civic service

$4 million from Diane & Guilford Glazer Foundation to Los Angeles federation to strengthen civic engagement

The grant will help the federation’s Community Engagement initiative to increase Jewish engagement in civic life and build partnerships with local civic and religious leaders.

In the most comprehensive and far-reaching collaboration between the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and one of its funders, the Diane & Guilford Glazer Foundation has committed $4 million over the next three years for programming to work with young adults, care for Holocaust survivors and expand the federation’s work in the wider L.A. community, eJewishPhilanthropy has learned.

Federation leadership called the effort “multilayered,” both for the demographics its programs will reach — from young adults to Holocaust survivors — as well as the way the federation and foundation are constructing the collaboration, which will include partnering on program, vision and strategy.

Rabbi Noah Farkas, president and CEO of the L.A. federation, explained that in Los Angeles, organizations create programs that compete with each other. “Everyone seems to want to create their own project. And they feel that they are maybe competing,” he told eJP, adding that perhaps it’s related to a Hollywood culture that asserts “you’re only as good as your last script.” 

But, Farkas said, there’s a “generational shift” underway in the Jewish community. 

“Our generation feels that collaboration is the future, not competition, and that we have to find synergy points, because [the old] model doesn’t just cost too much money, it’s too inefficient. It drives prices up and creates animus in the community,” Farkas said. 

The L.A. federation has had a relationship with the Glazer Foundation for more than two decades, but now is an opportunity to “reenvision and to create a federation that really serves and leverages not only our infrastructure, but also how we want to show up in the world,” said the federation’s senior vice president of community engagement, Joanna Mendelson. 

The partnership started with Farkas and Glazer representatives meeting to consider “what it would look like if we could leverage their funding, and they could leverage our expertise to create synergistic moments together,” Farkas said. The goal was to work together to strengthen the place of the Jewish community in the broader civic community of Los Angeles. The partnership builds on support recently provided by the foundation to the federation for its study of Jewish Los Angeles and its work to ensure that ethnic studies curricula provided to educators in the city do not include anti-Israel or antisemitic content.

The hope is that the collaboration between the two entities will bring other people to the table and inspire other Los Angeles foundations and philanthropists to join the effort. “What happens if we could leverage the two groups together and invite other people to the table, to leverage their funding, their visions, and start building a vision for the Los Angeles Jewish community that is cooperative, synergistic, more efficient, more cost-effective, impact-oriented and builds the kind of togetherness that I think all of us are craving, and have never really had in this community?” Farkas mused.

Farkas added that the grant will help the federation’s Community Engagement initiative — which runs community service days as well as the cohort-based Rautenberg New Leaders Project (NLP) for young adults, among other programs — to increase the number of Jews engaged in civic life and advance partnerships with civic and religious leaders across the region. 

One concrete way that the funding will extend the federation’s reach is the increase in the number of service days, in which people volunteer to help the community in various capacities. In 2022, the federation offered six service days and reached about 4,000 people; in 2023, it has scheduled 18 service days.

“What this grant really does is it serves to inspire others to create and to centralize the Jewish voice, the engagement on the grounds and model this partnership between funder and provider,” Mendelson said. “Our ability to convene all of these different providers, and to help mobilize is really a way to inspire other organizations to come along and help to support this work,” she said, “to identify and help organize the community in a very clear vision and strategy.”

“We have to create a system that’s broad enough and deep enough within the federation, representing the Jewish community with the capacity to be there for historically marginalized communities — on their terms, when they need us, without a transactional expectation that we will need them the very next day,” Farkas said. 

“Los Angeles County has 88 cities and is home to over 10 million people, and at best we’re 650,000 Jews,” Farkas said. “So even though we have, as a Jewish community, been very good at protecting and helping ourselves, we are embedded in a much larger culture, we’re very good at making sure that our interests are met by investing ourselves in the public square of the people around us. That is what it means to live in a diaspora, to be a minority — is to be able to show up in the public square, and to be a part of something.” 

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which is connected to nearly 600 community organizations, is the city’s largest Jewish nonprofit. 

Historically, Mendelson said, the federation has been focused on investing in the next generation from birth through teens and young adults. But the new funding builds on another core area of focus  — a number of programs that fall under the area the federation calls “Caring for Jews in Need” — by providing extra support to ensure that the last generation of Holocaust survivors are living their lives with dignity, as well as taking care of the underserved in the community. 

“Today’s landscape really requires a different set of tools to respond to the current climate,” Mendelson said. “And when we look no further than our own backyard, we’re seeing the fault lines within our broader community, within our democratic process, within the vitriol in our discourse, and we’re seeing record levels of antisemitism and hate.” 

Mendelson, who previously served as the Anti-Defamation League’s associate director for its Center on Extremism, said that if you boil down extremism, “it’s the demonization of the other,” and that although extremists may hate Jews, they’re what she calls “ecumenical haters,” because in addition to targeting Jews, they also direct hate toward an array of minority communities, situating all those groups in “the same toxic soup. How do we figure out the strategies to elevate our voices and respond to build alliances and connections with each other? …We can spotlight the hate, we can use our bully pulpits, but how do we invest in a long-term strategy?”

Mendelson believes that the Glazer grant answers that question. “They understood the clarion call to act and the resources and investment needed to support this effort. We know that there’s not a magic wand; this is an investment that is not going to happen overnight. But what it allows us to do is to envision, to mobilize, to invest in this long-term strategy.”