Author Archives: Stephanie Rapp

  1. Worshiping Without Fear

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    If five uniformed police officers, three FBI agents, and several deputy sheriffs all walked into the offices of the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, you might expect us to fear the worst. These are frightening times, and so many law enforcement representatives converging at a foundation that gives grants to faith-based organizations could seem ominous.

    Interfaith Security Meeting Planning Committee

    In this case, however, we welcomed their presence in our conference room, as members of a planning committee addressing the increasing threat of violence many communities of faith face.

    In partnership with our grantee, the San Francisco Interfaith Council, we convened a series of three meetings with representatives of law enforcement agencies and of the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities. Together, this planning committee worked to respond to these growing security concerns with education and collaboration.

    Congregations of all faiths are worried. In June 2015, nine congregants were killed during Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in North Carolina. In October 2018, 11 people were killed and 7 injured during Shabbat services at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pennsylvania. And in March 2019, 51 people were killed and 49 injured in consecutive shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. One month later, in April 2019, one woman was killed and three injured at a shooting at a synagogue in Poway, California during Shabbat services.

    And, just as I was writing this blog post, two people were killed outside a synagogue in Halle, Germany. Only locked doors and armed security personnel kept this tragedy from becoming the latest in a series of high-fatality massacres of people of faith. These events are not isolated, but part of a pattern we all must rise up to stop.

    Photo courtesy of Dennis Urbiztondo

    What can be done to keep worshipers and religious communities safe? How can synagogues, churches, and mosques remain open and welcoming to all while also maintaining adequate security? Our planning committee grappled with these questions — with work culminating in a training attended by 280 clergy and faith leaders at St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco. Mayor Breed addressed the participants, who learned from experts in public health, cyber security, and law enforcement. Leaders from the Jewish Community Center, the Islamic Society of SF, and Grace Cathedral opened the day with real-life examples and concerns. The day ended with faith representatives sitting in small groups at tables with police officers, establishing trust and learning from one another.  The San Francisco Interfaith Council has compiled useful resources for congregations.

    The Walter & Elise Haas Fund supports efforts to ensure the resiliency and security of the people of San Francisco and Alameda counties. Residents here should be able to live healthy and successful lives free from bigotry and intolerance. We support all people in safely practicing their faith through efforts to build interfaith understanding and to help houses of worship stay open, accessible, and safe.

  2. Following Charlottesville


    The hatred and bigotry that was expressed this week in Charlottesville, Virginia was a shocking reminder that anti-Semitism and racism are thriving in this country. And we are dismayed that our President has failed to provide the moral or political leadership called for in these times. The picture of young white men marching with torches and weapons and shouting racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic slogans was terrifying and runs counter to all the values the Walter & Elise Haas Fund holds dear. We mourn the death of a young woman, Heather Heyer, who was committed to equality and justice, and who was exercising her human right to protest unadulterated evil. We hope for the full and rapid recovery of the 19 people who were injured in the same hateful act.

    According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, 917 hate groups now exist in the U.S. — 79 in California alone. Many of our grantees serve some of the most vulnerable in our community: immigrants, those with low incomes, Jews, Muslims, and LGBTQ people. We are proud to support the work of these grantees, particularly during these hard times. And we are very proud to lift up the voices of the leaders of organizations within our Jewish Life program that have long fought intolerance.

    Here are some of their thoughtful and powerful words following Charlottesville:

    Jewish Community Relations Council:

    “The hateful demonstration in Charlottesville, VA by those peddling anti-Semitism, white supremacy, and racism, has left so many in our nation and in our Jewish community reeling… History has taught us that where there are strains in the democratic fabric, anti-Semitism flourishes and discrimination and marginalization of all ethnic and racial minorities rises. We are heartened by the words of congressional members from both sides of the aisle who immediately called out by name this evil and who made a clarion call for unity in the face of hate.”

    J Street:

    “Charlottesville should be a clarifying moment for all Americans. No longer can there be any excuses for this president, any attempts to parse his words or reinterpret or explain them away. Far from binding our wounds this president sows division, spreads falsehoods, and encourages hatred.”

    Auburn Seminary:

    “In the last few days, faith leaders and people of moral courage have been rising up to condemn the horrific display of white supremacy we saw in Charlottesville. Auburn stands with all those who sang, marched, prayed, and continue to work toward the vision of America where justice prevails.” (An Auburn Senior Fellow was in Charlottesville and shares his account.)

    As we write this, plans are underway for right-wing rallies in San Francisco and Berkeley by a group calling itself “Patriot Prayer.” In response, grantee San Francisco Interfaith Council says, “We stand united to denounce those who use words such as “prayer,” “unity,” and “peace” to mask any agenda of hate, intolerance, and bigotry. In the days ahead, we will use the voices of faith communities — through prayer, the pulpit, and our communications network — to educate and inform and to fight racism, hatred, and bigotry.”

    Faith communities are on the front lines of those calling out the hatred being espoused by many, offering an alternative vision. As Glide Foundation shared: “We are a place where we believe in the very best that people are capable of. While we know that the fight for equality is far from over, we also know that an alternative future is within reach.”

    The Fund is proud to support organizations that uphold the values of acceptance and inclusion and to help galvanize resistance to hate and bigotry. These voices are needed now more than ever.

    For those who want to know what they can do, we offer the following resources:

    Photo by Bob Mical, some rights reserved
    Photo by Bob Mical, some rights reserved

  3. Glide Gains a Rabbi, Engages Jews in Multi-Faith Social Justice

    Rabbi Michael Lezak preaching at Glide Memorial Church, March 26. (Courtesy/Billy Cole Photography)

    I am fortunate to work in several critical program areas at the Walter & Elise Haas Fund. Beyond our Jewish Life program, I take responsibility for part of our Safety Net portfolio, which focuses on helping those in our community who are in immediate need of food, shelter, and security.

    I attend numerous meetings with our grantees in this capacity and many of these are faith-based service organizations. The lengthy list of leaders in providing crucial, life-saving services includes St. Anthony Foundation, Glide Memorial Church and Foundation, Episcopal Community Services, and Catholic Charities. These all are incredibly large multiservice organizations. St. Anthony and Glide combined serve almost 2 million urgently required meals each year.

    Working with organizations such as these — and working so closely with those leading the Jewish community — has led me and my peers to wonder aloud why there is no Jewish analog to Glide or St Anthony in the Bay Area. Where is the large-scale, faith-based, Bay Area Jewish service organization that brings food, healthcare, shelter, social work, and spiritual care to our most vulnerable neighbors?

    The Fund, along with several of its grantees, was not content leaving this question unanswered. We supported an exploration to engage the local Jewish community in becoming a major, active partner in hunger prevention.

    Then I met Rabbi Michael Lezak.

    Rabbi Lezak, currently working with Marin’s Congregation Rodef Shalom, is a man dedicated to social justice. He was on his own quest to learn more about hunger and homelessness in San Francisco. I took him on a tour of key organizations, making introductions and provoking conversations. At Glide Memorial Church and Foundation, I expressed to the leaders gathered in the room what I’ve expressed to you here: that “Jews are always asking ‘Where’s the Jewish Glide?'”

    Speaking with them and with Rabbi Lezak, I had an epiphany: We didn’t need the Bay Area’s Jews to develop their own version of Glide. Glide as it currently exists could and should engage and serve Jews, and people of all religions, faiths, and beliefs. Glide Memorial Church and Foundation already was the Jewish Glide.

    All it needed was a Rabbi.

    If you have no first-hand experience, then you may not know that Glide truly is for everyone. Many Jews participate in its joyful Sunday celebrations. Jews volunteer in its dining room. They engage in its successful efforts to raise awareness on issues of social and economic justice. And so the question we were posing became, “Should Rabbi Lezak be the Rabbi at Glide?”

    It seemed like such an obvious idea and yet it felt revolutionary. Why should a new effort be formed when we could partner with Glide, already such a potent force for good. And the timing was perfect, as Glide had just launched a Center for Social Justice. Discussions began and blossomed. Blessings were offered and exchanged.

    As of July 1, 2017, Rabbi Lezak will be based at Glide.

    The Walter & Elise Haas Fund collaborates with several other donors in support of this project. We believe he will deepen Jewish engagement at Glide and serve as a tangible, active reminder to the broader community that we are stronger together.

    At his welcome sermon at Glide in March, covered well in J. Weekly, Rabbi Lezak posed a question to the gathered attendees — one that feels so timely in this political milieu and as we approach Passover. “What do you do if Pharoah is operating in your zip code?” the Rabbi asked.

    His answer? You show up, of course. You get proximate, as Bryan Stevenson says.

    Being engaged in community organizations is more important than ever today. We stand in solidarity with people who have been and continue to be marginalized. Having a Rabbi at Glide is a sign of the kind of interfaith partnerships that the Haas Sr. Fund has long supported.

    I am excited to see how this effort, this Rabbi, and this community will grow over the months ahead. I hope this work can serve as a model for increased interfaith partnerships in the Bay Area and around the country. Looking forward to seeing you at Glide sometime soon.

  4. Remembering Disaster, Ready for Disaster

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    Twenty-five years ago this week, the Oakland Hills firestorm killed 25 people and burned over 3,000 homes. Two years before that, the Loma Preita earthquake dropped sections of 880 and the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge. The quake claimed the lives of 63 people, injured thousands, and caused an estimated $6 billion in damage.

    In 1989, I was Director of Development for the San Francisco Education Fund. As I was speaking with one of my team members on the early evening of October 17, the file cabinets flew across the room. It felt as if a giant had lifted our building into the air in order to shake it viciously. None of our staff ever again entered our offices; our unreinforced masonry building was declared unsafe following the quake. We all worked off site for weeks (with no cell phones or home computers in those days).

    I have often thought since then of how helpful it would have been to have had an evacuation plan in place. We hadn’t anticipated that it would be pitch dark. We had no flashlights nor had we ever before used the stairs to exit the building. We didn’t have a phone tree to help us connect with each other. All of our most valuable papers were stored onsite, with no copies ready in case of emergency.

    It was a difficult time, but I remember clearly: the first phone call we received the day after the earthquake came from one of our funders.

    She asked what we needed.

    That support and concern lifted us up. It helped us to resume our important work of helping classroom teachers, despite the turmoil around us.

    During this Bay Area disaster remembrance week, we want to remind our grantees and our funding colleagues how important preparedness is for the nonprofit community. The Walter & Elise Haas Fund has supported disaster preparedness work for more than a decade. We continue to help nonprofits and religious congregations find the training and resources they need to prepare for future disasters.

    Many of the groups we support deliver vital services to vulnerable people every day. And whether they’re funding a generator for St. Anthony’s or floor lighting to Glide, our disaster preparedness grants help seed resilience for these essential safety net organizations.

    If you are a nonprofit leader, I encourage you to train your staff and begin planning your disaster response. Two of our grantees, SF CARD (in San Francisco) and Eden I&R (for those in the East Bay) have resources that can help get you started in this process.

    While government is often considered the first line of response in the case of disaster, we know that the nonprofit sector plays an equally crucial role. People turn to those they know and trust, whether that’s their local church, synagogue, mosque, or community center. As we remember the Loma Prieta quake and the Oakland Hills firestorm, I hope that our colleagues in philanthropy will continue to consider ways to help their grantees prepare so that when the next disaster strikes, our community is as ready as possible.

  5. Talking Jewish Art and Culture

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    Arts — like faith — can lift the human spirit, buoy us during difficult times, and open up new worlds. A vibrant arts ecosystem is vital to the health of the Jewish community; this is why the Walter & Elise Haas Fund continues to support arts and culture through its Jewish Life program.

    Recently, I spoke about this with some of my peers from other local funders. These exchanges took place as part of a series of national conversations supported by the Righteous Persons Foundation and convened by the Jewish Funders Network. We explored Jewish art and culture’s merit as a way to transmit history and values, build bridges between Jews and others, and grapple with challenging issues.

    Wrestling Jerusalem posterThese talks brought to mind “Wrestling Jerusalem”, a one-man show the Fund supported, which is now playing festivals as a feature film. Taking on the roles of multiple individuals — Jews, Arabs, Americans, Palestinians, Israelis — writer and performer Aaron Davidman uses this work to create an opening for empathy. His masterful and creatively rendered storytelling fuels the same important dialogue.

    The report linked below, Devising Strategies to Support Jewish Arts & Culture, documents the San Francisco conversation I took part in, as well as others in Los Angeles and New York. It highlights opportunities and barriers to funding in this arena. I share it with you now to extend this conversation and, in doing so, to help cultivate community.

    REPORT: Devising Strategies to Support Jewish Arts & Culture

  6. Responding Effectively to Disaster

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    On April 25, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake devastated the country of Nepal. More than 4,600 people lost their lives, thousands more were injured, and much of the nation remains at risk from disease, a lack of basic supplies, and from tremendous psychological trauma. As we’ve seen with other disasters elsewhere in the world, the governmental infrastructures in Nepal are proving inadequate, unprepared for this disaster, and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of global generosity. Essential materials, including shelter, food, medicine, and water are backing up in warehouses and at the airport instead of reaching the people and communities where they are needed the most.

    As was done in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2010 disasters in Pakistan and Haiti, and the 2014 typhoon in the Philippines, the trustees of the Walter & Elise Haas Fund have decided to direct significant resources totaling $250,000 to Nepal earthquake relief. Drawing on lessons learned from past disaster response funding, the dollars will be released in two stages; an initial grant of $100,000 will be directed to first responders, and a second grant of $150,000 will go to organizations critical to the longer-term recovery of Nepal.

    First Stage: First Responders

    Past experience has shaped our approach to funding first responders. In this situation, given a fragile and untested central government, we have prioritized getting funds to more nimble organizations with deep roots in Nepal and ties to particularly vulnerable populations. As we have no expertise in this region, and do not want to burden grassroots organizations administratively, we are partnering with a trusted intermediary, American Jewish World Services (AJWS). AJWS will immediately distribute the Fund’s $100,000 grant to a network of five on-the-ground relief organizations in Nepal*, each capable of delivering urgently needed medical assistance and basic necessities.

    Second Stage: Recover & Rebuild

    Generous outpourings of support tend to be our natural first reaction to news of tragedy, and deservedly so. As the initial waves of tragedy settle, however, the need for assistance does not. Yet often the attention of the world moves on. Emergency assistance is critical, but so is assistance with rebuilding homes, businesses, communities, and lives. The second stage of our funding—totaling $150,000—will be directed to those organizations most effectively involved in the recovery and rebuilding efforts in Nepal. What that aid will look like and the time period over which it will be distributed has yet to become clear. We will listen carefully to our colleagues in philanthropy and in the disaster response community about how events are unfolding, and seek their advice as to which organizations are poised to make a real difference in Nepal’s recovery.

    Focusing on Preparedness

    If we’ve learned nothing else in all these years, it is that disasters of this scale are both hyper-local and global in impact. While there is more emergency infrastructure in the U.S., a significant earthquake would result in tremendous damage, loss, and upheaval locally. Its shock waves and longer-term impact would also be felt around the world.

    wehfDisasterFoodSystemsAs global citizens, the trustees of the W&EHF believe deeply in our responsibility to respond to the Nepalese earthquake and other disasters taking place far from our primary focus in the Bay Area. We pair this belief, though, with sustained support and advocacy for increasing our local communities’ ability to prepare for disaster, again with a focus on the most vulnerable amongst us. We hope that our colleagues in philanthropy will do the same wherever they are, and in whatever parts of the world that they work.

    Preparedness does not stave off earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis, and other disasters, be they natural or man-made – but, when disaster hits, preparedness can alleviate real human suffering, and provide a base on which individuals, families, and communities can rebuild and thrive.

    * AJWS partners include:

    • International Medical Corps: operating two Medical Mobile Units that treat approximately 200 people per day in Gorkha, Nepal
    • The Blue Diamond Society: an LGBT group providing rescue, relief, and rehabilitation support to HIV positive LGBT Nepalis affected by the disaster
    • Friends of Shanta Bhawan: providing free medical services, food, and safe drinking water to a very impoverished community hit hard by the earthquake
    • Himalayan Healthcare: distributing about four tons of rice daily and mobilizing a medical team able to reach remote areas
    • Tewa: providing pregnant mothers with food, water, medical care, and blankets

    Follow these organizations on our twitter list to stay up to date with their efforts.

  7. Cooking Up Big Ideas in The Kitchen

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    photo by Ignacio Palomo Duarte
    photo by Ignacio Palomo Duarte

    Can you create spaces for people to gather and do Jewish things together that are meaningful, inspirational, and well-designed? Can Judaism be curated? These were questions that Fund grantee The Kitchen wanted to understand. A small group of us pondered these questions over two days with IDEO, the global design and innovation firm based in San Francisco. It was eye-opening to be guided through a process that allowed us to explore the intersection of religion, design, social justice, and community building. Big ideas that were distilled to colorful post-it notes. Many, many post-it notes. Congratulations to Rabbi Noa Kushner and Executive Director Yoav Schlesinger for asking the questions and for setting our community compass in a new direction.

    Jessica Carew Kraft’s article shares some of the insights gleaned.

    The Kitchen is funded through our Jewish Life program, which seeks to foster a vibrant, inclusive Jewish community in the Bay Area with opportunities for engagement in Jewish life and participation in the broader pluralistic society. Read more and browse our grantmaking in this area.

  8. JFCS/East Bay Program Featured on PRI The World

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    global-nation-finalFund grantee Jewish Family & Children’s Services of the East Bay’s LGBT Refugee Services program is featured in Monica Campbell’s stories published this week on Public Radio International’s The World. If you missed it on KQED Radio, you can listen to the audio over at PRI:

    An Iraqi who served the US military gets a new life, and gender identity, in America

    In Iraq, Salma was officially considered a man. She is intersex —someone born with indeterminate gender— and has chosen to live as a woman. After serving as an interpreter for the US military during the Iraq war, she received death threats and a grant of asylum in the US. Now, a new program is helping her and other lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) refugees establish new lives in America.

    How a lesbian couple from Cameroon escaped to San Francisco

    A lesbian couple left Cameroon after they faced discrimination and death threats at home. But when they arrived in San Francisco with their daughter, they realized there were many more hurdles to overcome.

  9. Haas Sr. Grantees on the Slingshot List

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    W&EHF has long admired the creativity and entrepreneurship of our grantees. It’s particularly satisfying when our views are validated by a national organization. The 2013/14 Slingshot list of the 50 most innovative Jewish organizations was just released and we are pleased to note that five of our current grantees and one previous grantee made the cut. They are:


    In addition to the new groups, another six were selected as standard bearers, meaning they have been selected for the top 50 list for at least five years. Kudos to:

    And finally, in the supplement for organizations that specifically serve women and girls, we have four grantees:

    Slingshot ’13-’14 and the two new supplements are available for download at

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