This year, 700 Jewish middle and high schoolers are learning Hebrew in nine public schools through Hebrew in the Schools. Another 75 high schoolers have explained Jewish customs and culture to over 2,000 of their peers in 14 local schools through the Students to Students initiative.
These programs are just two examples of the more than 50 supported by the Jewish Federation of Chicago's Fund for the Future--now in its third year--helping to accelerate the Chicago Jewish community's investment in next generation outreach and engagement.
"Fund for the Future is providing seed money to many early-stage initiatives that foster and bolster Jewish continuity and community building in Chicago," said Bill Silverstein, Fund for the Future Chair. "JUF, through Fund for the Future, is uniquely positioned to identify and help incubate these promising programs efficiently and cost-effectively. As a donor to [the fund], I'm delighted to see my dollars so well invested."
The program was founded in 2019 when Dr. Steven B. Nasatir transitioned from serving as JUF/Federation President for 40 years to JUF Executive Vice Chairman. An initial $59.2 million was raised to celebrate Nasatir and his contributions to JUF.
Investment in Jewish continuity had been a hallmark of Nasatir's tenure, and he has long advocated for the importance of offering more Jewish touchpoints for Jewish children, teens, and young adults and families.
Three years later, Nasatir is proud to see the fund flourishing. "I am very pleased and proud to see that as planned, the Fund for the Future is providing needed vision, energy, and opportunity for expanded quality engagement of Jewish young people in our community," he said.
Since its inception, Fund for the Future has invested an additional $20 million into more than 50 Jewish gateway programs, such as JUF Right Start, JUF Camping Initiative, IsraelNow, Honeymoon Israel, and JUF Infertility Support Program.
The Hebrew in the Schools program is one way Fund for the Future is helping to support Jewish children. Grant money to the initiative has enabled the hiring of a Hebrew educator to reach out to local schools without Hebrew classes and expand their offerings.
While helping to resolve the "serious shortage of certified public school Hebrew teachers both locally and nationwide," said Scott Aaron, Senior Associate Vice President for JUF Education, the Hebrew program also "helps Jewish students understand their culture as valid and mainstream when it is valued for foreign language instruction in the public schools."
Fund for the Future also supports the Students to Students initiative, in which Jewish high schoolers travel to Chicago area schools with modest Jewish populations to teach their non-Jewish peers about Judaism.
Through their interactive presentations--which often include props like kosher food and familiar books like Harry Potter in Hebrew-non-Jewish students learn about Jewish culture.
In addition, the program simultaneously trains Jewish students to be advocates. "The teens are really becoming leaders of the Jewish community through this program," said Alissa Zeffren, Students to Students Chicagoland Program Director. "They develop the skills and language to explain what they believe and practice to a non-Jewish audience, which is a skill they'll take for the rest of their lives in college and the work setting."
"When students ask questions about things they don't know, it really opens my eyes and makes me feel like I'm helping," said Simone Miller, Students to Students co-president and Ida Crown Jewish Academy student.
Through Fund for the Future, more young Jews are connecting to Judaism, to Israel, and to one another. "Knowing there is a lot more to come," Nasatir said, "provides excitement and interest for this unfolding aggressive action plan for our children's and grandchildren's Jewish future."
To learn more about this special initiative or to contribute to the program, contact Hannah Stenson at
or call 312-357-4836.