Project Zug Receives Funding from UJA-Federation of New York and the Jewish Agency for Israel

Monday, November 18, 2013

Benjamin Ross (left) and Adam Lutz

Third-year HUC-JIR/New York rabbinical students Benjamin Ross and Adam Lutz created Project Zug, an Israeli-American online learning experience, which received one of the New York campus's Be Wise seed grants in 2012-13, and has now been awarded $70,000 in funding from UJA-Federation of New York for the coming year. 

Project Zug is an innovative initiative employing the ancient Jewish method of “hevruta” with modern technology of distance learning, to bring together the two largest Jewish communities of today, Israel and the United States. Ross founded the project in the U.S. with Hagit Bartuv in Israel.  Ross and Bartuv connected in 2012 in Jerusalem when Ross, a student in our Year-In-Israel program, sought an Israeli partner to launch Project Zug. Bartuv directs the Midreshet website which specializes in enabling teachers and students to explore texts and culture through online learning and access to materials. Ross brought Lutz into the project to build out the website and help think about how to create an online community of Jewish learning.  Their hope is that learning in pairs will reduce the geographical and cultural distance and strengthen the bond between the two cultures. 

Thanks to the grant from UJA-Federation of New York, the program will be expanding from 100 participants from U.S. and Israel to 300 participants from around the world in the coming year.

Ross explains, "Both communities, unique in their innovations and challenges, have much to offer the other.  How do we move past being merely donors or tourists, and create pathways to engage one another at a deeper level, reflecting on the cycle of our lives, Shabbat, the holidays. We are all striving and struggling with new identities and know too little about the good work the other is doing. Each country is creating a relevant contemporary Jewish culture, however, each country’s culture is developing in diverse directions without significant dialogue. We view Project Zug as a platform for meaningful one-to-one dialogue on text, culture, identity, and tradition."

Rabbi Shirley Idelson, Ph.D., Dean, HUC-JIR/Cincinnati, states, "Benjamin and Adam deserve tremendous credit for this achievement.  Their Be Wise project was impressive in and of itself, and now, having been awarded this significant funding from UJA-Federation of New York, they'll be able to take Project Zug to another level. They are modeling exactly what the Be Wise project aims to cultivate--creativity, audaciousness in the best sense, and the ability to dream up a project reflecting their values, and make it real.  Rabbi Stephen S. Wise would be proud!"

Ross began this project during the Year-In-Israel and continued it with Lutz when they began their studies in New York through the Be Wise Entrepreneurial Grants Competition at the New York campus.  In celebration of the ninetieth anniversary of the founding of the Jewish Institute of Religion (JIR) in 1922 by Rabbi Stephen S. Wise and the Free Synagogue, students were asked to Be Wise, to showcase the values upon which Rabbi Wise founded JIR that are still part of the New York campus culture today. Students were challenged to design a project that would promote entrepreneurialism and bring a spirit of innovation and creativity to campus by exploring and experimenting with community-building and outreach techniques.

Lutz, brother Jeremy, and sister Emily, grew up in Los Angeles with mother Debbie and father Barry. Lutz's father Barry Lutz is the Senior Rabbi at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge, CA.  Lutz has a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering and a M.S. in Engineering.  He worked for the NAVY for three years prior to attending HUC-JIR.  Most recently, he has served as the Education Technology consultant for Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, TX; Visual Tefilah consultant for the Central Conference for American Rabbis; and is a Tisch Fellow and currently a Rabbinical Intern at Temple Shaaray Tefila on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Ross worked in the secular, Jewish, and interfaith social change field for fifteen years before beginning rabbinical school at HUC-JIR. He most recently served as the Chief of Field Operations for Jewish Funds for Justice, now called Bend the Arc. Ross served as the Board Chair of the Jewish Meditation Center of Brooklyn, Board Co-Chair of Interfaith Funders, was a founding member of B’nai Jeshurun’s synagogue organizing work, and served on the synagogue’s Board of Trustees for six years. He is a Tisch Fellow, Wexner Graduate Fellow and recipient of the UJA Federation of New York's Rabbi Seymour Siegel Scholarship. Benjamin lives in Jackson Heights, Queens, with his wife, Liz, and son, Reuven.

Project Zug is launching their second round and accepting applications until December 31, 2013.  Apply now >


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is the nation's first institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu