Federation rewards innovative programs that reach next generation

Sarah Lefton is used to scrambling for money.

As founder of G-dcast Entertainment, a quirky nonprofit that creates short animated Torah lessons for the Web, she knows how hard it is to secure funding. So imagine her surprise when the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation decided quirky is good and gave her a three-year grant.

G-dcast is one of seven Bay Area Jewish nonprofits to benefit from the federation’s Impact Grants Initiative. Under the IGI model, initial grantees were chosen not only for their creative approaches to Jewish life, but for their appeal to young adult Jews.

Adin Miller

“This is G-dcast’s first real local money,” Lefton said. “It’s also our first multiyear grant. This allows us to do something internally innovative.”

She’s not the only one. Other IGI grantees are Wilderness Torah, Moishe House, Hazon, Storahtelling, the Idelsohn Society and the Kevah Groups Torah study program. Collectively, the grantees will receive operating support grants from the Jewish Community Endowment Fund ranging from $77,000 to $150,000 over three years. In all, the grants total $1 million.

Federation CEO Jennifer Gorovitz and Director of Community Impact Adin Miller cited several reasons for launching the IGI.

“We wanted to ensure that the seed funding of the Endowment Fund was used for the highest and best strategic needs of the community,” Gorovitz said. “For our first launch, innovative programs that reach the next generation are essential. We wanted to have a tool that engages the next generation of young adults in the work of the federation.”

She referred to the IGI strategy of enlisting 26 young federation donors, who spent six months evaluating grant proposals, conducting site visits and paring down an original list of 37 applicants to the final seven.

Federation involvement doesn’t end with the writing of a check. Out of that initial IGI committee of 26, at least 16 budding philanthropists will develop relationships with some of the seven nonprofits.

“They agreed to serve as liaisons,” Miller said, “representing both the federation and the organizations, helping to frame the grant agreements and monitoring the success of these organizations over the three years.”

A still from a 2009 G-dcast broadcast

As for Lefton, she already knows what she would like to do with at least some of her grant money: Make another movie.

So far, G-dcast has created more than 60 short films based on Jewish texts. The films have garnered more than a million views online, while a companion curriculum is used in Jewish classrooms around the world.

With her IGI grant, Lefton hopes, among other things, to make a film based on a story she once heard about a diabetic Jew who buried his own amputated leg so it would be ready for resurrection when the Messiah comes.

“My jaw was on the ground,” she recalled. “I said, ‘That’s Jewish?’ This so interested me that I set up an appointment at Sinai Memorial. The funeral director said, ‘Yeah, there are probably several body parts in the freezer.’ ”

She saw this as fascinating window into a Jewish practice most Jews probably know nothing about. It also came to her “as a completely formed animated film.”

All she needed was funding, and now she has it.

Next, the federation will pursue another round of IGI funding, which will in part target Israel-based nonprofits. So far the process has satisfied Gorovitz that the federation is on to something.

“IGI is a successful engagement and grant making method,” Gorovitz said, “and we will be expanding its use in the coming months. We’ve engaged a new generation with federation.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.