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Auerbach Grants Announced

May 18, 2016

RRC is thrilled to announce the creation of the Auerbach Entrepreneurial Grant Program and the awarding of its first eight grants. The initiative is funded by the Auerbach Foundation Fund, which is under the auspices of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford.

The program aims to spur bold experiments that seek to reconstruct Jewish experience and engagement for the 21st century. It funds innovative pilot projects for Jewish living and engagement in the 21st century that have the potential to grow and be replicated. 

Current rabbinical students and recent graduates (from 2014 or later) remain eligible for mini-grants ranging from $500 to $2,000 to fund small scale projects. Judges are currently considering applications for a $20,000 Maxi-Grant for a larger project. The maxi-grant is a 2:1 matching grant, meaning that recipients must raise or generate $10,000 by the project’s conclusion.

Projects must serve Jews living outside the greater New York and Los Angeles metropolitan areas.

Among the first eight recipients, four are current RRC students, and four are recent graduates. A brief description of the projects follow:

Café Rabbi: RRC student Sandra Lawson was awarded $870 to fund a “coffee shop rabbi” project. Seeking to broaden the scope of what it means to be a rabbi today and to reach Jews where they are, Lawson will be leading a monthly Shabbat service/program at Arnold’s Way Café. The vegan café, located north of Philadelphia in Landsdale, PA, is owned by an unaffiliated Jewish family. Around a dozen people attended the initial Shabbat program. Tentative dates are: May 27, June 24, July 22, August 26 and September 23. “My hope for this project,” Lawson said “is to engage the Jewish community of Landsdale and reach Jews that are disconnected from Jewish life and bring them a meaningful Shabbat service experience.”

Raising Awareness Through Performance: RRC student Ariana Katz received $1,000 to bring a groundbreaking performance of a one-woman play to a West Philadelphia synagogue. “Post Traumatic Super Delightful” is a cutting-edge, one-woman show that deals honestly with the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. By bringing the performance to an urban, Reconstructionist synagogue in West Philadelphia, Katz sought to engage unaffiliated Jews and advance the Jewish conversation around sexual assault. More than 50 people, most of whom were unaffiliated, attended the May 10 performance at Kol Tzedek.

Torah Study for Skeptics: Rabbi Ellen Jaffe-Gill, RRC ‘14, serves the unaffiliated population in southeast Virginia. She received $1,000 to fund a 10-week Bible study program for Jewish adults or teens with minimal background in Judaism, as well as those who are skeptical of the relevance of Jewish texts. The program aims to offer unaffiliated Jews the chance to study Torah outside of a synagogue setting, to engage Jews who may be alienated from Torah because of youthful experiences, and as the rabbi put it, “to make a tiny dent in the overwhelming ignorance among diaspora Jews of foundational Jewish texts.”

Hebrew and Arabic in Synagogue: Rabbi Shelly Barnathan, RRC ’15, received $2,000 to create a Hebrew, Arabic language program at Beth Am Israel, a Conservative synagogue outside Philadelphia. At this stage, the focus will be on getting buy-in from stakeholders and launching a two-year pilot. Barnathan wrote that, “The essential intent of this project is to explore if this method can be used successfully in the context of a congregational religious school. Ultimately, the class would be open to selected Jewish children between the ages of 11-13. Through language, children would learn more about the relationship between American Jews and their Muslim neighbors and between Israel and its Arab/ Muslim neighbors.

All Night Tikkun: Rabbi David Basior, RRC ‘15, of the Kadima Reconstructionist Community in Seattle, received a $900 grant to hold an all-night learning party for Jews in the Puget Sound area. It was an alternative Shavuot experience The program will feature an “all-star line-up of learning, art, music-making, cooking, issue-sharing and open conversation.” Basior is particularly seeking: Jews of color; transgender, queer and gender non-conforming Jews; artists, activists, working class and poor Jews. Basior stated that he aims to turn “a tradition such as a Shavuot Tikkun” and make it “into a space where Jews get to be themselves.”

Thirty-six / 24: Rabbi Jacob Lieberman, RRC ’15–who leads Reconstructionist Congregation Beth Israel in New Jersey and who works at RRC in the Office of the Presidentreceived $1,700 to create a new kind of Bet Midrash. The program will revolve around one-hour segments in which participants spend 36 minutes participating in social activism, and 24 minutes on Torah study. The goals of the program are to “translate people’s desire to do Jewish learning and social justice work into action by making it achievable and sustainable; to create a vibrant Jewish community that is centered on study and action; and to create a match between the time we have and the opportunities that are available, working with partners in Jewish and non-Jewish social justice organizations to dovetail our projects.”

The Skill Swap Potluck: Miriam Grossman, a current student, received $1,500 to launch a safe, inclusive environment in which “young Jews can teach one another Jewish skills and become more empowered and connected to the community.” Based in West Philadelphia, Miriam will ask participants to name three Jewish skills they would like to learn and three they feel comfortable teaching. Additionally, she will host potlucks in which she will lead a night of Jewish learning. The program is geared toward young adults who are “disempowered in Jewish spaces where it seems like everyone knows these skills and their own gifts in the arts, organizing and technology go unappreciated.”

Open Door Project: RRC student Sarah Barasch Hagans received $1,000 to create an outreach project with Ashreinu in St. Louis, a community that focuses on peer-led Jewish programming. The goal is to help the new organization become a more inclusive and growth oriented community while maintaining its core culture of serious Jewish engagement. Hagans will work with the organization to coordinate a series of coffee dates with 30 potential members. The project will also empower people to host Shabbat in their homes, providing hosts “with a set of ritual objects” (owned by Ashreinu in order to be shared among their events), a cleaning service the day before they host, and the “Tablecloth Fund” providing the necessary tablecloths, dinnerware, flowers, and folding chairs to ensure an experience that elevates Shabbat into a highlight of the week and makes participants excited to return. The outreach will also consist of workshops for anyone interested in gaining more skills in understanding and leading prayer. 

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For the new site, please visit https://www.rrc.edu.