Foundations form new nonprofit to build Jewish social service movement


NEW YORK (JTA) — Several of the country’s largest Jewish foundations and organizations have banded together to form a new nonprofit aimed at creating a Jewish social service movement.

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, Jim Joseph Foundation and Nathan Cummings Foundation have taken the lead in forming the new nonprofit, Repair the World, officials from the foundations told JTA.

The foundations would like to see the new organization expand the Jewish social service sector by provding more funding to existing Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish World Service, Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps, Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Repair the World also will help develop materials for Jewish participants in nonsectarian programs, such as Teach for America, and initiate an intensive marketing campaign to encourage young Jews to take part in service.

Some 3,000 Jews between the ages of 18 and 24 are taking part in Jewish-run social service projects this year from a cohort of about 400,000, according to Lisa Eisen, the national director of the Schusterman Foundation and the interim chair of the new organization’s board of directors. Founders of Repair the World, which takes its name from the Hebrew "tikkun olam," would like to see that number grow to 45,000 in the next five years.

"I really believe the time is ripe for the Jewish community to step up as a voice for service and to provide opportunities for Jews, as Jews, to meet the profound and growing needs in our communities and our world," Eisen said. "Young Jews care deeply about making a difference and having an impact in the world. Jewish service has the potential to engage them in addressing real needs with a Jewish lens and imbued with Jewish values."

The Jewish organizational world has seen an upsurge recently in new service opportunities, and thousands of young Jews have spent time through Hillel and the Jewish federation system volunteering in the rebuilding effort in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. That trend, paired with President Obama’s call for more social service, has Eisen and others seeing this as the right time to help the Jewish social service movement coalesce.

They view service as another opportunity — like Jewish camp, day schools and Birthright Israel — for a life-altering Jewish immersion program for young Jews. The trick, they say, is teaching them that helping others is a Jewish value.

“If you look at this act of Jewish service, which is so core and fundamental to what it means to be a Jew, it’s not seen as core to what it means to be a Jew," said Jonathan Rosenberg, the CEO of Repair the World. "I’m excited to be moving service to the forefront of the Jewish agenda.

"When needs are higher than they have been in decades, there has to be a Jewish response. We want to advance the field of Jewish service," he said. "That means to talk about service in a Jewish way, make sure Jews are serving and have a seat at the national service table. This should be the public face of the Jewish people."

Foundation officials did not yet want to disclose how much they will contribute in total to the program, but the new organization’s partners sent out a request for proposals for grants last week and were set to give away up to $2 million to existing programs over the next several months.

Rosenberg is currently the executive director of Roads to Success, which helps prepare young people from low-income homes for college and professional careers. He will start at Repair the World on July 1.

The new organization is taking over the 501c3 status of the Jewish Coalition for Service, which in effect folded this summer when all but two of its board members resigned.

Repair the World has enlisted officials from a number of Jewish and non-Jewish organizations to sit on its board, and is now actively seeking founding partners who will contribute more than $100,000 each to the program.

“We are reaching out to the broader Jewish community and saying, ‘If you are already out there doing service, you should know that it is something that is highly valued in Jewish life and that we applaud you and celebrate your work,’ ” Eisen said. “The end game is to create a more engaged Jewish community and a repaired world.”

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