As the controversy surrounding Sara Hurwitz’s designation as “rabba” continues to swirl in the wake of her being named to Newsweek’s “50 Most Influential Rabbis in America” list, news that the yeshiva she runs to train Orthodox women as spiritual and halachic leaders has been chosen to get financial and nonprofit development support from the incubator Bikkurim was undoubtedly comforting.
“It is tremendously encouraging and comes just at the right time,” Rabba Hurwitz told the Jewish Week Monday. “There is a community of people out there who are validating the work we are doing and think it is as important as we do,” she said.
Bikkurim’s grant represents Yeshivat Maharat’s first significant source of funding from the Jewish community, aside from personal donations.
While the 10-year-old incubator for Jewish start-ups provides only modest funding (less than $10,000 per year), it offers Jewish start-ups rent-free office space along with valuable coaching in areas including strategies for growth and board development. Within the Jewish community, being “incubated” by Bikkurim is likened to getting the “Good Housekeeping Seal” of approval.
“We view ourselves as having the role in the community of mitigating risks to other funders by providing funding plus coaching and capacity-building,” said Nina Bruder, executive director of Bikkurim (a joint program of the Kaminer Family and The Jewish Federations of North America).
Getting support at Bikkurim “will anchor [Yeshivat Maharat] in a way that start-ups really need anchoring — including base commitments that are multi-year in nature,” said Bruder, who has known Rabba Hurwitz for more than a decade and is a congregant at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, where she serves as a spiritual leader. (Bruder recused herself from all decision-making regarding Hurwitz’s candidacy in Bikkurim to avoid any conflict of interest).
Yeshivat Maharat, which has been using classroom space at the advanced women’s Torah learning institution Drisha on the Upper West Side, has grown enrollment from four students to seven and will offer a full-time program starting in the fall. Being housed at Bikkurim will help the yeshiva professionalize its board, establish an advisory board, and grow its course offerings and student base by connecting with new funders, Rabba Hurwitz said.
In addition to Yeshivat Maharat, Bikkurim also announced that it would support the Jewish Meditation Center, a Brooklyn-based meditation center that offers weekly programming, such as walking meditations across the Brooklyn Bridge. Both Yeshivat Maharat and the Brooklyn Meditation Center are women-run start-ups that are finishing their first full year of operation.
Alison Laichter, the center’s executive director, was recently chosen as a Joshua Venture Group fellow. Now, three of the five organizations being incubated at Bikkurim — The Jewish Farm School, Uri L’Tzedek, and the Jewish Meditation Center — will have the double fortune of being housed at Bikkurim while also participating in the Joshua Venture Fellowship.
“I only wish that any one of our supports was sufficient, but none is,” said Bruder, adding that there isn’t redundancy since JVG is cash-heavy while Bikkurim focuses more on one-on-one coaching and capacity-building.
“To launch something new in this day and age takes a lot of multiple commitments,” she said. “The more support you have, the further and faster you can grow. We should be putting the most resources behind the groups with the greatest potential.”