New Jewish Foundation grant initiative to reach underserved demographics

As individuals increasingly demonstrate need for different forms of connection, the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati is launching a new initiative called Reflect Cincy – an experiential funding pool that supports bold and innovative ideas for “Jew-ish connection” – to serve underrepresented demographics like interfaith families and young adults within the Jewish community.  

Reflect Cincy grant funding, powered by TJF, aims to spark new experiences and thinking around Jew-ish connection in Cincinnati for individuals and families who feel disconnected from current Jewish institutions and fall within the following segments: young adults without children, interfaith families with children, and families with children ages 0-5.  

“We have very strong Jewish institutions in Cincinnati that provide meaning and connection for their members and constituents,” said Brian Jaffee, executive director of the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati. “Now, based on data from the 2019 Cincinnati Jewish Community Study, we also understand that there are many people in the Jewish community whose needs are not being met. Our traditional methods for building strong Jewish communities are currently leaving people out, and we needed to address that.” 

Nearly half of Jewish adults in Cincinnati seek more connection to the Jewish community but experience barriers to participating in traditional Jewish institutions, according to a community study conducted by Brandeis University.  

This local finding is reflective of a larger trend in the U.S.: Data on millennials show they are less religiously affiliated than ever before. Nearly one in three millenials do not belong to a faith community, according to data from the Pew Research Center.  

However, millennials haven’t abandoned the concept of religion altogether, but rather reject conventional religious affiliation, according to Sacred Design Lab’s “How We Gather” report. As their report states, “This looks less like a process of secularization and more like a paradigmatic shift from an institutional to a personal understanding of spirituality.”  

Nationwide, the Jewish population appears to be holding steady as a share of the total U.S. adult population, according to Pew’s Jewish Americans in 2020 study. This pattern of stability over the past seven years does not prove to be the same for Christians or other faiths; these groups are now lower shares of the broader U.S. population. However, when you only look at Jews who identify as having no religion, the trends parallel those of other faiths.  

Pew researchers believe there is something broader than Judaism and the way people think about religion, when people identify as being Jewish. Reflect Cincy is a response to this larger ethos and the diverse ways in which individuals identify as and express Jew-ish, which is always in relationship to their broader community and world. The term “Jew-ish” refers to people with Jewish roots but varying levels of religious practice or belief, communal affiliation, or personal identity. 

Reflect Cincy aims to make it easier for those who feel disconnected to find their place in the Jewish community. The initiative will fund projects, ideas and structural initiatives (e.g., training and leadership development) that serve these specific demographics. Potential funded initiatives might include a community Shabbat dinner series for interfaith families, a retreat for young Jews to connect with each other and their faith, or a new set of hiring protocols to diversify staff.  

Over time, the goal is to create an open, inclusive and diverse Jew-ish organizational and communal culture that creates pathways for people to find meaning and connection.  

“We have to approach this work from a vantage of inclusivity; for the most part the target population for Reflect Cincy have people in their lives who may not identify as Jew-ish and this work can only be effective if it is welcoming and compelling to the broader community,” said Kim Newstadt, director of research & learning for the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati. “We truly believe that centering the voices of Jews who are reflective of underrepresented segments in the design of programs/initiatives will create more compelling ways for these individuals to form Jew-ish connections.”  

TJF encourages interested applicants to attend an upcoming Training Session on Dec. 15 and 16.

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