Jewish Federation of San Diego County

Foster cohort 2

The Community’s Connective Tissue

Jewish Federation of San Diego County partners with organizations throughout the local Jewish community on numerous initiatives and investments designed to achieve its mission: to broaden and deepen engagement in Jewish life to strengthen Jewish identity, foster dynamic connections with Israel, and care for all Jews in need. Federation’s efforts reflect how it positively influences people with different needs and in different stages of life.

“We really see ourselves as the connective tissue among the community, ensuring that we have vibrant, caring, connected, and enduring local Jewish life,” Federation President and CEO Heidi Gantwerk shares with GB Magazine. “Today our community has numerous pathways for anyone to find meaningful Jewish expression and participation, wherever they find themselves on their Jewish journeys.”

To support Jewish teens and their families, in partnership with the Jim Joseph Foundation and Jewish Teen Education & Engagement Funder Collaborative, Federation is funding and advancing the San Diego Jewish communal approach to teen mental health and wellbeing – known as Jewish Teens Thrive. Federation has initiated a working group of professionals to address this issue and implement new strategies and programs to support teens and their parents, guardians, and educators. Currently, Federation is fielding two surveys to develop a baseline understanding of teen mental health and wellbeing in the community, one for teens and another for parents/educators/adults who work with teens. The surveys are accessible at

Federation also hired seven local teens to conduct research and focus groups about the hearts and minds of local Jewish teens as part of its Peer Leaders Fellowship. These teens will work to critically examine issues facing their peers, including antisemitism and mental health. They will also uncover what Jewish teens want from their Jewish community and what being Jewish means to them.

Federation also invests significantly in leadership development to ensure a strong Jewish community in the future. Participants in the 2nd cohort of the Pauline Foster Women’s Leadership Institute recently spent an inspiring day at Leichtag Commons building relationships and hearing from Gantwerk and community leaders Charlene Seidle and Rabbi Yael Ridberg. Throughout the program, participants learn from and are mentored by seasoned leaders, develop a better understanding of Jewish community and values, and build a stronger community through hand-on volunteerism. The women build a strong network among peers and, upon program completion, take on additional leadership roles throughout the Jewish and secular community.

Finally, along with ADL San Diego and The Butterfly Project, Federation recently marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day by releasing new educational resources, an online video library, and a Speakers Bureau of Survivors – all available for teachers, educators, and administrators to incorporate into lessons and other conversations with young learners throughout the school year.

Adds Gantwerk, “Given the recent rise in antisemitism around the country and world, this day took on even greater importance this year. We will never be silent or scared; we will fight antisemitism anywhere it manifests. A united Jewish community is a strong community, and we thank all of our partners and talented leaders who create such vibrant San Diego Jewish life.

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Esteban Villanueva