LEFT: A Temple Israel student participates in Sunday School from home. The Hermelin Davidson Center provided funds to enable synagogues to offer remote learning through the pandemic, such as purchasing Zoom licenses. RIGHT: YFTI teens participate in a leadership retreat. Rachel Kestenberg, center, is one of the congregational teen directors supported by the Hermelin Davidson Center.
LEFT: A Temple Israel student participates in Sunday School from home. The Hermelin Davidson Center provided funds to enable synagogues to offer remote learning through the pandemic, such as purchasing Zoom licenses. RIGHT: YFTI teens participate in a leadership retreat. Rachel Kestenberg, center, is one of the congregational teen directors supported by the Hermelin Davidson Center.

The Hermelin Davidson Center is dedicated to supporting innovative and collaborative Jewish educational programming.

Congregations and Jewish education are critical to the vibrancy of the Detroit Jewish community. They provide the community with religious, spiritual and moral building blocks that keep us connected to one another. In 1999, the Hermelin and Davidson families established and endowed the Hermelin Davidson Center for Congregation Excellence. Housed at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, the Hermelin Davidson Center is dedicated to supporting innovative and collaborative Jewish educational programming. Since its inception, the center has committed more than $5 million toward this goal. 

The challenges and opportunities of this year are remarkable, and accordingly, the volunteer lay leaders of the Hermelin Davidson Center committee (chaired by Dr. Lynda Giles) were honored to partner with congregations, congregational schools and other supporting community institutions on a variety of grants.

COVID-19 Pandemic Response

Last year, the Hermelin Davidson Center committee designated $100,000 to support congregational schools’ virtual learning at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 100 classrooms across 13 congregational schools benefitted from technology grants of $500 per classroom. These grants helped schools cover a variety of expenses such as Zoom subscriptions, online education platforms and hardware such as laptops and video equipment so that teachers could connect with their students virtually. 

These grants not only helped schools adapt to virtual and socially distant education, but they also represent an investment in future technology integration. In addition, the COVID fund also supported congregational school educators’ enrollment in the virtual NewCAJE (newcaje.org) professional development conference, enabling local educators to prepare for a year of innovation amid uncertainty.

Racial Inclusion Fund

The Hermelin Davidson Center committee designated $45,000 to promote racial inclusion education in congregational life. A grant of $15,000 supported a Diversity Fellow at Detroit Jews for Justice (detroitjewsforjustice.org) who partners with several local congregations. Additionally, a $30,000 fund was established to provide programming grants of up to $4,000 to support congregations’’ racial inclusion education and initiatives that uplift Jews of Color in the community.

Congregational Teen Directors

Strengthening Jewish identity among youth is critical to the long-term success of the Detroit Jewish community. In partnership with the Jewish Community Center’s Jteen initiative (jfamily.jccdet.org/teens), the Hermelin Davidson Center established a three-year salary match program to support teen director staff positions in congregations. These directors, working in Conservative, Orthodox and Reform spaces, will work to build relationships with teens through enriching programs. The Hermelin Davidson Center designated a grant of $155,000 for teen director salaries this year across 12 participating congregations.

Thoughtful Judaism JLearn Course

The Shalom Hartman Institute of North America (hartman.org.il) has developed a new Jewish studies curriculum titled Thoughtful Judaism, which is offered this fall through the Jewish Community Center’s JLearn program (jccdet.org/jfmd/jlearn) in coordination with local congregations. The Hermelin Davidson Center awarded $80,000 over two years to support this program.

Summer Professional Development

Given the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, congregational school directors and educators have limited opportunities to engage in in-person professional development. However, there are an array of virtual professional development experiences available for educators online. The Hermelin Davidson Center designated $28,000 for matching scholarships to enable congregational school educators and directors to participate in meaningful learning opportunities over the summer as they prepare for the new school year, including Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and NewCAJE courses.

The Well’s Spiritual Enrichment Program

The Hermelin Davidson Center awarded a grant of $25,000 to The Well to subsidize a year-long cohort program for young adults in their 20s and 30s who are looking for a deeper way to engage their spiritual awareness, professional and personal development. The Well (meetyouatthewell.org) is an inclusive Jewish community-building, education and spirituality outreach initiative. 

Musical & Programmatic Enrichment at the Downtown Synagogue

To expand its reach and engage Jews that work and live in the city of Detroit, the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue (downtownsynagogue.org) is enhancing its musical programmatic offerings. The Hermelin Davidson Center awarded a grant of $10,000 to the Downtown Synagogue to offer opportunities for young Jews and families for spiritual singing and a musical worship program. The program is led by the synagogue’s newly hired musician in residence, Gavri Yares, a multi-instrumental music educator and performer.

Upcoming Grant Cycle

The Hermelin Davidson Center for Congregation Excellence is proud to support these programs. A new Hermelin Davidson Center grant cycle will begin this fall for the 2022-23 grant year. For information and to join the email distribution list, congregations and other organizations are encouraged to email grants@jfmd.org. The next Request for Proposals (RFP), planned for November, will include details about eligibility and how to apply. 

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