In 1997, stimulated by the controversy over whether non-Orthodox converts would be registered as Jews by the Israeli government -- the latest battle in the "who is a Jew?" wars -- The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles began making funds available to what it calls "pluralism" projects. The projects are programs and activities aimed at stimulating religious pluralism and supporting "alternative" forms of Judaism in Israel, as well as increasing Jewish knowledge among Israel's secular population.
In all, 15 pluralism projects are currently under way, funded directly from Los Angeles (not through the Jewish Agency) at a cost of about $425,000. While the projects are separate from the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, some are in Tel Aviv schools, providing an overlap of services -- and possibly effects -- with the partnership.
Pluralism projects also differ from partnership activities in that The Federation provides money but does not help to run the programs. While The Federation is careful to assert that pluralism money goes to programs, not movements, the distinction may be academic, because some of the programs funded are run by denominational institutions.
A representative sampling of last year's pluralism grant recipients are:
- Beit Daniel, a Reform synagogue and school that provides workshops and teacher training, especially before the holidays, in 15 secular Tel Aviv-area schools.
- A Conservative movement bar/bat mitzvah training program for special-needs children.
- The Kelman Center for Jewish Education at Tel Aviv University that helps teachers write their own curricula to bring Jewish texts and identity issues into the classroom.
- The Reut Institute, an outgrowth of the coed Orthodox Reut School in Jerusalem, that develops curriculum and trains principals in pluralistic Jewish education.
- Midreshet Iyun, a Conservative Learning Center, that runs a joint project with Tel Aviv University's Jewish studies department, in which teachers study for master's degrees in Jewish studies.
- Bat Kol Bamidbar, which trains informal educators to teach Jewish values and heritage in Negev and Arava schools.
- Orh Torah Stone Colleges, which prepares religious women to serve as advocates for women clients in Israel's rabbinical courts.
- The Tali Educational Fund, which provides Jewish studies in secular public schools.
- Yesodot of Beit Morasha, which teaches the compatibility of traditional Judaism and democracy in Orthodox public schools.