Innovation grants create endless possibilities

Each year, Federation distributes donor dollars in the form of innovation grants for capacity building to reward innovation, creativity, and help to strengthen the capacity of organizations. Grants of up to $10,000 are available and in 2021, more than $39,000 was distributed.

Some of these grants helped organizations connect and add value in the changing pandemic landscape, like Temple Israel’s $5,687 grant, used for technology to offer hybrid and remote services.

“Temple Israel has many strengths — pre-pandemic, technology was not one of them,” said Rabbi Daniel Mikelberg. “We were all about the here and now, with less focus on how we take advantage of technological advancement.”

After the pandemic forced services to update, Rabbi Mikelberg and the Temple team recognized they needed to quickly pivot, to connect to congregants in their homes — so they started offering virtual services.

“Fast forward, there came a time when we could return to Temple, but we quickly discovered that this wasn’t Kansas anymore … it wasn’t that we opened the door and everyone came back to their favourite seats and we worshipped in the same way,” said Rabbi Mikelberg. “For a host of reasons, people continued to stay home.”

Whether it was a blizzard, vacation or continuing pandemic precautions, Temple Israel was faced with a question — What do services look like in this new normal?

“How do we bring back the sense of in-person worship, but also recognize that a critical mass of our community will continue to rely on a virtual setting?” asked Rabbi Mikelberg. “We can’t shut the door on the virtual viewer — just like we can’t shut the door on the in-person worshipper.”

Temple Israel went from a place with no technical experience or skills to recognizing that they needed to become experts, which included investing in the tools needed to pivot. It was a fine line to create essentially two experiences at once.

“I have to look at how people are connecting in the building, while also prioritizing how to create a rich experience for the people at home as well,” said Rabbi Mikelberg.

So far, it’s worked, but not without its bumps along the way. A recent success included a Bat Mitzvah, where Israeli family members performed the Aliyah via video call.

“It’s become part of our normal experience,” said Rabbi Mikelberg. “We’ve become really successful in having this become part of our brand. If you’re looking to be at home, we’ve prioritized a unique, meaningful experience for you.”

The equipment can all be run by the Temple team, with two members having stepped up to become the “tech all-stars.”

“We needed professional expertise to get set up and help us establish the tools and settings, but we can control it all on our own now,” said Rabbi Mikelberg. “We’re so grateful to the grant from Federation that helped us purchase the high-tech equipment we needed. We pride ourselves on inclusion and this is a way for us to expand those boundaries and include people in really unique ways.”

Another example of expanding boundaries occurred at the Ottawa Jewish Community School, (OJCS) where they received $7,000 to support with training for their new Makerspace (the actual space was funded primarily by a generous grant from the Congregation Beth Shalom Legacy Fund).

“Our science lab was transformed into a multi-purpose learning commons,” said Melissa Thompson, the teaching and learning coordinator at OJCS. “It has designated breakout rooms, whiteboard walls, science equipment, an interactive smart board, a 3D printer, a green screen and all of our robotics equipment.”

While the Makerspace is constantly evolving, the innovation grant is being used primarily for teacher development. A consulting company is working with teachers to better define and understand what the space can be.

“They’re providing professional development to a cohort of teachers across a range of subjects and ages,” said Thompson. “We’re also integrating Judaic Studies teachers — integrating Jewish learning into the Makerspace projects is a big priority.”

Once this cohort of teachers is up to speed, they’ll teach the rest.

“Makerspaces are becoming more and more popular,” said Thompson. “They become a space for innovation, where students can work on things that are student-driven. Everyone is really excited about it, for the potential of what it can be. The possibilities are endless.”

The following types of projects are eligible for Federation’s innovation grant:

  • Projects that improve organizational health (board development, evaluation of programming, improved financial structure, etc.)
  • Projects that help organizations meet the challenges of the current environment (help organizations pivot, manage change, adapt to new realities)
  • Pilot projects
  • Collaborative projects that bring multiple organizations together to coordinate the delivery of a service or improve the delivery of an existing service
  • Projects that collectively address a specific problem or enhance community assets
  • One-time educational programs, training, aimed at increasing the capacity of individuals or providing solutions to communal challenges

Agencies currently funded by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa and local synagogues are eligible to apply. Please contact Anne Read at to receive an application form and to discuss your application.