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JUF's Breakthrough Fund awards more than $1.1 million to encourage smart growth and innovation

For the fourth straight year, JUF’s Breakthrough Fund is funding leading-edge local programs and initiatives that meet local human needs, engage Chicagoans Jewishly, and strengthen Jewish communities in Israel.

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For the fourth straight year, JUF's Breakthrough Fund is funding leading-edge local programs and initiatives that meet local human needs, engage Chicagoans Jewishly, and strengthen Jewish communities in Israel.

This summer, a total of $1.12 million will be awarded to programs that focus on a range of themes, including erasing barriers to employment and economic achievement for historically under-employed Israelis; providing opportunities for the Jewish LGBTQ community, teens and young couples to connect with Israel; using technology to improve mental health; creating non-traditional communities of Jewish learning, and more.

Some $863,000 will fund 13 new initiatives, with awards ranging from one-year grants of $10,000 to multi-year grants totaling $100,000; an additional $256,000 will support five programs in their second year of multi-year grants awarded in 2016.

Encouraging smart growth and innovation in the Jewish nonprofit sector are the goals of the Breakthrough Fund, which launched in Fall 2013 and has awarded a total of more than $4.4 million in grants to more than 70 local and Israeli initiatives.

"This year's Breakthrough Fund grantees are truly on the cutting edge," said Steve Miller, chairman of the Breakthrough Fund review committee. "We are funding programs with groundbreaking technology, innovative approaches to mental health, opportunities for learning and engagement in our Jewish community and in Israel -- it's awe-inspiring and I can't wait to see what happens next."

New Grants

A Wider Bridge will pilot a campus leadership program,"A Wider Bridge University," adapting the organization's core strategy of building personal LGBTQ connections with Israel to Chicago-area campuses, cultivating LGBTQ student leaders (including Jews, non-Jews, and allies) to become pro-Israel LGBTQ influencers on campus.

Be-Atzmi will offer an innovative, holistic, family-oriented workforce integration and economic empowerment program to 60 underprivileged Haredi families in Migdal Haemek and Ashdod each year. The program improves both spouses' employment outcomes, provides household management skills and social support, and inculcates the value of employment as a means to alleviate poverty.

Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education will introduce the engineering-based Tech program in six Chicago Jewish day high schools. A Chicago-based Engineer/Educator will train and provide on-site supervision for teachers; mentor 120 participating students; network teachers with colleagues around the country; and organize a culminating Capstone event showcasing student projects.

Enosh: The Israeli Mental Health Association will launch an innovative Social Technological Initiative that prepares individuals with psychiatric disabilities for long-term, normative employment. The program offers a virtual environment to practice different situations similar to the real world, such as job interviews and coworker or customer interactions, which allows participants to acquire work experience and reinforce their sense of capability in a mediated reality.

Hillel -- The Right to Choose will receive bridge funding for its HaBayit shel Hillel Emergency Shelter until the Israeli Ministry of Social Services assumes full funding responsibility in 2018. A current Breakthrough Fund grantee, HaBayit shel Hillel employs a 24/7 Emergency Hotline; houses up to 12 clients for 4 months at a time; and provides a full range of around-the-clock intake, counseling, treatment, risk-management and referral services for ex-Haredi young adults in Israel. The Shelter also helps advance education, employment and housing opportunities.

Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center will launch "Stories of Survival," a new, multi-faceted initiative examining the shared experiences of Survivors of the Holocaust and genocides in Armenia, Bosnia, Cambodia, Darfur, Iraq, South Sudan and Syria. The initiative includes a new museum exhibition and smaller travelling version, companion educational materials, school and public programming, and online resources to bring diverse Jewish and non-Jewish communities together.

Honeymoon Israel Foundation will hire its inaugural Chicago Director of Community Engagement. The Director will engage with Honeymoon Israel trip participants and interested interfaith couples who want to explore and deepen their relationship to Judaism in a supportive environment. HMI will build and strengthen relationships with local Jewish community partners who will provide resources and support (both spiritual and financial) to couples wishing to explore a range of topics in a Jewish framework, such as family planning, raising children, holidays, forming a Jewish community, and more.

Jewish Council on Urban Affairs will pilot a new social justice program for college students. The JCUA Organizing Fellowship gives local undergraduate students hands-on community organizing experience with local Chicago issues through a Jewish lens. Fellows will engage with social justice to express and strengthen their Jewish identities, while building the skills they need to combat the root causes of inequality in our city and create real systemic change.

JUF: Community Foundation for Jewish Education expands its Ta'am Yisrael program from one trip per year to two. The second trip, offered in March to coincide with local public school spring breaks, allows approximately 70 more eighth graders to participate in this fast-paced eight-day introduction to Israel through museums, historical sites, social action projects, cultural exploration, Shabbat and more.

Natal: Israel Trauma and Resiliency Center will develop a mobile application for Israeli smart-phone users impacted by trauma, who may not have been formally diagnosed with PTSD. This treatment tool, used during times of routine and emergency, will be an interactive platform for self-help, psychological support and referral to further treatment during crisis. The app will serve as a complimentary aspect to therapeutic interventions, not a replacement for therapy.

Orot: Center for New Jewish Learning will receive a two-year grant to develop and launch the Orot Compassion Project. The project supports 50 service providers at Chicago Jewish social service agencies to practice self-care and build their capacity to deliver more effective clinical interventions by training them in evidence-based mindfulness practices in a Jewish framework.

Sinai Health System's Non-Fatal Violent Injury Research Project will allow Sinai to understand healthcare experiences and outcomes of Sinai patients treated for non-fatal violent injuries, and challenges transitioning to home and community. It will fill a gap in existing research around violent trauma, and help eliminate barriers to creating successful violence prevention programs.

Svara will receive a two-year grant to develop and grow bet midrash learning communities in Chicago and its suburbs. This program is an outgrowth of the success of the S&M Bet Midrash, which has appealed to large numbers of the formerly unengaged and unaffiliated, across a wide range of religious practice, age, and geographies throughout the Chicago. This grant will expand SVARA batei midrash to create communities of Jewish learning in living rooms and in nontraditional spaces, in partnerships with diverse Jewish organizations.

Renewed Grants

Jewish Child & Family Services, together with CJE SeniorLife, the Chicago Board of Rabbis, and other partners, will pilot Tikvah: The Jewish Chaplaincy Community Initiative in the Chicago City North region, offering pastoral support to individuals and institutions across denominations (including the unaffiliated), across geographies, across the lifespan, and across language, culture and traditions.

JUF Metro Chicago Hillel: Base Hillel empowers a young and dynamic rabbinic couple to use their home as a convening point for pluralistic Jewish life. Launched last summer in Lincoln Park, the couple is building individual relationships with young adults through hospitality, service and learning.

Ma'ase Center Organization will launch a pilot of the Bedouin Leadership in the Galilee program, which will develop self-efficacy and leadership skills of young Bedouin men before, during and after their IDF service, and provide them with an opportunity to develop and fulfill their innate potential through long-term academic, employment and social support.

Moving Traditions, in tandem with local congregations, will pilot Coming of Age, a new program to deepen the meaning of b'nai mitzvah preparation and to halt post-b'nai mitzvah dropout for tweens and their parents. Coming of Age focuses not on the ritual of the b'nai mitzvah, but rather on Jewish character education and exploring what it means to grow into a Jewish adult

Poetry Pals uses creative expression and poetry to promote understanding, cooperation and peace in our multi-faith society. The program brings together elementary school children at faith-based schools and creates a safe and fun environment for them to learn about each other and become friends. This funding will allow the program to revise its curriculum for teens as well.

For more information about the Breakthrough Fund or to learn how you can apply to be a future recipient of a Breakthrough Fund grant, contact Sarah Follmer, Director of Grants, at (312) 357-4547, email or visit

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