May 30, 2012
Can millions of dollars power a new kind of community?
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“We have to design this as much as a laboratory as anything else, because we really don’t know what is going to work,” Sanderson said.
He is aware that it is a risky venture.
“Part of the problem nationally is we have been risk averse, so we don’t take any chances. So you have lots of emerging social entrepreneurs, and young organizations that are actually getting some traction, but the Jewish community hasn’t supported them because we’re afraid they’ll fail, and we don’t want to show donors we make mistakes.”
For the past year, Federation has been holding focus groups with lay people and professionals, and the slow roll-out of the ideas has left a lot of room for grumbling and rumors. Still, no one would go on the record shooting down a concept that is not fully realized, especially when doing so could poison a pot they might dip into.
Some critics wonder if money is well spent focused on young adults, when things like Jewish education need funding. They also ask how Federation could justify bestowing large amounts of money on some congregations and not on others. And they wonder if new buildings are really the answer.
Sanderson says Federation will continue to fund its other programs, including social service, education and community-building, at high levels, and warns against looking at the hub project as a zero-sum game.
He points out that Federation has also opened new partnerships with synagogues, and has launched two new task forces to address other intractable issues: access and affordability of Jewish life, and inclusion — from special needs to interfaith families.
The community has been able to raise millions of dollars for emergencies, Sanderson said, and he believes they will step up in the same way for an innovative opportunity.
“This is the No. l priority at Federation, because if we can change the paradigm, then we’ve actually made sure there is a community 35 years from now,” Sanderson said. “The logic is, if we care about Jewish social services, if we care about Jewish education, if we care about Israel, this is partly an insurance policy.”
Rabbi David Wolpe, who has built a vibrant young-adults program at Sinai Temple, says he believes grousing about unfair allocations is unworthy of the community. He sees Federation’s hub idea as bold, and necessary, and he doesn’t see it as competition for traditional synagogues, but rather an opportunity for real change.
“The money should go to work where the work is being done well, and you’ll be able to kill this initiative if everyone says, ‘What about my percentage?’ ” Wolpe said.
“I sympathize with the people who will have to distribute the money because they are taking the risk of offending others. But this is really important stuff, and we should band together and try to support whoever is doing it well. And I say that as someone from a large institution not likely to benefit like some of the startups.”
One synagogue, Rabbi Mordecai Finley’s Ohr HaTorah, already has implemented its own “Hub on Venice” in its newly renovated building on Venice Boulevard and Barrington Avenue. The project is not connected to Federation’s hub idea, though Sanderson said Ohr HaTorah could potentially tap into the Chadesh Fund.
Executive director Meirav Finley said The Hub on Venice is intended as a neighborhood center, open to both Jews and non-Jews, that includes a synagogue, a preschool, a Jewish community center, a community center for the wider neighborhood, a spiritual institute and Sophos Café, which is currently open Saturday and Thursday nights for poetry, open mike and philosophical discussions. Most of the programs will launch in the fall, she said, but some neighbors are already paying attention.
“The idea is that the building can be an umbrella organization that houses different entities that stand for creating community and sustaining a life of harmony,” Finley said.
Jill Soloway of East Side Jews says Federation’s seed money has come at a key moment for her organization, which had a precipitous launch two and a half years ago, attracting dozens, then hundreds, of people to events such as “Down to the River: A High Holy Days Tranformative Experience,” “Stupid Questions: A Jewish Comedian, a Muslim Comedian, a Rabbi and a Muslim Professor Walk Into a Bar” and this 2010 Saturday night happening at the Spice Station On Sunset: “Sacred/Profane, Spices-Frites-Beer-Havdalah, With Guest Nina Hartley on Sacred Sensuality.”
A few months ago, Federation granted SIJCC $45,000 to partially fund a full-time program coordinator for East Side Jews, until now all volunteer-led.
Now, the group is seeking funding for the remodel of the SIJCC. The 18,600-square-foot brick building, covered in bougainvillea and — like most things in Silver Lake — built on a steep slope, currently serves primarily as a preschool that is a focal point for young Jewish families in the area; it also houses an alternative Hebrew school program.