The Koret Taube Initiative on Jewish Peoplehood

This essay is from The Peoplehood Papers, volume 7 – Reinvigorating Jewish Peoplehood: The Philanthropic Perspective; published by the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.

by Shana Penn and Danielle Foreman

“The Jewish people cannot survive by worrying only about survival; we survive and thrive as a people because we want to survive for something. Whether you believe that God commands it, or history commands it, or it’s right on its own terms, we survive and thrive because we want to have a purpose to our existence. That’s the essence of peoplehood.”
Dr. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary

In the spirit of activating Jewish Peoplehood in our own communities and worldwide, the Koret Foundation and Taube Philanthropies have come together for a collaborative philanthropic venture entitled the Koret Taube Initiative on Jewish Peoplehood (the Initiative). Officially launched in 2010, the Initiative serves as a central organizing force in reinvigorating Jewish communal interests, deepening Jewish consciousness, and stimulating multigenerational participation in Jewish life and culture in the Bay Area, Israel and Eastern Europe.

While the Koret Foundation has been making grants in the Jewish community for the past 30 years and Taube Philanthropies for the past 12 years independently, the Initiative provides a strategic framework for collaborative grant making. Together, the two foundations can leverage our resources to achieve greater impact than a single charitable entity would otherwise be able to accomplish. “Collaborative funding is the wave of the future,” notes Tad Taube, President of the Koret Foundation and Chairman of Taube Philanthropies.

The Koret Taube Initiative on Jewish Peoplehood addresses what can be done to ensure the vibrancy of Judaism and the Jewish people now and into the future. We take to heart the abiding words of Mordecai Kaplan that Judaism is fundamentally a civilization and that “collective experience yields meaning for the enrichment of the life of the individual Jew and for the spiritual greatness of the Jewish people.” The Koret Taube Initiative has been deeply informed by Kaplan’s vision of inclusiveness of multi-faceted Jewish identities and practices.

For this reason, our Initiative advances Peoplehood alternatively to emphases on individual identity by imagining a more connected, better networked sense of Jewishness, within which one’s Jewish identity is a positive, not a negative or even a neutral. Peoplehood offers a language for public discourse about a common Jewish context and destiny not limited to traditional texts, religious observances or practices. It allows us to reflect a multi-centric Jewish world, in which Diaspora communities, as well as Israel, provide meaningful sites for Jewish engagement.

In order to further a Peoplehood agenda, the Taube and Koret Foundations have set clear goals:

  • to increase Jewish identification and involvement in Jewish communal life worldwide;
  • to inspire greater interconnections among members of the Jewish community through positive, shared Jewish learning and experiences;
  • to elevate Jewish literacy through informal Jewish education focused on Jewish history, religion, culture and contemporary life;
  • to increase active participation in Jewish communal activities through volunteerism and service learning; and
  • to showcase connections between Jewish achievement and Western civilization.

Organizations supported by the Initiative must provide compelling answers to the questions “Why be Jewish?” and “Why participate in Jewish communal life?” Grants made in the San Francisco Bay Area under the Koret Taube Initiative on Jewish Peoplehood have helped empower organizations such as Jewish Community Centers to become expansive and stable community institutions. Large Jewish organizations continue to be the cornerstones of Bay Area Jewish communal life. However, as pointed out by two of our advisors, Rabbi Donniel Hartman of the Shalom Hartman Institute and Dr. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, today’s Jews, particularly young Jews in their 20’s and 30’s, have complex, multi-faceted identities and engage in the Jewish community differently than their parents and grandparents. Young people tend to extend their “odyssey” years well into their 30’s and delay their entry into established family based organizations. The presence of so many single and/or childless Jews has created opportunities for entrepreneurial programs and challenges for the bigger, well-established institutions.

Recognizing the important role this age cohort will play in the short and long-term, the Koret Taube Initiative on Jewish Peoplehood has engaged in a first round of funding to a handful of innovative “next generation” organizations. These include: the Contemporaries at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, The Hub at the JCC San Francisco, Idelsohn Society, Kevah, Moishe House, Reboot, and Urban Adamah. These programs attract young Jews through missions and activities based in fundamental Jewish Peoplehood values.

The Koret Taube Initiative maintains that Peoplehood encompasses all generations and so it is imperative that each Jew has an opportunity to connect to the community through each stage of life. In addition to the Initiative’s interest in engaging the next generation of Jews, its largest investment still supports core Jewish institutions like the five Bay Area Jewish Community Centers, Jewish Family and Children Services, academic Jewish studies programs, Hillels, Chabads, the Contemporary Jewish Museum and the Magnes Museum.

The JCCs continue to be the main portal of Jewish life that reaches families from cradle to grave. Lehrhaus Judaica and Jewish studies programs provide adults with continuing Jewish education. And cultural institutions like the Contemporary Jewish Museum and the Magnes Museum educate, celebrate and communicate how Jewish history, religion and culture have contributed to American Jewish life and to Western civilization.

Additionally, the global view of Peoplehood entails helping to reestablish Jewish life in places where it once thrived, particularly in Eastern Europe. The contemporary resurgence of Jewish culture in countries like Poland is frequently overlooked as a key component of the future of Jewish life globally, as well as the success and survival of the State of Israel. Yet our philanthropic investments in Poland, for example, strengthen the institutional life of Polish Jewry in its new democracy while simultaneously broadening the Jewish world’s understanding of Peoplehood as viewed through the historical lens of Polish Jews and its relevance to the life and culture of the Jewish people everywhere. Our major grantees in Poland include JCCs in Krakow and Warsaw, the Krakow Jewish Culture Festival, the Jewish Genealogy & Family Heritage Center, the Jewish Heritage Tourism Program, the Jewish Historical Institute, and the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

Peoplehood is about inclusivity. It is about building community, making relationships with other Jews, and supporting one another beyond our local and national borders. Peoplehood is about cultivating a sense of purpose tied to Jewish destiny, to brit yi’ud, as Dr. Eisen noted in a recent lecture to our Peoplehood grantees: “If we want to survive as a people, we must have a sense of Sinai, of what one’s future is, of what is the purpose of each person’s existence.”

In these ways, the concept of Peoplehood has real-world consequences for Jewish collective identities and our existence into the future, as well as for making an impact on the global stage. Through the Koret Taube Initiative on Jewish Peoplehood, we have sought and supported intellectual leadership from around the world that advances a Peoplehood agenda. By means of our collaborative efforts, we seek to create Jewish identities that are enriched by positive Jewish experiences, cultural pride, and an ongoing sense of belonging to each other and the world.

Shana Penn is the Executive Director of Taube Philanthropies and Danielle Foreman is a Program Officer at the Koret Foundation.