$1.5 million grant to help GatherDC expand ‘relational’ Judaism

Jews in their 20s and 30s meet to eat at a GatherDC-sponsored event. Photo courtesy of GatherDC

GatherDC is going national. The Washington-based organization that seeks to help Jews in their 20s and 30s to connect to Jewish life and to each other is one of eight recipients of grants totaling $24 million from The Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund Aligned Grant Fund, or JCRIF.

GatherDC’s share, a $1.5 million 3-year “reset grant,” will support the national launch of Gather, Inc., to spread what an announcement called Gather’s “bold vision for relational, people-centric approaches to Jewish life.”

“In the Jewish community’s efforts to create stellar programs, so many of which already exist, we often overlook the individuals we seek to serve and their desire, and need, for connection and meaning, said GatherDC CEO Rachel Gildiner. “We want to help Jewish life become more relational and help organizations meet people where they are.”

She added, “So many of us are struggling for connections and meaning, and they do that through relationships.”


GatherDC has a playbook for what Gildiner calls “advancing the relational movement.”

“Whether you’re looking for Jewish events, people, synagogues, housing, jobs, rabbis, kosher food, or anything in between — we connect you,” GatherDC says on its website.That includes the Gather coffee date.

“Let us treat you to a cup of coffee (or tea!) and help point you in the right direction so you can find your people and your place,” the GatherDC website says.

“For us, the coffee date is one tactic in our relational strategy,” Gildiner said. “It could be a coffee meeting. It could be a frozen yogurt meeting. It’s really about giving an hour of connection and listening to that person in front of you — genuinely asking who they are and exploring what they’re looking for in their Jewish life, and leaving your own agenda at the door. ‘Coffee date’ is code for showing up as a listener.”

Gather staff are trained in how to meet with an interested young Jewish adult over coffee. There’s even a coffee curriculum.

GatherDC’s national expansion comes at a time “when an increasing number of people are seeking to connect deeply and authentically with others; privilege relationships over memberships; and desire meaningful, personal connections with clergy and peers,” according to the announcement of the grant.

JCRIF Reset Grant funders include Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies; Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Supporting Foundation; Jim Joseph Foundation; Maimonides Fund and The Paul E. Singer Foundation.

The organization was founded in 2010 as Gather the Jews. In the following years it professionalized its staff, changed its name, expanded to Northern Virginia, came under the wing of George Washington University, then became independent in 2016. It registered as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) as Gather, Inc., which will be the name of the national organization, Gildiner said.

When the pandemic began in 2020, GatherDC was already discussing expanding its work nationally, Gildiner said.

“We had been consulting with other communities and decided to start fundraising to do national work.”

In February 2021, JCRIF issued a request for proposals that could “seize this unique moment to reimagine, renew and reset Jewish communities for the future” and offer “new thinking that can move beyond current organizational boundaries, structures, missions and program delivery mechanisms.”

Some 350 proposals came in. In addition to Gather, Inc., grant recipients are Community Security Service, Custom & Craft (d/b/a Haggadot.com), JIMENA, M2, Moishe House (for the Jewish Learning Collaborative), Repair the World/Jewish Service Alliance and UJA-Federation of New York.

With the 3-year grant, Gather, Inc., can begin working with other communities in earnest, Gildiner said.

The group has run one-time training and workshops with 12 Jewish communities, Gildiner said. In addition, “we have been working in close and ongoing relationships and coaching with four organizational partners.”

Despite its growing national focus, Gather, Inc., will remain in Washington, she said. “We see Gather’s work as advancing the relational movement, and we’ll continue to be in a relationships with the young adults of D.C.”

“As a lifelong resident of this area, it is wonderful to see a homegrown program which is innovating and excelling locally be recognized as a national leader through this highly competitive grants process,” GatherDC’s board chair, Kevin Berman, said in a statement.

GatherDC founding Board Chair Michael Gelman said, “I’m optimistic that the tools Gather has so successfully offered locally will help, on a national scale, Jewish organizations create and maintain vibrant communities that are welcoming to all Jews for years to come.”

(Michael Gelman is a member of the ownership group of Mid-Atlantic Media, publisher of Washington Jewish Week.)

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