Starting the Conversation: Engaging More Families in Jewish Life in the South Peninsula

In late July, seventy people gathered at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto.  It was mid-day, mid-week, in mid-summer but the room was buzzing with energy.  The crowd was eager to commence a community conversation on how to engage more families in Jewish Life on the South Peninsula.


The event was part of the South Peninsula Regional Impact Committee’s grantmaking process.  The Committee is one of JCF’s new regional grantmaking bodies employing innovative, high-impact grantmaking methods, aiming to achieve measurable impact and positive change in the local Jewish community. Committee members, a group of 16 people from a variety of ages, backgrounds and denominations, had come together over the prior months to narrow options for which community challenge to focus this year’s grant round.  This year’s issue for the South Peninsula -- “engaging families”-- reflects a growing concern.  Each generation of Jews (with the exception of the Orthodox) is less and less engaged in their Jewish heritage and culture, and therefore less connected to one other and our Jewish community.  At the same time, many in the South Peninsula are looking for connection and relationships with like-minded people who share an interest in participating in Jewish life.

Who better to ask than the residents themselves?

The Committee invited the community and potential grantees to share in dialogue. The goal: for community members, the committee and those working on grant proposals to be in same room, associating with one another and gaining a deeper understanding of some of our local community challenges.  What works?  What is broken? What are some compelling solutions?

Each of nine small table groups sat immersed in deep discussion.  People were chatting with strangers from various areas of the Jewish community, having conversations and finding common ground with people who don’t intersect in their daily lives.

“The event was conceived of to enrich the proposal development process.  What we didn’t anticipate was how the conversation itself would be a meaningful connection for so many of us who were there.” ~ Adina Danzig Epelman, Program Officer, Regional Grantmaking


At the close of the session, participants were asked to share one word that described what they were thinking or feeling. Connection.  Hopeful.  Possibility.  Relationship.  Empowered. Collaboration. Pride and Joy. These were just some of the responses.  These words, and the significant attendance confirms that we are headed in the right direction.  Local Jews are hungry to connect and eager to share ideas.

This first South Peninsula Impact Grant Initiative (IGI) round will grant $500,000 over the coming three years. And we hope the next grant round will motivate even more conversation and collaboration.  There is much to do.  And it’s reassuring to know that there are so many of us out there who are interested and willing to add their voice.

IGI applicants meet members of the granting committee to ask questions and learn about the grantmaking process.



August 16, 2012


The Federation