The horrific events in Israel on October 7th are galvanizing, mobilizing, and uniting Jewish people around the world, including right here in Cincinnati. For a long time, many of us have felt divisions among us grow—both among Jews in the Diaspora and, at times, between Israeli and American Jews. Yet in the face of pure evil, we are heartened by the Jewish People’s resiliency and ability to act together and to act quickly, and we are proud of the leadership our own Jewish community has demonstrated.
In particular, the Jewish Foundation is grateful for the clear and decisive actions taken by our partners at the Jewish Federation to immediately convene the community – providing space for us to mourn and show solidarity – and to raise emergency funds needed for both short- and long-term responses to this crisis, primarily in Israel, and also here at home. The Foundation was incredibly gratified by the urgency and generosity of so many individual donors who contributed to the Federation’s Swords of Iron Fund, and we were honored to contribute $1 million towards that effort. In addition, the Foundation committed up to $100,000 for local Jewish communal security needs, which will be stewarded by the Jewish Federation’s SAFE Cincinnati program. Understanding that crisis response is a marathon, not a sprint, we will monitor events as they continue to unfold, and we stand ready to provide additional assistance as needed.
As we continue to support our brothers and sisters in Israel, we also reflect on our Jewish community here in Cincinnati, and the Jewish Foundation’s Annual Meeting on Monday, November 6th, at the Mayerson JCC, will be an opportunity to do just that.
At our Annual Meeting, we will address several themes that have been pre-occupying us. Specifically, even before October 7th, we have worked to make sure that our fellow Jews are cared for, are welcomed into the community and kept safe, and have opportunities to find meaning through Jewish and Israel experiences.
In keeping with our mission to strengthen the Cincinnati Jewish Community now and for generations to come, the Foundation is committed to addressing these needs, and to investing in meaningful Jewish engagement at this moment. Thankfully, our community has a vibrant landscape of organizations that help create and sustain Jewish life here, and we are proud to partner with them. Organizations like the Federation and Mayerson JCC, the congregations, JFS and JVS Careers, the Day Schools, Hillels, Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center, Chabad Centers and Camp Livingston, and many more meet the needs of so many Jews in Cincinnati.
At the same time, we strive to enable the community to be even more responsive in a variety of ways. While most engaged Jewish community members find their path through institutions, a significant number are on more personal journeys. This is why it’s critical that our community has organizations that partner effectively with each other, continuously learn, adapt and evolve to meet changing needs, and when appropriate, make space for new initiatives from the grassroots.
In that vein, the Jewish Foundation, along with our partners at the Jewish Federation, rely on data to inform strategic efforts. The 2019 Cincinnati Jewish Community Demographic Study surfaced the need for this kind of additional focus on individuals, and the Federation’s Cincinnati 2030 plan reinforced the value of a “both/and” approach to servicing uncovered areas of Jewish life. Responding to the Community Study and 2030 Vision, and centering the voices of individuals most affected by these issues, the Foundation is committed to focusing particular attention in the years ahead on a few specific areas that need additional support:
Jewish Early Childhood Education (ECE) – Cincinnati has excellent Jewish ECE programs at the Mayerson JCC, our Day Schools and Chai Tots in Mason, but there is limited capacity overall. Our community should not have to turn away anyone who wants to enroll their child in a Jewish preschool. As important as these years are for the young child, these are critical years for young parents as well. This is when they form social groups and familial routines. We want that to occur more often within the Jewish community.
Teen and Young Adult Mental Health – Cincinnati has been fortunate to participate in a national Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative, and our funding partners have inspired us to engage local teens in new ways. And yet, teens continue to face immense challenges related to social media, increased antisemitism (particularly now), academic pressure, and more. If the Jewish community wants to be a relevant part of their lives, and of their parents’ lives, we need to develop more resources and experiences that support their mental health needs.
Attracting and Retaining Talented Professionals – Jewish professionals are the backbone of our community. They design and implement programs. They engage directly with people of all ages. And they know our community’s challenges, needs, and opportunities. We need to further develop our local pipeline of talent, and we need to ensure they have opportunities throughout their career journeys for meaningful professional development and peer networking. By investing more strategically in this area, we hope to bolster our reputation as a Jewish community where talented professionals can pursue meaningful and rewarding careers.
Of course this is not an exhaustive list by any means, these are simply some of the strategic opportunity areas in which we hope to see impact over the next few years. The Jewish Foundation’s grant portfolio will also continue to include multi-year, general operating grants to organizations that – taken together – are meeting the needs of a broad spectrum of Jewish Cincinnatians. We don’t want to duplicate efforts. We want to elevate and amplify the excellent effort of others.
The Jewish people are helping each other and uniting in ways we have not seen in many, many years. Now is the time for our community to ensure that each of its members are taken care of, feel supported, and have ample opportunities to engage meaningfully in Jewish life. With a strategic vision, and emboldened by the resiliency we see in our people right now, we know we can accomplish this together.
Brian Jaffee is the CEO of the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati