Engagement in Jewish Life: Paying it Forward

by Marisa Ellman
2011-12 Roots & Branches Foundation member

What does it mean to a group of 18 young Jewish adults to make grants to nonprofit organizations in a primarily Jewish way as strategic philanthropists? Our Roots & Branches group spent the past nine months answering this question. We wrestled with many possible grantmaking priorities from diverse fields: everything from assisting veterans to refugees to youth-at-risk emerged in the early phases of decision making. Ultimately, we decided to fund programs that will help more Jewish people find meaning and relevance in Jewish life and connect to Jewish communities. The more we learned about the lack of engagement among Jews in our community, the more we realized that providing opportunities to enhance Jewish communal life is of utmost importance.

Two publications that influenced our decision were the 2007 Metro Denver/Boulder Jewish Community Study and the 2008 Rose Community Foundation report, Legwork, Framework, Artwork: Engaging the Next Generation of Jews. Both described the growing Jewish community in the Denver-Boulder area. Few of us were aware of how many Jewish people under 40 were not engaged in Jewish life. An overarching question in our meetings became: How could we engage them? How could we recognize this diverse group – Jews by choice, interfaith couples, LGBT Jews – as an opportunity to encourage and develop a robust and vibrant Jewish community locally?

As we engaged in a consensus-building process, studied Jewish texts and learned from each other’s experiences, our grant priorities emerged: Engaging young Jewish adults in their 20s and 30s in Jewish community; and Promoting participation in Jewish life and a sense of Jewish community for families with children ages 5 to 13.

Enhancing the involvement of young adults in Jewish community will help Denver-Boulder be a welcoming community for Jews from all backgrounds. We chose to fund programs that were ‘spicy’ and innovative and that would appeal to those who were not Jewishly involved. We believe that engaging young Jewish adults is an opportunity, rather than a threat to the continuation of the Jewish establishment, and that the Front Range can become a place where young Jews can debate and ask tough questions; a place where all are welcome; and a place where the value of tikkun olam, our Jewish responsibility to repair the world, shapes communal life.

As we asked ourselves questions about Jewish community involvement and how to encourage it, we all agreed that we had been given a gift in the opportunity to be part of Roots & Branches Foundation. As a result, we also set a priority to promote involvement in Jewish life for families with children in order to ensure that the next generation of Jews will be involved from a young age. It is our hope that today’s children will one day be asking similar questions: how will they engage their children in Jewish life and community? How can they pass on the values of social justice? We hope that our grants will help to ensure that current and future groups of young Jews will have similar opportunities to find meaning and community in Judaism in the future.

Rose Community Foundation is currently accepting applications from young Jewish adults between the ages of 25 and 40, living in Greater Denver and Boulder, who want to be part of this collaborative grantmaking program in 2012-13. Visit rcfdenver.org to learn more and apply. The deadline to apply is Wednesday, May 30, 2012, however applicants are encouraged to express their intent to apply by Wednesday, May 16th.