Three Jewish environmental organizations have announced plans to merge, finding one answer to the question of sustaining innovative “second-stage” Jewish organizations.
Hazon, the Jewish organization known for its bike rides and community-supported agriculture (CSA) network will join forces with the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center and Teva Learning Alliance, which trains environmental educators.
Further strengthening the merging group is that Hazon is one of three recipients of a new “Second Stage Growth Fund” grant from the Samuel Bronfman Foundation. Mechon Hadar, a pluralistic yeshiva, and Keshet, a group working for LGBT inclusion in all facets of Jewish life, are the other two recipients of the up to $100,000 for operational costs.
The Hazon-Isabella Freedman-Teva merger and Bronfman grants come as many of the smaller startup organizations that launched a decade ago with help from Jewish incubators like New York’s Bikkurim, seed money and fellowships, have struggled to grow and raise funds as they move to the next stage of development.
The record label JDub, for example, which helped launch the career of crossover chasidic reggae start Matisyahu and developed a hybrid business model with multiple sources of revenue, closed last year. Last month, the Brooklyn-based Jewish Meditation Center announced that its director would resign after a fundraising drive failed to meet its goal. It will become a volunteer-led organization.
Others, like Hazon, have turned to mergers.
In September, the 12-year-old Darim Online, which helps Jewish organizations “align their work for success in the digital age,” merged with See3 Communications.
Economic constraints and changing needs are forcing even many established national Jewish organizations, such as the Jewish Education Service of North America and synagogue movement umbrella groups like the Union for Reform Judaism, to restructure, seek strategic partnerships and, in many cases, downsize.
Hazon and Isabella Freedman, which runs a variety of Jewish environmental initiatives out of its location, including the Adamah Jewish farming fellowship and the Jewish Greening Fellowship, had begun discussing a merger as leaders of the groups had begun working more and more closely together, Savage said.
“Ten years ago, we were very Hazon-centric. Who are we, what can we do?” he said. “Now we’re more interested in the world around us. What does the Jewish community need, and what does the world need from the Jewish community?”
The new group will be called Hazon, and will be headquartered at both the Isabella Freedman site in Falls Village, Conn. and in New York City. It will also have offices in California and Colorado. The retreat center location will continue to be known as Isabella Freedman.
Teva Learning Alliance wasn’t part of the original talks between Hazon and Isabella Freedman, but when its leaders learned about the possibility of that merger, they expressed interest in becoming a part of it. The expanded Hazon will continue to offer all existing programs currently under the auspices of the three merging groups.
“This is not one of those mergers where you put a bunch of organizations together and fire lots of people,” Savage told The Jewish Week. “If anything, all these organizations are understaffed.”
Rather than downsizing programs, the merger will save money by allowing the groups to share “a single website” and other administrative and business operations, he said.
Richard Shuster, an Isabella Freedman board member will chair the new Hazon and Savage will serve as its president.
Hazon also recently pooled resources with other Jewish organizations by founding Makom Hadash, a shared office space in Lower Manhattan for Jewish nonprofit organizations.