also want to attend an upcoming webinar on Israel's new disabilities law and to read this newsletter's "Bright Spot" feature on how Footsteps helps formerly ultra-Orthodox Jews get out of poverty, as well as articles about the Jewish aspects of anti-poverty work, free consulting on climate-related philanthropy, a call for proposals, and more!
May you and your loved ones be able to gather this Sukkot and enjoy this time of our rejoicing.
Rabbi Rebecca W. Sirbu
Executive Vice President
Jewish Funders Network
Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) General Assembly
Chicago: Sunday, October 30–Tuesday, November 1
The Affinity Group will be partnering with JFNA on two sessions. For questions, email Jessica Mehlman.
Community is an Intervention: Promoting Youth & Young Adult Well-Being and Mental Health in the Jewish Community
Sunday, 4:45 – 6:15 p.m.
The Jewish community is not immune to the youth mental health crisis. While today’s teens and young adults may be more apt to talk about their challenges, persistent myths and stereotypes undermine their ability to get the support they need. In this session, moderated by Susan Ditkoff of The Bridgespan Group, we’ll examine the systemic causes that have accelerated mental health challenges and their inequitable impact. We will also highlight promising community-driven responses and evidence-based practices that Federations, organizations, and individuals can adopt to promote youth well-being. Speakers include Alex Roth Kahn of UJA-Federation of New York; Drew Fidler of the BBYO Center for Adolescent Wellness, and Ami Altzman of Keshet.
Deep Dive Convening Around Jewish Poverty Data
Tuesday, 8:30–11:30 a.m.
JFNA and The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation are working with 13 Federations to collect better data on poverty in the Jewish community. Join us as we share learnings from the demographic studies to date and discuss how communities are using, or are planning to use, the data. Speakers include Benjamin Mann of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, N.J., Karen Galin of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, and Heidi Gantwerk of Jewish Federation of San Diego County.
Hillel International Global Assembly
Dallas: Monday, December 12 – Tuesday, December 13
Hillel International Global Assembly (HIGA) is a venue for Hillel’s volunteer leaders and supporters to connect with each other and with Hillel’s professional leadership. All attendees of the Affinity Group’s convening are welcome to register for the HIGA program in its entirety, which will highlight themes of poverty and food insecurity throughout the program. More details will be released closer to the event. Email questions about the Affinity group's session to Tamar Frydman.
Poverty on Campus
Tuesday, December 13, 2-5 p.m.
While most American Jewish college students are middle or upper-middle class, a sizable minority, many of them the first generation in their family to attend college, struggle financially during their years on campus. This is particularly true at commuter schools like the City University of New York system where, a 2019 UJA-Federation of New York study found, that fully half of the Jewish students experienced food insecurity. In this convening, we’ll explore how Hillel and other Jewish organizations can better engage and serve financially vulnerable Jewish students. We’ll hear from Jewish students and professionals with lived experience of poverty and learn from funders and practitioners about several approaches being piloted at different campuses.
Jewish Funders Network International Conference
Phoenix: March 19-21, 2023
JFN’s International Conference is the premier event in Jewish philanthropy and where you'll find the ideas, skills -- and most importantly -- people that will make your philanthropy even more effective. The conference, open to JFN members and those eligible for membership, will feature a wide range of programming, including around issues of poverty. Registration will open in December.
Ensuring Israelis with Disabilities Can Obtain and Retain Employment
Wednesday, October 26, 12–1 p.m. ET
(9–10 a.m. PT)
The Knesset recently passed the groundbreaking "Social Services Law for People with Disabilities," which aims to improve the lives of people with disabilities in a variety of ways. Among its many other benefits, the new law will open the door for increased employment and job training opportunities for people with disabilities and will create new opportunities for funders to engage in this field in innovative ways. Speakers include Ayala Davidowitz of the Joint Distribution Committee, Orly Fruchter of the Azrieli Foundation, Reuben D. Rotman of the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies, Erin Riehle of Project Search, and JFN member Jennifer Mizrahi of the Mizrahi Family Charitable Fund.
Open to JFN members and those eligible for JFN membership.
Footsteps Toward Financial Empowerment
Footsteps member Sarah Rosenberg at her graduation. (Photo courtesy of Footsteps)
Jews leaving New York’s ultra-Orthodox, or haredi, communities face a wide range of challenges, including culture shock, the risk of losing custody of children, ostracism – and in some cases even the need to learn English as a second language. But one of the greatest, and most immediate, challenges is financial. According to Footsteps, an organization providing comprehensive services to this population, more than 95 percent of its clients are in poverty upon leaving, or soon after leaving, the haredi community.
Many struggled with poverty even before leaving the haredi world, where, as a recent New York Times investigation highlighted, schools offer extremely limited secular education, particularly for boys. Lacking math, writing, and other skills, many if not most graduates of these schools are unprepared for jobs outside the community. Meanwhile, even those who were not in poverty when they were haredi, are often fired from jobs at haredi-owned businesses or institutions or evicted from apartments when they come out, or are outed, as no longer observant. In addition, because haredi Jews marry and start families young, by the time people decide to leave the community they often have several children to support.
Footsteps, which served 1,300 people last year, is best known for offering support groups, counseling, and a community for Jews leaving the haredi world. However, helping people overcome poverty is a major part of its work. At the center of this is education: providing advice, mentorship, internships, and scholarships (awarding $500,000 in scholarships annually) to enable people to overcome the shortcomings in their secular education and pursue college or vocational training.
Footsteps celebrates all member successes — from someone living on their own for the first time or choosing a hairstyle that feels authentic to who they are to academic and professional wins. Multiple people came to Footsteps without a high school diploma and went on to win Fulbright fellowships, and one Footsteps member is currently training to be a rocket scientist. But poverty often gets in the way of success, which is why Footsteps has expanded beyond education and job training.
It also offers other social services, such as help applying for government benefits, in-house, and trains lawyers, crisis counselors, therapists, and other social service providers in “cultural competency” for formerly haredi Jews. In the past nine months, it has provided this training to 239 people in 13 different organizations.
During Covid, Footsteps dramatically increased the amount of emergency cash assistance it provided, allocating $380,000 to 173 people for this purpose between March 2020 and April 2022. Most of those funds have gone toward housing. Now, the organization is exploring ways to expand its housing assistance for individuals in the early stages of transitioning from haredi life to the mainstream world.
“Without stable housing, it’s hard to go to school and find a job and do all the things you need to do to move out of poverty,” explained Chani Getter, Footsteps’ scholar in residence.
"I am often asked about the 'Jewish' in Jewish poverty," writes Jon Hornstein, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation's lead for the Affinity Group. "What is Jewish about anti-poverty work? Why is it important to focus on providing direct services within the Jewish community to complement broader efforts? And what might the Jewish nonprofit sector contribute to the fight against poverty in the United States and beyond?" Get answers to these questions in Jon's blog post.
Weinberg's anti-poverty work goes well beyond the Jewish community, as noted in a recent Inside Philanthropy article about the foundation's anti-poverty grantmaking in Baltimore, where it allocates $30 million annually. In the article, Aaron Merki, chief program officer at Weinberg explains that it is "not just writing checks to high-quality organizations, which we still do sometimes, and that’s very meaningful work, but actually deeply researching and defining problems because we want to help move the needle in a community.”
Whether disproportionately impacted by pollution or uprooted from their homes in disasters exacerbated by climate change, people living in poverty are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the global environmental crisis. If you'd like to incorporate climate change work into your anti-poverty philanthropy, you can sign up for free consulting sessions with Gil Ya'acov, program manager of JFN's Green Funders Forum, a peer network that seeks to bring the climate crisis and sustainability issues to the forefront of the philanthropic community. Consultations are limited to JFN members and those eligible for membership.
Gil has advised leading philanthropic foundations, including Yad Hanadiv, The Ruderman Family Foundation, The Sheli Fund, The Stein Family Fund, and others, helping create philanthropic strategies for impacting Israel's environment. He is able to advise funders working in Israel, North America, and beyond. Gil has served as founder, director, and board member of leading environmental organizations in Israel over the past 20 years and was chosen as one of the 100 most influential people in Israel by Israel's The Marker Magazine in 2018, for his role as the founder and executive director of 15 Minutes: Public Transit Alliance in Israel. To schedule a consulting session, email Gil Ya'acov.
The Jewish Foundation for Education of Women (JFEW), a private philanthropy that helps women of all backgrounds meet their educational and career goals, seeks proposals for research and advocacy projects that will address the needs of Jewish college students from low-income and working-class backgrounds, as well as middle-income families facing financial challenges. The foundation's goal is to support research that will help colleges, universities, Jewish communal organizations, student groups, and other stakeholders improve college completion rates for Jewish students with financial needs. Grants will be given to support: 1) research regarding financial need among Jewish college students at two and four-year institutions; and 2) advocacy campaigns intended to improve college access, persistence, and completion for this demographic, based on evidence from existing literature and research in the field. Up to $150,000 will be distributed for this grant cycle.
Explore the library of Affinity Group videos, on this playlist on JFN's YouTube channel. For a more focused experience, check out the following Affinity Group playlists:
- Our "Success Factors" series includes videos on "Engaging People with Lived Experiences" and "Best Practices Addressing Jewish Poverty in Small Towns."
- Our Covid briefing series includes videos on "The Intersection of Government and Philanthropy in Addressing Jewish Poverty" and "How the Pandemic is Impacting Jews of Color."
Your one-stop shop for all Affinity Group videos, briefing papers, newsletters, and other materials. www.jfunders.org/affinity
The JFN Grantmaking Professionals Exchange aims to strengthen relationships and enhance strategic, technical, and Jewish learning among professionals across the field of Jewish community philanthropy. The Exchange is managed in partnership with Third Plateau Social Impact Strategies. Offerings include monthly online convenings, mentor matching, a new group for small-staffed foundations, and peer learning groups.
—From the Field—
These Job-Training Programs Work, and May Show Others the Way
(The New York Times, October 3)
The White House Wants to End Hunger by 2030. Here’s What It Means for Nonprofits.
(Chronicle of Philanthropy, September 26)
How to Fix Food Supply Chains? Make Them More Local
(Bloomberg, August 16)
This Nonprofit Is Showing How Rigorous Data Analysis Can Dramatically Curb Youth Homelessness
(Geek Wire, August 11)
How an NYC Nonprofit Is Redesigning Food Pantries
(Foodtank], August 1)
Founded in 2019 and coordinated by Jewish Funders Network and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, the National Affinity Group on Jewish Poverty is a collaborative of funders, Jewish Federations, direct service providers, researchers, media outlets, and advocates dedicated to fighting poverty in the American Jewish community. Learn more here.