By Stephanie Blumenkranz, Rachel Siegel and Julie Sissman
“Some of you have been sitting on the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York grants committees for years, and some of you are new participants. What Jewish values brought your fellow giving circle members to the table?”
This question provoked the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York (JWFNY) to explore how they might discover the Jewish roots of their work together. Inspired by the HEKDESH Tzedakah Learning Series, the Dorot Fellowship in Israel’s Alumni giving circle, JWFNY’s Stephanie Blumenkranz and Rachel Siegel brought in Julie Sissman to facilitate a workshop that would get foundation members talking deeply and seriously about how they connect Jewishly to their giving.
Amplifier: How did the idea of a deep dive into Jewish values come to fruition?
Rachel Siegel: We’ve been inspired by Amplifier’s focus on Jewish values, wisdom, and tradition and we wanted to bring that to JWFNY. This kick-off meeting for our grant committees had two objectives: to build community and to focus on the Jewish motivation for giving.
Stephanie Blumenkranz: We also read through the HEKDESH Tzedakah Learning Series, which juxtaposes Jewish tradition with newspaper articles, videos, etc. to help people examine their choices relating to tzedakah and money. We knew that Julie helped create the HEKDESH Series, so we invited her to co-design and facilitate the workshop.
Amplifier: From your perspective, what is giving with a Jewish lens?
Julie Sissman: I’ve often reflected – what’s “Jewish” about a “Jewish giving circle”? Is it a group of Jews coming together to give collectively? Is it a group of people giving to Jewish organizations? I want my giving to be grounded in an understanding of what Jewish tradition says about tzedakah, justice, remembering being a stranger in Egypt, responsibility for “the other,” and other Jewish big ideas. This could mean that giving through a Jewish lens has both Jewish and non-Jewish recipients. As an active Jew, supporting organizations focused on the Jewish community is very important to me.