Wherever I go in the Federation world, people ask, “What’s that thing you’re doing in Atlanta with neighborhoods and mini grants? Something about Making Jewish Places?”
I’m genuinely proud to explain that here in Atlanta we have been inspired by a city planning concept called “placemaking” that reimagines and reinvents public spaces to help people connect, work, and play together in new ways. Since 2019, with generous funding from the Helen Marie Stern Memorial Fund, Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta has embraced placemaking through an initiative called Making Jewish Places, or MJP. It captures a couple of bold ideas:
- That people don’t always need brick and mortar spaces to do Jewish things together.
- That at a grassroots level, people have great ideas about what builds Jewish community and social connection. We can empower them with mini-grants.
- That even in metro areas lacking Jewish density, when people and organizations work collaboratively, they can dramatically deepen Jewish relational engagement.
I see MJP as a radical revamping of engagement from transactional to relational. It has a couple of unique components. MJP invites ordinary community members, (including PJ Library families and our NextGen constituents) to apply for small microgrants of $180 called Gather Grants. MJP also offers larger organizational grants for collaborative projects. Either way, funding supports whatever holiday celebrations, community service projects, and other ideas local groups can conceive. Federation professionals provide support and mentorship to help actualize whatever they dream up. It is bottom-up grantmaking offering a radically different model of how Federation can operate.
Our MJP grantees say it best:
“We are new to Atlanta and know very few people. Without the Gather Grant I would have been too shy to invite new people over. I’m so glad I did, as it seems to be the start of a new social circle for me.” — Gather Host
“This year was the first year we built a sukkah in my backyard thanks to this grant funding!” Shira Colsky – NextGen Grant Recipient.
To date, MJP activity and grantmaking has focused on two geographic areas, North Fulton, and East Cobb. The feedback from grant recipients has been enthusiastic and most people express a measurably strengthened commitment to Jewish life in their neighborhoods. Through MJP over 8,000 individuals have attended 250 unique programs, 78% of which were collaborative. Our grassroots approach has built a new level of trust and goodwill between Federation and suburbs outside the perimeter (OTP). We have learned that when organizations are in relationship with their community members and with one another, the whole ecosystem thrives.
This year, Federation successfully ran four rounds of Gather Grants, with our Shabbat Gather Grants currently in progress. We are immensely proud of the diversity in the age ranges, zip codes, languages spoken, and level of observance of the grantees.
Decatur is likely to be the next MJP target area. We are beginning a “soft launch” of outreach and activities to amplify the Jewish assets that already exist in Decatur and are excited to bring MJP’s collaborative energy to an area that we believe is ripe for engagement.
MJP is something I am personally proud of. It represents this Federation’s fearlessness about trying new things. You can reach out to our MJP professional, Carla Birnbaum, to learn more about MJP possibilities. And if you missed it in Fed5 last month, listen to Danniell Nadiv, Federation’s Senior Director of Jewish Journeys, Places and Welcoming, talk about the power and potential of Making Jewish Places.