JUF fuels religious pluralism in Israel with new funding

$345,000 in grants support programs with wide reach

WomenoftheWall image
Women of the Wall program advocates for women’s rights within Jewish life and to pray openly and freely at the Kotel. (Credit: Irina Lutt)

At a time when pluralism in Israel is under fire, the Jewish United Fund has allocated $345,000 in fiscal year 2023 to support Reform, Conservative, and Modern Orthodox programs--along with non-denominational programs that promote religious pluralism--in the Jewish State.

The 23 initiatives funded, including 11 new programs and 12 receiving renewal grants, are just the latest round of JUF's support for religious pluralism in Israel.  Since 1998, JUF has provided over $8 million in intensive support for Israel's Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox, and pluralistic religious movements.

"JUF proudly supports Masorti (Conservative) and Progressive (Reform) congregations across Israel--along with training for their emerging activists and community leaders--and has done so for decades," said Jen Leemis, Chair of JUF's Israel and Overseas Commission, who also serves as Chair of the Israel Religious Expression Platform (iRep) for the Jewish Federations of North America, which also supports religious pluralism. "Israel's new realities make JUF's financial support all the more important, as JUF assists the very same pluralistic movements that are under threat of being marginalized.

"In addition, JUF-supported initiatives advocate for the rights of women, members of the LGBTQ community, and on behalf of people who are not considered halachically Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate, providing legal aid, pastoral counseling, and other critical services," Leemis said. "We are proud that JUF funding has long promoted religious freedom, as well as pluralistic study and prayer, from secular yeshivas and the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies to the Shalom Hartman Institute and Women of the Wall."

This year's grants ranged in size from $8,000 to $36,500, with the average grant being $15,000. They include:

Reform Movement 

  • Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism: Leadership Training and Development for Lay Leadership, Rabbinic and Professional (new)

    Enhances leadership skills among Reform community and congregational lay leaders, clergy, and professionals with training seminars, forums, and ongoing mentoring and guidance. 

  • Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism:  Expanding Reach and Public Visibility (renewal) 

    Creates and promotes digital tool kits, mini-websites, and other original content to continue to build grassroots engagement with Reform Judaism in Israel.  

  • Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism:  Jewish Renewal Programs for Olim from the FSU (renewal)

    Engages immigrants from the former Soviet Union in Judaism in their native language, fostering connections with holiday celebrations, classes, pastoral counseling and legal aid--plus providing spiritual solace for those newly-arrived from a war zone.

  Conservative Movement 

  • Masorti Movement: Home Court: Masorti Judaism Meeting You Where You Are At (new)

    Connects secular Israeli young adults to their Jewish identity outside the confines of the synagogue, bringing exciting programming to universities, colleges, bars, and other public venues. 

  • Masorti Movement: Lay Leadership Training Project (renewal) 

    Provides professional development for veteran Masorti congregational leaders, along with opportunities to engage and mentor a new generation of lay leaders. 

  • Masorti Movement: Jewish Policy Watch Online Program Activities (renewal) 

    Fosters exciting online programming in English and Hebrew on key issues of religion and state, with forums that feature leading members of Knesset, key policy makers, journalists, and political activists.

  • Schechter Institutes: Online Course About Jerusalem (new)

    Introduces young Israeli educators to the many facets of Jerusalem--social, cultural, economic, geographical and religious--that go beyond public perceptions of the city as a place of conflicts and extremism.

  • Schechter Institutes: Mishlei Fellows (new) 

    Grooms a cohort of promising students who work (or plan to work) in the field of Jewish pluralism and are pursuing their M.A. degree in Jewish Studies from the Schechter Institute Graduate School, providing training in community building and social action along with in-depth study of traditional Jewish sources.

  • Schechter Institutes: Baderech-TALI Educational leadership Domestic Study Mission (renewal)

    Provides tools and experiences for exploring the Israeli-Jewish identities of heads of school, teachers, and their students, exposing them to options beyond a secular-or-Orthodox dichotomy.   

Modern Orthodox Programs 

  • Chuppot/Hashgacha Pratit: Educational Initiative (new) 

    Develops and promotes public awareness programs for this Orthodox voice for religious freedom in Israel aimed at challenging stereotypes and addressing multiple social issues, including conversion and divorce refusal.

  • Chuppot/Hashgacha Pratit: Community and Ambassador Building with Chuppot Alumni (new) 

    Promotes religious services in Israel independent of the Chief Rabbinate by recruiting volunteer activists among couples who have been married through the Chuppot program, which conducts Orthodox weddings outside the framework of the Chief Rabbinate.  

  • ITIM Assistance Center: Israel Advocacy Center-Assistance, Public Policy and Legal Centers (renewal) 

    Represents families whose Jewish status had been unfairly questioned, denied, or revoked before rabbinic and civil courts, while working to raise awareness and develop legislative reforms to limit these investigations and revocations.

  • Kolech: Laying the Groundwork for a State-funded Woman Rabbi (new)  

    Combs public policies and budgets for discriminatory practices and then works to change them, with three immediate goals: installing a female rabbinic presence in the IDF, placing women advisors in the religious courts, and opening doorways to publicly-funded women community rabbis. 

  • Kolech: The Orthodox Feminist Jewish Calendar (new) 

    Creates an online Hebrew-language resource showcasing ways to celebrate holidays from a feminist Orthodox perspective, including a digital toolkit and interactive maps highlighting locations where women are leading holiday Torah readings. 

  • Ne'emanei Torah V'Avodah: Public Discourse Programs--Supporting Moderation for Religious Zionists (renewal) 

    Reaches out to the religious Zionist community, and Israeli society at large, through a professional spokesperson who will comment on issues, pushing back against extremism and promoting a thoughtful, tolerant, and engaged public discourse across media platforms. 

  • Ohr Torah Stone: Prenuptial Initiative Program (renewal) 

    Launches a campaign to expand awareness across Israel among teens and adults--plus professionals who work with married couples--about the importance of signing a halachic prenuptial agreement, the single most effective tool to prevent women from becoming Agunot. 

  • Yaacov Herzog Center: Main Intersection (renewal) 

    Fosters respectful dialogue within the religious Zionist community, bringing together participants to meet for study, discussion, and attentive listening sessions--and preparing them to serve as catalysts for promoting a range of perspectives both in the religious community and society at large.

  • Yaacov Herzog Center: Erech Musaf (renewal)  

    Encourages 12-and 13-year-olds living in the southern periphery of Israel who are not religious to celebrate their Bar or Bat Mitzvah year in a way that is meaningful way to them, encouraging them to take an active role, engage in social action and contribute to their community. 

Nondenominational Programs 

  • BINA: Jewish Streams Seminar (renewal) 

    Introduces high school students, along with their families and teachers, to the diverse streams of Judaism within Israeli society and the Jewish world.  

  • Hiddush: Utah Marriage Option (renewal) 
    Advances pluralistic marriage options in Israel for LGBTQ couples, Russian olim who are not halachically Jewish, and others who cannot--or refuse to--be married through the Chief Rabbinate.
  • Israel Hofsheet: Parliamentary Advisor Training (new) 

    Equips young professionals with tools and knowledge about the parliament work in Israel, preparing them to enter the political arena and effect social change.

  • Israel Hofsheet: Religious Freedom Index (new)

    Measures various aspects of religious freedom in 31 cities across Israel, tracking local religious freedom progress and creating pressure to effect change on mayors, city council members, and other decision-makers. 

  • Women of the Wall: Claiming What's Ours (new) 

    Educates about the different roles a woman may hold in Jewish life and ritual, while reinforcing their right to pray openly and freely without fear of harassment, legal action, or physical harm. Program components including Torah reading classes, tallit and tefillin booths and shofar-blowing workshops.               

Linda S. Haase is Senior Associate Vice President of Marketing Communications at the Jewish United Fund.  

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