For 20 years, the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago has helped spark Jewish identity across the spectrum of religious practice in Israel -- and this year is no exception.
In March, JUF allocated $300,000 to programs supporting a diverse approach to religious practice in Israel.
These grants fund projects of the Progressive (Reform) and Masorti (Conservative) movements, which received $100,000 each -- plus another $100,000 for Modern Orthodox, non-denominational and Jewish Renewal programs that promote religious pluralism.
Since 1998, JUF has been allocating funds to religious movements in Israel. These grants fuel innovative programs that help participants learn about Judaism, explore different spiritual expressions through the religious movements, connect with fellow Israelis from diverse backgrounds, and navigate religious bureaucracy.
This year, allocations were made to 18 programs offered by 10 different organizations in Israel, half of which are continuing programs and half of which are new* requests.
"Over the last two decades, JUF has allocated more than $6 million to diverse religious movements in Israel, supporting their important work to promote pluralism and inclusion," said Marcie Hemmelstein, chair of JUF's Israel & Overseas Commission.
Of note this year is the success of the Chibbuk (Hebrew for Hug) program that strengthens Jewish identity during early childhood in JUF's Partnership Together region in Kiryat Gat. "The municipality of Kiryat Gat saw what a positive impact the Chibbuk program was making in the four Conservative-affiliated TALI schools, and expanded to 11 additional, non-TALI, public schools," said Hemmelstein. "JUF saw the promise of this program three years ago and now, through a ripple effect, the city of Kiryat Gat is using its own funds to expand the program even further."
Also noteworthy is Yad L'Isha Legal Aid Center and Helpline, a program that offers legal advice and counsel for agunot -- the Hebrew term for "chained" women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce, which according to Jewish law must be given by the man. "For all Israelis, no matter their level of observance, all matters of personal status -- including divorce -- go through their respective religious courts," Hemmelstein said. "This program helps women whose husbands have refused to give them a divorce, sometimes for years, navigate the religious courts and liberate themselves from intractable situations."
The following programs, organized according to religious movement, received JUF funding for 2018:
Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ)
L'Chaim One-Stop Center for Lifecycle Events and Holidays : Lifecycle programs and services, including materials for homes and congregations.
*Noar Telem : IMPJ's youth movement. Year-round programming and summer camp for high school students, focused on cultivating leadership skills.
*Tlamim Young Adult Leadership Program : Connects modern Israelis, ages 21-35, with their Jewish roots through prayer, study, social events, retreats, leadership training and community service.
*Community Rabbi Enhancement Program : Provides Masorti rabbis additional training, continuing education, professional networking and strengthens their leadership skills.
*Youth Leadership Training Program : Aimed at high school students active in NOAM-the Masorti youth movement-this program fosters a love for Judaism and nurtures future leaders.
*Netaim Inclusion of Teens with Disabilities in NOAM Youth : Helps 190 teens with physical, emotional and learning disabilities participate in NOAM programs and summer camp.
Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies
TALI Gan in Kiryat Gat : The Chibbuk (Hebrew for Hug) program that helps bolster Jewish identity during early childhood. The program, for families in Kiryat Gat, engages parents in their children's Jewish education and helps create meaningful parent-child moments.
Torah L'Shma : Intensive, non-academic study opportunity in a Beit Midrash (learning) atmosphere, designed for men and women of all religious backgrounds and levels of observance.
Neve Schechter 70 Voices : Arts program bringing together diverse professional Jewish musicians for study and performance.
Mishlei-Maccabi Center for Leadership : Two tracks of a master's program-Mishlei, for 21- to 40-year-olds working in Jewish Renewal programs; and Maccabi, for 30- to 45-year-old community center workers and community activists.
Yaacov Herzog Center : (The Center, affiliated with the religious kibbutz movement and located in JUF's Partnership Together Region, runs programs for students throughout southern Israel.)
Beit Midrash for Students in the South : This program strengthens Jewish identity among university students through pluralistic Jewish study.
Midreshet Torah and Avoda : Aimed at students ages 16 to 18, this program uses seminars and field trips to foster diversity awareness through Jewish education.
Tikun Leil Shavuot : Traditional all-night Shavuot study program under Orthodox auspices for Israelis of varied observance levels, with 8,500 participants in more than 20 locations.
Ohr Torah Stone
*Yad L'Isha Legal Aid Center and Helpline : Program that helps agunot (women whose husbands will not grant them a divorce) by offering them legal advice and representation in religious court.
Ne'emanei Torah Avodah
*Transparency in Religious Funding and Schools : A watchdog program to maintain equal distribution of funding for schools in the more moderate religious Zionist community.
*Advocacy Center : Provides direct service to assist individuals denied recognition by Jewish religious authorities; operates an alternative, modern Orthodox conversion court; promotes and advocates for religious equality in the Knesset, the courts and the Chief Rabbinate.
Yeshivat BINA Be'er Sheva
A secular yeshiva (seminary) in Be'er Sheva providing an opportunity for secular Israelis to study Jewish texts in an open environment.
Beit Tefila Yisraeli
*The Grand Sukkah : A 7,000 square foot sukkah at the Tel Aviv port, with all-day programming for 40,000 visitors during Sukkot.
For additional information about these programs, email Elissa Polan, associate vice president of the JUF's Israel & Overseas Projects and Programs, at ElissaPolan@juf.org .