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Big Tent Judaism Initiative Funded by the Jewish Community Foundation

The Jewish Community Foundation is awarding over $138,000 to the Mandell Jewish Community Center and Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford to encourage effective outreach by the entire Jewish community through a program called the “Big Tent Judaism Initiative.” The Initiative is a community-wide program based on the example of Abraham and Sarah's "Big Tent." The goal of the program is to help local synagogues and agencies create an environment that is open and welcoming to all and, particularly, to appeal to those Jews throughout the Greater Hartford area who are not currently involved with any of those synagogues and agencies. The program will address the critical issues of engagement, affiliation, education, belonging, and knowledge in the Greater Hartford Jewish community.

The Big Tent Judaism Initiative is one of the first programs to be awarded a grant under the Jewish Community Foundation’s New Initiative Grants Program. The New Initiative Grants Program encourages community thinkers, social entrepreneurs and forward thinking organizations to propose programs of high impact and visibility designed to create positive transformation in the Greater Hartford Jewish community. “The Big Tent Judaism initiative fits perfectly into the sphere of what the Foundation is trying to accomplish with its New Initiative Grants Program and focuses on outreach, a key priority set by the Greater Hartford Jewish Community through the Long-Range Plan adopted in 2010,” said Andy Schatz, Grants Committee Chair.

“This grant gives the Greater Hartford Jewish community the opportunity to combine our resources, engage the community together and reach out to people to welcome them into our "big tent," commented Cathy Schwartz, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation.

Nearly half of the Jewish households in the Greater Hartford community are unaffiliated (i.e. do not belong to a synagogue or the JCC). Those who are “unaffiliated” disproportionately appear to include in-married families, interfaith couples and families, young single adults and young couples but may include in-married families as well. They often have no idea where to find their Jewish community, how they can get involved, what is available them, and why connecting to the community is valuable and meaningful.

Further, studies have shown that even if the unaffiliated are open to participation in the Jewish community, they often find synagogues and agencies in the Jewish community are not welcoming. “The first part of the Big Tent Initiative will be to help our agencies understand how they are perceived by those who aren’t their members – those they are trying to attract,” noted David Jacobs, Executive Director of the Mandell Jewish Community Center. Jewish Outreach Initiative, an organization based in New York which is coordinating the program and providing training, will then work with each agency or synagogue to create a more welcoming presence. “The final step will be to create events for the entire community to attract the unaffiliated,” Mr. Jacobs said.

Mr. Schatz added that the Big Tent proposal highlights the advantage of involvement by the Jewish Community Foundation. “This is not a quick fix but a change in approach, which is why it’s a good fit for the Foundation. Agencies are still recovering from the economic problems of recent years, and most would find it difficult to commit precious budget dollars to this type of novel approach. But we are trying to take a long-range view, and if this proposal works, it may help grow the entire community.”


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