Young Jewish ‘social entrepreneurs’ get grants


NEW YORK, Dec. 27 (JTA) – A national Jewish magazine called “Hebe” and a series of feminist Jewish study sessions are some of the start-up projects expected to emerge from a new program designed to train Jewish “social entrepreneurs.”

The San Francisco-based Joshua Venture, created earlier this year by three private foundations, including Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation, has awarded its first round of $60,000 fellowships.

The fellowships, payable over two years, went to eight American Jews – including two rabbis and a rabbinical student – ranging in age from 25 to 33.

In addition to the stipends, the fellows will receive seed capital, entrepreneurial training, mentorships and technical assistance.

The Joshua Venture is one of several new, and somewhat quirky, initiatives to emerge in the past year and a half that seek to engage 20- and 30-something Jews through programming or leadership training.

The best known and most lavishly funded of these efforts is Makor, a Manhattan cultural center that provides networking opportunities for young Jewish artists and musicians, while also offering Jewish-related classes and entertainment.

Bikkurim, a more modest New York-based “incubator,” provides young Jews with office space, administrative support and training out of the headquarters of the federation system’s United Jewish Communities.

Another New York-based effort, Hazon, was launched in 1999 with talk of being a “venture capital house” for Jewish projects. So far, its main project was a two-month bike trip, in which 10 Jews, mostly in their 20s and 30s, biked across the United States this summer to promote awareness of Jewish environmental teachings.

The following “entrepreneurs” have been selected by the Joshua Venture:

• Sam Ball, 31, of San Francisco. A filmmaker, writer and producer whose work has been screened on PBS and at the Sundance Film Festival, Ball is launching a project training teen-agers to be independent Jewish filmmakers and activists.

• Tobin Belzer, 29, of Boston. Belzer, a doctoral candidate at Brandeis University, will launch “Joining the Sisterhood,” a nationwide effort to encourage young Jewish women’s increased participation and visibility. The project will be housed and supported by the Hadassah International Research Institute on Jewish Women.

• Jennifer Bleyer, 25, of New York. A freelance writer whose work has appeared in Salon and who has published several widely read underground zines, or Internet magazines, Bleyer will launch a triennial magazine on politics, arts, culture and spirituality for Jews in their 20s and 30s.

• Meredith Englander, 26, of New York. Englander, who holds degrees in education and clinical social work, will expand an existing program called MATAN: The Gift of Jewish Learning for Every Child. The program, currently housed in the Bikkurim incubator, seeks to help Jewish day schools and Hebrew schools better accommodate children with disabilities.

• Daniel Greyber, 29, of Los Angeles. A fourth year rabbinical student at the University of Judaism and founder of an egalitarian yeshiva-study program at Camp Ramah in California, Greyber plans to expand his program to serve a wider range of people in other parts of the country.

• Rabbi Rochelle Robins, 33, of Philadelphia. A hospital chaplain and co-founder of Bat Kol: A Feminist House of Study in Jerusalem, Robins will develop short-term Jewish feminist study seminars for men and women in North America.

• Amy Tobin, 26, of San Francisco. Tobin, a performer and producer who manages the Cultural Arts and Community Development department at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, is working to create a nationally recognized hub for emerging and established Jewish artists.

• Rabbi Rigoberto Emmanuel Vinas, 31, of Bronx, N.Y. Vinas has worked with impoverished communities in the South Bronx and recently traveled to Honduras to help repair a Torah damaged in Hurricane Mitch. He is developing a bilingual, non-denominational Beit Midrash, or house of study, for Latin American Jews in the New York area.

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