National Affinity Group on Jewish Poverty October 2020


Dear Friend,

Shana tova! I hope your holidays have been meaningful and joyous so far, despite the limitations imposed by Covid-19. I also hope that you were able to take some time to recharge over the summer (which already seems so long ago). Our work to end Jewish poverty and address the many hardships this pandemic has caused is a marathon, not a sprint, so self-care is critical!

I’m thrilled to share that the affinity group will be reconvening (albeit virtually) at the Jewish Federation of North America’s General Assembly on October 26-27. On Monday, October 26, the affinity group will be leading a session about the importance of place-based initiatives to combat poverty. And on Tuesday, October 27, at the GA's FedLab, we will be helping to facilitate an intensive four-hour session where community teams will strategize their local poverty responses. The GA is open to all, but the FedLab session is by invitation only. Please encourage your local Federation to participate and to bring a team. 

Below, you’ll also learn about our upcoming webinar with Affinity Group member Dana Gold of JFCS Pittsburgh, who has created a powerful new tool to raise awareness about poverty; the 11 communities selected for the second cohort of the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies’ Poverty Challenge; and how a member of the first cohort, Jewish Family Services of Columbus, is using technology to better serve its clients.

Please let me know if you have any questions about or suggestions for the affinity group or if you have a "bright spot" to share. We are here to serve you and want to be sure we are meeting your needs.

Wishing you a joyous rest of Sukkot. Let’s hope 5781 is a happier and healthier year than its predecessor!


Deena K. Fuchs
Executive Vice President
Jewish Funders Network
[email protected]

—Save the Date—

What Would You Do? "Broke: The Game" 

(Thursday, October 22, 1:30 pm, ET)

Join the National Affinity Group on Jewish Poverty, and Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies, for a special program to learn about a groundbreaking new game that educates people about the realities of poverty in the United States.

Created by Dana Gold, Chief Operating Officer of JFCS Pittsburgh "Broke: The Game" simulates the stress and difficulty of attempting to overcome poverty. With a simple setup, this game forces players to challenge their preconceived ideas about poverty and those experiencing it. Hear from Gold about why she was inspired to create this game. Colleagues and funders will then share their impressions of the game after playing. In addition to Gold, speakers include Reuben Rotman, President and CEO of the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies.


All Hands on Deck: Community Collaboration in the Fight Against Poverty During Covid and Beyond 

(Monday, October 26, 3:30-4:30 pm ET)

In this session at the Jewish Federation of North America's General Assembly, Tipping Point CEO Sam Cobbs discusses community-based anti-poverty efforts with Sarah Abramson, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Impact at Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston. To RSVP, register for the GA here.

FedLab Session Addressing Jewish Poverty

(Tuesday, October 27, 12-4:30 pm, ET)

This special track at the GA is by invitation-only. See more details in the news item below.

—Our Work—

FedLab Meeting: Building a Community Poverty Strategy in the Covid-19 Era and Beyond

At last year’s FedLab Conference, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), in partnership with the National Affinity Group on Jewish Poverty, put Federations’ role in human services, and particularly poverty, front and center on the Jewish community’s agenda. The Covid-19 crisis has upped the ante, leading to burgeoning human service needs across our communities. Now is the time to reimagine how our communities can help our most vulnerable. What would a holistic, integrated, and client-centered communal response to Jewish poverty look like? How can we develop place-based strategies to address both existing needs and new ones that have emerged due to the pandemic? What are the key components necessary for success? What tools do we need and how are they honed? Who needs to be at the table, and what partnerships do we need to build? What do we need to know, and how can we best learn? Join us as we unpack those key components and then work in diverse, local coalitions of leaders to take the work of fighting poverty from concept to reality. This session, on Tuesday, October 27 from 12-4:30 pm ET, will be attended by teams of local Federation staff, agency leaders, funders, and selected other participants. If you would like to participate, please reach out to your local Federation or email [email protected].

11 Communities Selected for Poverty Challenge

The Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies recently chose 11 agencies to participate in Year Two of its Jewish Poverty Challenge. The goal of the program is to help NJHSA member agencies better analyze the marketplace, launch and manage solutions, and implement sustainable measures for success to address the many dynamics associated with responding to Jewish poverty.

NJHSA has partnered with Start Co., a venture development consultancy firm with an expertise in launching startup, entrepreneurial initiatives and engaging municipalities, corporations and nonprofits in poverty reduction responses, to work with Jewish Community Service Baltimore; Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis; Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay; Jewish Family Service of Atlantic & Cape May Counties; Jewish Family Service Cincinnati; Jewish Family Service Colorado; Jewish Family Services Northeastern New York; Jewish Family Service Orange County, NY; Jewish Family Service San Diego; Jewish Family Service Vancouver, BC; and Jewish Family Service Western MA.

The team at Start Co will provide expert consultation assistance as these agencies rethink and redesign products and services, adjusting assumptions and organization models, while paying special attention to the impact of Covid-19 on service delivery methods.

Reuben Rotman, President & CEO of the Network added that “The COVID-19 pandemic has even further heightened the critical need for innovative solutions to the challenges of Jewish Poverty. With newly vulnerable clients reaching out for assistance in unprecedented frequency, the agencies are challenged to identify new ways of working and new efforts to achieve sustainable solutions for those in need.”

Learn about one of the Year 1 participants in the “Bright Spot” feature below.

—Bright Spot—

Social Services Online and On-Demand

When Covid lockdowns began in March, most nonprofits had to scramble to move programming and services from in-person to online. For Jewish Family Services of Columbus, however, the pandemic came at an opportune moment: just as it was about to pilot an ambitious digital project to create a digital portal. JFS’ effort to move critical services online quickly kicked into high gear shifting “from a small working group putting Post-It notes on the wall to everyone in the agency experimenting and creating new virtual content and services,” Karen Mozenter, CEO of the Ohio agency explained.

The digital portal project was one of three innovations selected for the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies’ 2019 Jewish Poverty Challenge Intensive Incubation Program (see above for information on the 2020 projects), all of which underwent a six-month entrepreneurship building and planning process. The consultants “gave us a process to follow and helped us map out efficiencies,” said Melissa Starr, JFS’s Director of Strategy and Partnerships.

The project was initially designed not with lockdown in mind, but in an effort to make services accessible and available on-demand for low-income clients who can’t easily travel to the office or aren’t free during business hours. “It’s so hard for people to access services when they’re experiencing poverty,” Mozenter said. “So many of our clients work multiple jobs, often as part of the gig economy, and are still in poverty.”

Even before Covid, JFS had already moved some of its services online – offering some virtual support groups and some career coaching via text-messaging. But now, it is offering much more, including shifting its initial intake process online, enabling it to more efficiently and quickly connect clients to needed services, such as referrals to food pantries. And it is also doing more to help clients, particularly seniors and low-income parents, obtain free or reduced-cost Wi-Fi and devices, and get the tech training they need. In addition to tele-counseling and support groups, the virtual programs now also include job-search groups, a series of free community workshops on career and mental health topics, and a variety of social activities, including a movie-watching club and a yoga class, for seniors.

After creating an array of new virtual content and services, JFS hopes to move to the next phase: building out the technology infrastructure so these services are available on-demand to all clients. - “We have spent the last couple of months building content in a way we hadn’t before,” Starr explained. “Now we’re looking to wrap it all into one package.” The agency plans to license the underlying technology to local and national partners, to create a sustainable revenue stream and increase the opportunities for collaboration and impact. To learn more about JFS of Columbus’ digital portal, email Karen Mozenter.


Webinars and More

Since March, we've held seven briefings on how Covid-19 is impacting Jews living in poverty and the organizations that serve them. We have been hearing the needs from the service providers on the ground supporting our front lines, sharing best practices and information, and strategizing on ways to respond collectively. Each webinar features key leaders and focuses on particular needs, aligned to our working groups. The most recent, in August, focused on the challenges facing low-income Jewish college students. The entire series is available in a playlist on JFN’s YouTube channel, JFN’s Facebook page, JFN’s Covid-19 Response site, and on the National Affinity Group for Jewish Poverty section of the JFN site.

—Special Request—

Help Us Get the Word Out

Public relations and communications can seem like a luxury for human service groups at times like these. However, to ensure that we secure much-needed resources, it is vitally important that all of us keep getting the word out about our work. Please help us amplify each other's work by sharing your organization’s Twitter and Facebook handles with us, and following our new Twitter list. Also, be sure that you follow Jewish Funders Network (@jfunders) and the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation (@hjweinbergfdn) on Twitter and Facebook. And don’t forget to email us your news, especially “bright spots” so we can feature them in this newsletter and elsewhere.

—From the Field—

U.S. Faces Shortage of Up to 8 Billion Meals in Next 12 Months, Leading Food Bank Says (Washington Post, October 2)

Elderly and Homeless: America's Next Housing Crisis (New York Times, September 30)

Among Jews, the Young and Highly Educated Bear COVID’s Emotional and Economic Toll (Forward, September 24)

Ignoring Jewish Poverty Is a Sin We Can’t Afford (Forward, September 24)

Poverty Groups Brace for Influx of Need as Extra Unemployment Benefits Expire (Yahoo! Money, September 18)

A Funder-Backed Project Explores Why Covid-19 Adversely Impacts Low-Wage Workers (Inside Philanthropy, September 10)

Amid Layoffs and Funder Bailouts, the Jewish Nonprofit World Is Fearing 2021 (Jewish Insider, September 9)

Meet the 86-Year-Old Jewish Volunteer Running a Food Bank on the Outskirts of America (JTA, September 8)

Masbia Announces New Tech Support Hotline for Breadline Modernization (Jewish Press, September 3)

Be sure to check out the collection of articles we published last year in partnership with eJewish Philanthropy. 

Founded in 2019, 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.