HUC-JIR/New York Celebrates “JIR at 90” with the Be Wise Entrepreneurial Grants Competition - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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HUC-JIR/New York Celebrates “JIR at 90” with the Be Wise Entrepreneurial Grants Competition

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Friday, December 14, 2012

In celebration of the ninetieth anniversary of the founding of the Jewish Institute of Religion in 1922 by Rabbi Stephen S. Wise and the Free Synagogue, the New York campus of HUC-JIR kicked off a year of events honoring our past, giving gratitude for what our community has become today, and committing ourselves to continue the spirit of JIR as we look to the future. 

Wise and JIR offered a new and compelling vision for twentieth century liberal Judaism. Today, we affirm aspects of that vision that continue to inspire many of us; at the same time, we recognize that the times in which we live call for new vision.  As a campus community, we cannot rest on the laurels of our past, and we have no interest in replicating what was. 

We look with hope to our students, who represent the future religious leadership of Reform and liberal Judaism.  We urge them every day to be Wise – thinking imaginatively in relation to the needs of our contemporary Jewish community, and daring to make real their own vision for liberal Judaism of the twenty-first century.

In the Be Wise Grants Competition, 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.  Students were asked to showcase the values upon which Rabbi Stephen S. Wise founded the Jewish Institute of Religion that are still part of the New York campus culture today.

Students were asked to submit a proposal to the Be Wise Entrepreneurial Grants Competition outlining the need or problem they intend to address, and what they hope to achieve. They had to explain how the project carries on the work of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise and his vision for JIR.  An important element in each proposal was the development of partnerships with other Jewish organizations, including the Union for Reform Judaism and Reform synagogues.

A panel of HUC-JIR representatives evaluated the proposals, and thanks to a generous gift from Elizabeth and Steven Gruber of the Eastern Region Board of Overseers, six were accepted to receive seed money to implement their ideas.  The panel of judges included Rabbi Shirley Idelson, Dean, HUC-JIR/New York; Rabbi Aaron Panken, Assistant Professor of Rabbinic and Second Temple Literature, HUC-JIR/New York; Rabbi Michael Friedman, Central Synagogue, New York; Cantor Daniel Singer, Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, New York; Steven Gruber, funder and member of the Eastern Region Board of Overseers; and Hannah Goldstein, fifth-year rabbinical student and graduate of the New York School of Education.

The six seed grantees are:

Nancy Bach (left), fifth-year cantorial student, and Rachel Van Thyn (right),fifth-year rabbinical student, explain that according to recent research in New York City, only 44 percent of Jews identify themselves as synagogue members.  Beyond this number, there is a sizable percentage of Jews who mark Jewish life-cycle events, but do not belong to a synagogue.  The Reform clergy who have contact with these unaffiliated Jews through officiation at these events have an opportunity to further educate them about what Jewish communal prayer, observance, study and action can be. The idea for this pilot program is to form a small, transient chavurah of hand-selected couples and families with whom a Student Cantor has personally forged a bond through recent life-cycle work.  Over a period of three months, in four separate events, the group will continue a Jewish conversation, and capitalizing on existing connections with Jewish families in Manhattan, participants will experience what Judaism and life in the larger Jewish community can be outside of a kahal made of their own friends and family; explore the idea of synagogue attendance and/or affiliation, and consider ways to maintain Jewish connection after the pilot session is over; and, discuss if/how integrating regularly with a synagogue community might work for this group.  Together, Nancy Bach and fifth-year rabbinical student Rachel Van Thyn will conduct programming beginning in March 2013, and run through May 2013.

Rayna Dushman (left), third-year cantorial student, and Sarah Krevsky (right), fifth-year cantorial student, are creating a communal songbook of Cantor Benjie Schiller’s work. They write: “Music has a way of entering our souls, bringing us closer to each other, and creating community. We are excited for this opportunity to compile and publish a songbook of Cantor Schiller’s music.  This songbook will be focused on crafting communal spiritual moments.  Through Cantor Schiller's moving compositions, clergy, lay leaders, choirs, and congregants will have the ability to help others connect to new spiritual heights.  In addition, a professionally recorded adjoining CD will allow those who cannot read notated music to also experience her creations and pass them on in their communities and families. We will be working closely with Cantor Schiller to write a kavannah, an intention, for each composition, as well as background information on the text. A songbook of communal spiritual moments will bring Jewish communities together and help individuals find their personal connection to Judaism through Cantor Schiller's beautiful compositions.”

Lauren Furman (right), fifth-year cantorial student, and Adena Kemper (left), fifth-year rabbinical student, are working on a project which aims to provide outreach and community building for young Jewish adults in the Jersey City area. They envision that programming will focus on Shabbat and holiday gatherings in participants' homes, but look forward to learning the specific needs of the community. Ultimately, they hope to provide a Jewish connection for young adults in a safe, inviting, and fun space. Lauren, the student cantor of Temple Beth El - Jersey City's Reform synagogue, and Adena, a resident of Jersey City, have a unique opportunity to serve this growing community.


Sara Luria, fifth-year rabbinical student, began the project ImmerseNYC. She writes: “In New York City, the largest Jewish community in the United States, we lack an important resource that would enable us to better meet the ritual needs of our diverse Jewish population: a community mikveh.  We need a community mikveh in New York City to enhance the traditional reasons for immersion and open it up for alternative use, as Mayyim Hayyim has in Boston. We need a community mikveh in New York to be an expressly welcoming space for conversions, and a warm, intimate space to observe niddah, where men can immerse after their last round of chemotherapy, where women can mark weaning their children, and where a bar-mitzvah boy can come to celebrate his life transition.  ImmerseNYC’s goals are to introduce New York Jews, through education and immersions, to the myriad ways that mikveh and ritual can add meaning to their Jewish lives, and to build a community mikveh in New York City.”

Adam Lutz (right) and Benjamin Ross (left), second-year rabbinical students, are creating an Israeli-American online learning experience.  Project Zug is an online initiative dedicated to creating, renewing, and strengthening the bonds between the Israeli and American Jews.  They explain, "The idea surfaced during our time in Israel for HUC-JIR’s dynamic Year-in-Israel Program.  We experienced the urgency for Jewish communities to build one-to-one relations.   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."

Jonah Zinn, fourth-year rabbinical student, is working on a project to engage young couples and families in the communities between the George Washington Bridge and the Lincoln Tunnel. Over the past decade, hundreds of young Jews have moved to Fort Lee, Edgewater, and other neighborhoods in New Jersey along the Hudson River where there is no organized Reform Jewish presence. Guided by the question “what do we want from our Jewish lives,” this initiative will utilize a community-organizing model to build a Jewish community for young couples and families in this area.



Grantees will present their projects to the student body at a spring community program at HUC-JIR/New York, and the winner will be announced in June 2013.  The winning submission will receive a cash prize.

The HUC-JIR/New York celebration of “JIR at 90” will continue with Founders’ Day on March 18, 2013.

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve 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 Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, 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.