A Note from Dana Raucher

Among the guiding principles of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation is that vibrant Jewish communities are open and inclusive. The Foundation supports communities led by bold leaders who have pioneered creative avenues to connect to Jewish life. Fostering a culture of pluralism and mutual respect, our grantees share in our vision of an inclusive Jewish world.

The people profiled in this season’s newsletter represent leaders of three of our grantees, each of them reimagining what Jewish community looks like in the twenty-first century. As editor of Jewish parenting site Kveller.com, Deborah Kolben is changing the way parents ask questions and seek answers through an online community. While Kolben builds a community online, Rabbi Andy Bachman at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn builds a local network of community activists. Finally, Rabbi Mishael Zion and Becky Voorwinde of the Bronfman Fellowships work in both America and Israel cultivating the next generation of Jewish leaders. I am pleased to share with you profiles of the professional leadership that is furthering our open Jewish communities.

We also take this opportunity to share an update on the work of our Second Stage Fund. In December 2012, the Foundation announced the recipients of its Second Stage Fund, a new fund that would help a select few grantees grow into their next stage as pluralistic Jewish organizations. Four months later, Elie Kaunfer, Idit Klein, and Nigel Savage share their initial learnings with the field in a series published in eJewishPhilanthropy with the partnership of the Foundation.
We invite you to read more about our recent work and the work of leaders in our grantee network.


Dana Raucher


Letter from Dana Raucher

Deborah Kolben, Kveller.com

Rabbi Andy Bachman, CBE

Rabbi Mishael Zion & Becky Voorwinde, BYFI

Update on the Second Stage Fund

Appreciating Israel Through the Mifgash
- Ilan Mandil

From Congregations to Occupy, Nongovernmental Groups Provide Sandy Relief - Georgia Kral

On The UWS, “Shabbat In Exile” Was A Moment Of Community In Sandy’s Aftermath - Eric Silver

Memo To The Next Knesset: Get To Know American Jewry– Rabbi Mishael Zion

The Teacher Who Hated Lies
-Rabbi Mishael  Zion

Judaism Must Embrace its Doubters
- Edgar M. Bronfman

To Be Jewish is To Ask Questions
- Edgar M. Bronfman
Deborah Kolben, Kveller.com
Building a dynamic online community for Jewish parents

As the editor of Jewish parenting site Kveller.com, Deborah Kolben is changing the way we define community. Kolben is at the helm of a network of Jewish parents, many of whom have never met in person, yet feel strong interpersonal connections. Readers share their questions, concerns, advice, and support – all by posting online at Kveller.com. The site delivers an experience that is unique and relevant for modern parents raising Jewish children.

Kveller averages nearly one million page views a month, having increased their page views over eight-fold since this time last year. One of Kveller’s most popular pieces has been an article on the perils of “fakebooking,” which gained over 700 comments and 100,000 likes on Facebook. As a young mother, editor and contributing writer, Kolben knows first-hand what it’s like to seek (and find) support from hundreds of parents online.

Putting yourself in the shoes of Kveller readers, why do you think they turn to the Kveller community?
When my first daughter was born, I had a really hard time finding an online community I wanted to join. I was full of questions and hungry to find other women to connect with, but it was hard to find my people. I think ultimately Kveller readers are drawn to the website because they know they will find women who will listen, who are open, interested, and smart. Some women are drawn to Kveller specifically because it's Jewish, and for others it's simply a welcome addition. Kveller doesn't tell its readers how to parent or how to be Jewish; we let our writers share their experiences and take it from there.

When trying to build a community online, what are the biggest opportunities and challenges?
It can be a challenge to foster a respectful and supportive community online and I think accomplishing that is one of our biggest achievements at Kveller. When we started Kveller we made a conscientious choice not to allow pen names or anonymous comments on the site, so as to avoid a cruel and catty tenor to the conversation. As a result, I think we've really managed to create a community of women that come to the site to share ideas and opinions and to support one another.

Rabbi Andy Bachman, Congregation Beth Elohim
Building a vibrant local community in Park Slope

Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Elohim (CBE) in Park Slope, Brooklyn, Rabbi Andy Bachman is turning a 150-year-old institution into a relevant and thriving force in the Brooklyn community. With multiple facets to this inclusive community, including an independent prayer minyan as well as Brooklyn’s popular Brooklyn By The Book series , CBE has become known in the neighborhood as a hub for volunteering. Immediately following Hurricane Sandy, CBE was called upon by the Park Slope community to help make meals, and rose to the task, providing nearly 9,000 sandwiches and 1,400 hot meals in just the first week alone. Mayor Michael Bloomberg recognized CBE’s relief effort as a significant contribution to New York City’s recovery from Sandy. Inspired by the Sandy relief effort, CBE recognized the capacity of its community, and continues its work to feed the hungry in its local community.

When trying to build a new vibrant community from an old congregation, what are your biggest opportunities and challenges?
The synagogue is the oldest institution in Jewish civilization--our obligation to keep it relevant is the most critical task we face.  The biggest challenges in that endeavor have been three-fold.  One, there is the challenge of developing a culture of innovation and leadership that sees the synagogue as being at the forefront of both Jewish values for the internal community but also outreach for the unaffiliated who are seeking a strong and meaningful connection to Jewish life.  Two, while we are a Reform synagogue by movement affiliation and proudly uphold the progressive and enlightened values of our age, we are at core a pluralistic center for Jewish life and understand that denominationalism is no longer the key organizer of Jewish life.  And three, the absolute imperative that we live out, with integrity, a strong message of social justice and a vitally strong relationship with Israel are central to our mission.  I am happy to report that while each of these ideas are "challenges" we are a united community, pulling in one direction, and our growth and vibrancy are proof that with unity and vision, we can fulfill our goals of being a real center of Jewish life for Brooklyn.

What values is CBE built on?
CBE is built on the values all Jewish communities have been built on:  Torah, Worship and Deeds of Loving-kindness.  There are those who seek those values as religious and spiritual values and there are those who seek those values as secular values.  We don't judge that.  For myself as a rabbi, I am proud to have people identify with Jewish life, the Hebrew language, Israel, Jewish history, the moral and ethical principles that have guided us, the ongoing dynamic between being both "particular" (serving the needs of our fellow Jews) and being "universal" (fulfilling the prophetic charge that we are meant to be a light unto the nations.)  Hundreds pray and study with us each Shabbat, and yet hundreds come to our book events, make meals for the poor, advocate for education or better gun laws.  To my mind, this is all part of who the Jewish people are and my job as a rabbi and community leader is to simply strengthen the hands and hearts of those who want to do more good in the world through the sacred scaffolding of the synagogue.

Rabbi Mishael Zion & Becky Voorwinde, The Bronfman Fellowships

Fostering a community of reflective next-generation Jewish leaders

The Bronfman Fellowships (BYFI) is a community of thoughtful leaders with a sense of communal responsibility, an experience that begins with a summer experience and continues into alumni life. As BYFI co-directors, Rabbi Mishael Zion and Becky Voorwinde are transforming the way Israelis and Americans understand themselves and their Judaism. Key to the immersive fellowship year is the Amitei Bronfman program, bringing together twenty Israeli high school juniors from varied social, religious, and ideological backgrounds. At this critical juncture as seventeen year olds, the Amitim participate in a ten day mifgash with the American fellows, where the two diverse groups explore their identity as Jews and individuals, engaging in just as much self-reflection as they do relationship building. As the Israelis and Americans learn with one another, they are learning about one another, an imperative which Zion has written about for The Jewish Week.During their immersive fellowship year the Fellows and Amitim begin conversations that will continue as they become part of the vibrant and active BYFI alumni community.

When trying to build a cross-Atlantic network, what are your biggest challenges?
Building a cross-Atlantic network is something we think about often, for both our 17 year old Fellows and for our alumni communities. Besides geographic differences, there are language barriers, cultural differences, and different understandings of what Judaism means, and the role that Judaism plays, in American and Israeli society. We have found that the most effective way to deal with these challenges is to embrace them. Our goal is not to create two completely unified communities but rather to encourage our North American and Israeli fellows to learn from each other, and to look at one anothers' countries as a lens in which to view their own Judaism. For example, an Israeli alumnus who today is a leader in Israel's Jewish LGBT community, shared with us that until coming to America with the Fellowships, he had never seen a Jewish community that embraced identity differences. This gave him hope and proof that he could maintain his Jewish practice as an adult and experience LGBT inclusion.

What do you think is the broader future of Jewish Israeli-American relationships?
The future requires deeper, genuine reciprocity and a way of seeing the Israeli and American Jewish communities as equals.  The one-way paradigm of  American Jews worrying about and caring about Israel is unsustainable if Israelis do not know or understand the context in which American Jews live.  This winter, as our American and Israeli Fellows came together for a four-day-long encounter with one another in the US, we saw how powerful shared empathy can be in building deeper bonds.  In the midst of a joyful Shabbat reunion, the group learned the news of the Sandy Hook school shooting.  The group had only just begun to process the Israelis’ trauma just a few weeks earlier of Operation Pillar of Defense, and now our American Fellows were faced with a local tragedy.  Our American Fellows quickly responded by crafting a reflection service.  They invited the Israeli Fellows to join them and together they grappled with how to grieve together for different types of communal traumas.  This moment reinforced for us the importance of appreciating and recognizing differences while strengthening emotional ties between Israeli and American Jews.

An Update on The Second Stage Fund

In December 2012, The Samuel Bronfman Foundation announced the grant recipients of its Second Stage Fund, launched to address the increasing need of supporting post-start-ups in the Jewish community.

From the inception of this fund, we have been interested in providing more than financial support through these grants by sharing our thinking, questions, and findings with colleagues. In this vein, eJewishPhilanthropy hosted a series of pieces by the grant recipients of the fund. The professional leadership of each organization shared factors that have helped transition their organization to its next stage of development.

From Founder’s Dilemma to Founders’ Advantage: The Partnership Model as a Pathway to Second Stage Growth

by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, co-founder and executive director of Mechon Hadar, an educational institution that seeks to empower a generation of Jews to create and sustain vibrant, practicing, egalitarian communities of Torah learning, prayer, and service.

Embracing Diversity as a Unifying Element of the Jewish Future

by Idit Klein, executive director of Keshet, a national organization working for the full equality of LGBT Jews in Jewish life.

The Importance of WHAT We Do and HOW We Do It

by Nigel Savage, founder and executive director of Hazon, an organization building healthier and more sustainable Jewish communities.