Local Jewish Federation expands grants, includes LGBTQ initiatives

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia Circle of Partners gathering in 2019. Photo courtesy of Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia Flickr.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia announced a groundbreaking change to its grant structure, releasing millions of dollars of designated program grants. The funds, which come from the Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Fund, are now classified as general support grants, which can be used for expenses nonprofit leaders deem necessary to help organizations weather the coronavirus crisis.

The Jewish Federation is releasing $7.327 million in funds for over 30 Greater Philadelphia organizations, plus an additional $2.5 million for organizations in Israel.

“Because of these unprecedented times, and to be true partners to these agencies who we’ve worked with for many years, they’ll have the flexibility to use the funds where they have the greatest need,” said Rena Kopelman, Jewish Federation’s vice chair of planning and resourcing. “While we certainly value the programs we’ve been funding for the past four years, we recognize they may not be the most critical, they may not be viable right now, or they may not be able to run as initially intended.”

The standard procedure for grant evaluations, based on metrics and other analyses, will be waived to allow for recipient flexibility.

The grant expansion means some LGBTQ groups within the Federation umbrella will be eligible to expand their outreach during the pandemic.

The grants will help several groups under the Federation’s aegis that have robust LGBTQ programs. In 2014, Abramson Senior Care created an LGBT+ Task Force as part of their LGBT+ Initiative “to make Abramson Senior Care a welcoming place for LGBT+ individuals and their families to call home, to work at and to receive services from.”

Abramson Senior Care says, “Members of the LGBT+ community have historically experienced institutionalized discrimination. These experiences have negatively impacted the health and well-being of LGBT+ individuals and families. Aware of this unfortunate history, we are dedicated to serving members of the LGBT+ community with sensitivity, awareness, compassion and respect.”

Additionally, Abramson Senior Care notes, “We strive to nurture a community in which individuals are valued, celebrated and supported to be their authentic selves and flourish. We are committed to this on-going work.” Rabbi Erica Steelman, staff chaplain, is director of LGBT+ initiatives.

Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia (JFCS) provides a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment for members of the LGBTQ community. JFCS asserts that the agency has “created a place where Judaism, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression can intersect to be embraced, affirmed and celebrated.”

Citing the need for support at all stages of queer and trans Jewish life, JFCS states, “When someone is exploring sexual orientation or gender identity, the experience can be liberating, empowering, and at the same time it can sometimes be frightening. Some of those difficult feelings can range from isolation, confusion and anxiety to depression and loneliness.”

JFCS has a speaker program for LGBTQ people and offers sensitivity training to synagogues, schools and other groups to broaden the perspective on LGBTQ lives.

J.Proud Jewish Philly LGBTQ Consortium works to raise awareness, educate, and advocate for the diverse needs of the Jewish LGBTQ community while building relationships with allies in the Philadelphia area.

J Proud also organizes and promotes community and cultural events that offer LGBTQ Jews, their families and friends, opportunities to socialize, gain support and build community. Events are designed to help participants celebrate the intersection of their LGBTQ and Jewish identities.

Tribe 12 is another program that will receive funds from the Federation under the new grant expansion. Tribe 12’s mission is “to connect people in their 20s and 30s to Jewish life and community in Philadelphia today so they will choose to stay connected tomorrow.”

The group states that their LGBTQIA+ programming is “for any young professional who wants to explore the intersectionality of their Jewish and queer identities.”

As one member of Tribe 12 notes on the group’s website, “I always felt that my Jewish community wanted me to commit to the religion to suppress my queerness. When I found Tribe 12’s (Gay)me Night and queer community, I finally felt like I had a place to figure out Judaism with a group of people like me.”

The campus Hillel affiliates for Jewish students and friends at the University of Pennsylvania, Penn State University and Drexel University are also among the grant recipients. These groups have always been a refuge for Jewish LGBTQ students on local campuses.

For Trans Day of Remembrance at Drexel last year, Rabbi Isabel de Koninck, executive director and campus rabbi for Hillel at Drexel University, led students and others in a non-denominational prayer at the raising of the trans flag emblazoned with Drexel’s name and symbol.

“We remember those who’ve died because they could not hide, could not pass, who stood too proud or looked like someone who did,” de Koninck said. “…As we raise this flag, we raise up the memories and blessings of each life cut short. As we raise this flag, we are reminded that we are responsible to help bring even more of that light into this world. We are responsible for ensuring that every person is able to let his or her or their unique light shine on this earth in the safety they deserve.”

The new funds from Jewish Federation are separate from the agency’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, which provides support for organizations impacted by the pandemic. Over $1.3 million has been raised in that fund so far, with just over half already distributed to more than a dozen organizations in Philadelphia and Israel. 

JFCS: https://www.jfcsphilly.org/main-home-page/adults/lgbtq/

Tribe 12: https://tribe12.org/lgbtqia/

Abramson Senior Care: https://www.abramsoncenter.org/about/our-lgbtplus-initiative/

Rabbi Erica Steelman: [email protected]: https://www.jproudphilly.org/