Here’s an Opportunity for New, Untested Ideas in the Los Angeles Jewish Community

Tradition is typically a big part of religion, no matter what sort of beliefs you hold. This might be one reason that people tend to think of foundations with religious roots as very traditional funders that support the same causes year after year. While this may be true in some cases, Jewish foundations, in particular, have been branching out in some really interesting ways.

For example, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles has a specific grantmaking program dedicated to new and innovative programs that haven’t been tested before. They’re called Cutting Edge Grants, and they’re meant to encourage creative thinking and social entrepreneurship at the local level.  

The foundation recently awarded $2 million in grants to new eight innovation-focused initiatives as part of this grant program. These are some of the types of efforts the grants are going towards:

  • Encourage Jewish teens to providing literacy and enrichment opportunities to youth
  • Support L.A. families of lone soldiers serving in the Israel Defense Forces 
  • Facilitate volunteer training at a temple’s social services center
  • Help out-of-college millennials find a Shabbat dinner

Elana Wien, vice president for the foundation’s Center for Designed Philanthropy, said:

Through this year’s recipient programs [the foundation] is providing significant financial support to efforts that foster engagement and participation in local Jewish life, provide critical human services and assistance to those in need, and serve diverse segments of our community from youth to seniors.

What’s really interesting, though is that these Cutting Edge Grants are nothing new. In fact, they’ve been part of the funder’s strategy since 2006, and the program is still going strong 11 years later. The foundation continues to look for brand-new initiatives that are born in Los Angeles, as well as programs piloted elsewhere and brought here to try as well. Social entrepreneurs launching new organizations and programs are welcome and also community-wide implementations of successfully piloted programs.

Cutting Edge Grants are multi-year grants of $250,000 and must address the needs of the Los Angeles Jewish community. The foundation offers two-hour workshops to inform grantseekers about everything they need to know before applying for one of these grants. Since the Cutting Edge Grants’ inception, the foundation has awarded more than $17 million to over 90 initiatives as part of this program.

While this grant program is particularly unique, it’s just one of several at this Jewish foundation. It also awards Next Stage Grants, capital grants, Israel grants, and general community grants. Even more recently, the foundation awarded over $1 million to four local groups as part of its inaugural Next Stage grant awards.

Creative Community for Peace, ETTA, Friendship Circle of Los Angeles, and Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center received funding as an extension of the Cutting Edge Grants program. All four groups previously received Cutting Edge Grants, and now they’re getting a second round of funds that’s more of a long-term investment and way of strengthening the organizations to keep the good work going. A diverse range of topics are being addressed through these extension and capacity building grants, such as arts and entertainment industry advocacy, Jewish children and adults with developmental disabilities, and establishing a hub for creative Jewish life on the east side of Los Angeles.

Other types of religious funders may not have the prominence and resources of Jewish foundations in cities across America, but examples like this are certainly changing our perception of what it means to give through faith.