Cincinnati: A Communal Jewish Service Learning Model

Funders are often asked to describe how they set priorities and what motivates them to invest in particular programs in certain moments in time. During the formative years of what is proving to be a new epoch in the history of the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, one in which we have taken on the responsibility of stewarding significantly enhanced resources, we have attempted to address those questions by explaining how our early investments connect with our core mission and principles.

Through our initial grant-making experiences, we have aspired to establish the Jewish Foundation as a trusted, high-impact investor in the Cincinnati Jewish community. In collaboration with many other organizations, we have begun to put our new resources to work in the service of making Cincinnati an even more extraordinary Jewish community in which to live. Our goal and our promise are to make thoughtful and disciplined investments for the benefit of our entire community: those who need help from it, those who participate in it, and those who support it.

We were very proud, therefore, to partner with HUC-JIR in establishing The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati Fellows program as one of those early investments. Our goal in doing so was to help HUC-JIR’s Cincinnati campus reinvigorate its relationship with the Jewish community of which it is a part, and the Fellows program has played a critical role in that effort. By providing Cincinnati’s Jewish community and its institutions with an infusion of young Jewish leaders to work in basic needs, Jewish education and engagement, leadership development and other areas, we have heard from agency leaders themselves how this program is helping to build capacity and serve community needs.

HUC-JIR’s new cutting-edge, advanced service learning curriculum has also been indispensable to the Fellows’ rabbinical training, and we have been inspired by how the Fellows have described the impact of their service learning experiences. Whether through facilitating spirituality groups with aging populations, offering pastoral counseling to some of our most vulnerable community members, creating new resources for Holocaust education or developing community-wide Israel celebrations, HUC-JIR’s brand of service-learning is enriching Jewish life in Cincinnati and preparing these developing leaders to make even greater contributions to Jewish Peoplehood throughout their careers.

In these and many other significant ways, the Fellows program in this inaugural year has been a true model for how multiple organizations can help weave together many different threads into a vibrant community tapestry. Our hope is that this program will serve as a beacon attracting top rabbinical students from around the world, and that it will only continue to enhance HUC-JIR’s value by leveraging the natural synergies between and among Jewish institutions and enhancing our community. Achieving these objectives will yield a significant return on the investment of community resources in this innovative service-learning initiative.

Brian Jaffee is the Executive Director and Michael R. Oestreicher is the President of the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati.

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