For Jewish Women’s Foundation, grants are path to changing the world

The group awarded $377K to 25 different projects in Chicago, Israel, and around the world benefiting women and girls

jwf grants 2018 image
Riki, part of the JWF-funded program Shatil, testifies at a hearing in Israel related to improving public housing.

Numbers tell only part of the story. The lives they touch, and the impact they have, are what it's really about. 

Each year for the past two decades, the Jewish Women's Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago (JWF), an independent project of JUF, has awarded grants to meticulously screened programs scattered across the city and around the globe.

All told, there have been 373 of those grants over 20 years. More than $4.2 million, in total. All of it raised by women. Awarded by women. All of it to transform the lives of Jewish women and girls. To give them voice. To seek justice. To redefine their role in the world. 

So, what was the result? 

Riki is part of Shatil, one of the programs JWF funded. She grew up in Israel's housing projects. Got out. Got married. But then, was sorely abused and wound up back in the projects -- as a single mom. 

Ironically, that meant she beat the odds. For most impoverished women, particularly those fleeing an abusive relationship, public housing is their only option. But there aren't nearly enough units. Those who earn too much don't qualify. And women with fewer than three children aren't eligible. 

That creates an incentive not to work, or to have more children, making it even more difficult to get out of poverty. 

Shatil, a social and economic justice project, worked with Riki -- and 300 other women -- to help them tell their story -- and change their world. They led demonstrations, social actions, and worked the halls of the Knesset. 

And they were heard. Big time. Together, they played a major role in passing Israel's Gallant Plan, a major policy shift that changes eligibility rules and calls for making an additional 7,200 housing units available each year -- seven times the current level. 5,500 of those will help relieve the dire shortage for single mothers.  

Riki has spent most of her life in a system that did not meet the needs of thousands of impoverished women. Now, she is part of the force changing that system forever. 

Another JWF grant went to jGirls. It's an online magazine and community for Jewish teen girls. A place where they can explore and express themselves. Hone their ideas and communication skills. All of it run by women. All of it written, edited, and overseen by teens. 

jGirls has been online for a year, taking on topics ranging from Jewish identity and immigration to gun violence and relationships. In that time, 15,000 people have visited the site. Three hundred articles have been submitted by young Jewish women from 26 states and eight countries -- women of just about every imaginable family background, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and income level. 

And despite its young age, jGirls already has been included in Slingshot, a guide for young philanthropists that identifies the most innovative, effective projects in North America.  

On the other side of the globe, spanning nine time zones, JWF-grant recipient Project Kesher's Next Gen initiative is training a generation of women and girls to lead the Jewish community throughout the Russian-speaking world. 

Alyona, who is 30, had been providing social services to the elderly and sick at a JCC in Ukraine for about five years when Project Kesher saw her potential. Through Next Gen, she was trained in Jewish studies and values, grassroots organizing, social activism, feminism, and women's health.  

In the past year, Alyona has led 11 meetings on women's health in the Jewish community and the community at large. "Women who attended made the decision to consult doctors and were diagnosed with illnesses at early enough stages to be healed," she said. "Project Kesher taught me to think big, not just fulfill the task at hand, but to think of the future."

This year's awards

In December, the Jewish Women's Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago (JWF) announced its latest round of grants -- $377,000 for 25 different projects in Chicago, Israel, and around the world.

Six grants were made through the Ellie Fund, established by JWF founding lifetime trustee Ellen H. Block. Notable among those was a $25,000 contribution to the Chicago Foundation for Women's Family and Interpersonal Resilience and Safety Transformation (FIRST) Fund, a collaborative effort of several of the city's major foundations to support innovative solutions to domestic and intimate partner violence.

JWF's first-ever Frame the Future Pop-Up Giving Circle last spring raised and awarded $50,000 to Sacred Spaces to help Chicago-area Jewish institutions address issues surrounding sexual abuse.

JWF's other grantees in the latest round are:

Economic Security/Legal Reform for Women & Girls

ACLU:Roger Baldwin Foundation:Women's Reproductive Rights Project

ATZUM:Task Force on Human Trafficking

College of Law and Business, Israel:Assimilating Gender Perspective and Awareness into Insolvency Law and Economic Rehabilitation

The college's clinic is working to ensure that new insolvency regulations in Israel are fair to domestic violence victims and other women on the social or economic periphery.

JobKatif:Achotenu - Academic Nursing Program for Ethiopian-Israelis

Mavoi Satum:Supreme Court Appeals Department: Advancing Change in the Realm of Personal Status in the State of Israel

The department provides direct support to women and works on legislative, media, and other grassroots fronts to curb incidents of husbands refusing to grant religious divorces.

Shatil-New Israel Fund Initiative for Social Change:Advancing Women's Rights in Public Housing

WePower:Atidot - Young Women Future Leaders

The Center for Advancement of Women in the Public Sphere at the Van Leer Institute:The Gender Index

WIPS's Gender Index tracks gender inequality in Israel to provide quantitative data for policy and decision makers seeking to catalyze social change for women and girls. 

Women of the Wall:Claiming What's Ours

YEDID:Women's Voices: Why Nutrition Matters

Women's Voices will train low socioeconomic Israeli women impacted by food and health insecurity.

Education/Leadership Development for Women & Girls  

jGirls Magazine:General Operating Support

Ohr Torah Stone:Susi Bradfield Women's Institute of Halakhic Leadership

Project Kesher:Next Gen: If Not Now, When?

Next Gen equips women in the Former Soviet Union with leadership skills and strong Jewish identity so they can lead systemwide social justice initiatives in their communities in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. 

Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom:Responding to Hate: Chicago Regional Training Muslim and Jewish Women in Spiritual Activism (faith-based activism)

Health & Well-Being for Women & Girls

Lada'at - Choose Well:"Swimming Upstream": Promoting Women and Girls' Reproductive Health and Rights Through National & HMO Policy Change and Training Health & Psychosocial Professionals.

No Shame On U:Capacity Building for an additional part-time staff member 

No Shame On U aims to change the stigma of mental health within Chicago's Jewish community.

Shalom Bait, Asociacion Civil de Prevencion de la Violencia Familiar:Pursuing Justice, the Law as a Tool for Change

Pursuing Justice, the Law as a Tool for Change, provides legal assistance to Jewish women in Argentina who are victims of domestic violence.

Tahel - Crisis Center for Religious Women and Children:Victim Advocacy Program

The program will train female community leaders in Ultra-Orthodox low socio-economic communities in Israel to recognize, support, and advocate for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Ellie Fund Grants

Chicago Foundation for Women: Family and Interpersonal Resilience and Safety Transformation (FIRST) Fund

GirlForward: Mentoring for Refugee Girls in Chicago

Hillel - The Right to Choose: Legal Aid for Single Mothers

Midwest Access Project: General Operating Support 

MAP restores reproductive health care options in Illinois and elsewhere in the Midwest by training health care professionals willing to provide the vital services their patients need.

NCJW Chicago North Shore: Jewish Community Against Sex Trafficking 

Organization for the Resolution of Agunot: Planning Grant for the Agunah Prevention Initiative

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