jHUB Creates a Big Tent for All

Tags: Federation, Philanthropy

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Families celebrate Sukkot at jHUb’s “S’mores in the Sukkah” event.

Our Jewish community has been blessed by the foresight of the leaders and the generous donors that have come before us. After the devastation of World War II, they created an endowment fund so that if and when an unknown crisis arose in the future, we would be prepared and able to act. This endowment fund is known as the Unrestricted Endowment Fund, and it is Jewish Cleveland’s safety net that supports our beneficiary agencies in times of crisis and during economic downturns, helps to defend Israel when it is under attack, and assists Jewish and general communities throughout the United States and the world when catastrophic disasters such as pandemics, fires, floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes strike.

But another critical function of this fund is to provide initial start-up support and funding for innovative new programs. One example of this is jHUB, a joint initiative of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland and the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland (JEC). jHUB’s mission is to provide a new way for interfaith couples and families to comfortably explore, discover, and personalize the meaning of Jewish culture and values. jHUB seeks to be a trusted resource, free of judgment, to help strengthen marriages and families.

Interfaith families & couples perform Tashlich during Rosh Hashanah.

The idea for a program like jHUB first emerged from the 2011 Greater Cleveland Jewish Population Study, which uncovered a need for outreach and inclusion for interfaith families who longed to be more connected to the organized Jewish community. jHUB’s staff seeks to meet each couple and family where they are, literally and figuratively. Since 2014, jHUB has engaged over 4,505 individuals representing 3,031 families. Last fiscal year, 676 couples and families participated in programming.

When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Northeast Ohio, jHUB adapted quickly to create small Zoom get-togethers, host Facebook Live events, and deliver innovative and enriching resources including Shabbat packages and winter break activity bags. For those who are interested, jHUB also connects individuals, couples, and families to local synagogues to ensure that they feel welcome and comfortable.

Innovative programs at jHUB include the Wedding Workshop, a four-session course for couples planning an upcoming wedding to learn about Jewish wedding rituals and customs, and Grandparenting Interfaith Grandchildren, which helps families to navigate intergenerational family relationships in the context of multiple backgrounds and traditions. A grandparent who participated in the program reflected, “Our meeting with you, and the Grandparents Group, gave us momentum, helpful ideas, and a little more confidence to raise issues with our son and his wife in a way that is respectful of them. We thank you very much for this!”

An initial multiyear grant from the Federation’s Unrestricted Endowment Fund, along with support from generous individuals and foundations in our community, helped provide start-up funding for jHUB. This grant, which was awarded by community leaders as members of the Endowment Fund Committee, has since been renewed, helping to support staff expansions that have enabled jHUB to serve greater numbers of individuals and families each year.

jHUB is doing vital work to ensure that our Cleveland Jewish community is a big tent – one that makes every single person feel welcomed, included, and comfortable exploring Judaism on their own terms. One couple who participated in programming shared, “Without jHUB, we feel we would still be searching for other couples ‘just like us.’ We will forever be grateful for the opportunities and experiences provided to us by jHUB. Thank you!”

jHUB’s staff: Rabbi Chase Foster, Julia Fair, Danya Shapiro, Rabbi Melinda Mersack.

To learn more about jHUB:
Contact Rabbi Melinda Mersack, Director, mmersack@jecc.org, 216-377-6007 x232 or Rabbi Chase Foster, Rabbi for Engagement & Learning, cfoster@jecc.org, 216-377-6008. Visit jHUBcle.org for information about programming, upcoming events, and holiday guides.

Learn More: Federation, Philanthropy