The SPARK Fellowship to Ignite Innovation is an 8-month learning and practical experience for synagogues and other legacy Jewish organizations in the New York area. We guide them through a process of:

Designing likely-to-succeed innovations

Testing innovations through low-cost and low-stakes prototypes

Learning to manage resistance to change within the community

To do so, we guide synagogues and institutions, step-by-step, through the following process of Learning, Researching, Designing, and Implementing. Completed once, synagogues create and test a new innovation. 

Through many iterations, institutions will build up a sustained culture of creativity and experimentation.






The current SPARK cohort is comprised of lay leaders, clergy, and professional staff at 5 organizations, including JCCs and synagogues, in the New York City area. Organizations span denomination, size, and geography. Meet the current and past SPARK fellows here.


What are the goals of the SPARK Fellowship?

  1. Training and coaching synagogues and other legacy Jewish organizations to build cultures of innovation and experimentation, with the goal of continually intensifying the participation of existing members and better engaging those who are not currently members.

  2. Supporting institutions in dedicating significant bandwidth to new ideas while at the same time maintaining current activities that are working well.

  3. Inspiring organizations to deepen their commitment to ongoing learning, experimentation, innovation, and change so as to best meet the needs of those they seek to serve.

What will our organization gain by participating in the fellowship?

  1. Tools to build a culture of experimentation​ across your organization

  2. Real world experience in innovation3

  3. Coaching​ in change management

  4. Training​ to identify and design for unmet needs of current and potential congregants

  5. Supportive network​ of like-minded organizations

  6. Opportunity for seed funding​ to launch experiment

Who is eligible to apply?
Any synagogue in New York City, Long Island and Westchester may apply. We seek a diverse array of synagogues (size, denomination, geography) to join the cohort. (A small number of non-synagogue legacy organizations will be identified through a separate process to participate as a “beta test” to help us modify SPARK to fit their needs.)


Synagogues should consider applying if they are:

  • Eager to experiment

  • Open to failing forward and willing to take risks

  • Able to put together a committed SPARK Fellowship core team of 4-6 professional and lay leaders to participate in an 8-month program – who can commit to attending all four full-day in-person gatherings and to doing approximately three hours of work per week for the program (a mix of reading/audio-visual materials, interviewing members and non-members, and having team meetings).

What is the SPARK Fellowship program?

SPARK: A Fellowship To Ignite Innovation is an 8-month program that will guide organizational leaders through a process of thinking through likely-to-succeed innovations, testing their ideas through relatively low-stakes and low-cost prototypes, and learning to manage the inevitable resistance to change that will arise.

Program components consist of:

  • 3 in-person gatherings in Manhattan, at the following dates and times:

    • ​Monday, December 3, 2018 from 12PM - 4PM

    • Wednesday, January 16, 2019 from 9AM - 5PM

    • Wednesday, May 1, 2019 from 9AM - 5PM

These gatherings will expose you to new concepts and perspectives, provide skill building and opportunities to workshop learning as it applies to your organization, and offer design sprints at which you will develop your innovation prototypes.

  • Coaching in implementation of experimental prototypes and change management

  • Opportunity to apply for grants to fund the innovations you design

  • SPARK Sharefest on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 from 8AM - 10AM at which you will showcase innovations, learnings, successes, and failings from the fellowship

Who should be on the organization’s team?

Synagogue core teams must include at least one member of the clergy and two lay people​. Non-synagogue organizations must include an Executive Director (or analogous position) and two lay leaders. We encourage all teams to include senior professional staff and/or more lay people, up to 6 core team members. Consider including your lead educator, or members with experience in innovation, design thinking, marketing, etc. Effective teams have 4 to 6 members. Each core team member must commit to the 8-month program (November 2018 to June 2019), and should expect to spend approximately 3 hours per week on this project, above and beyond the three mandatory gatherings. (Synagogues are welcome and encouraged to appoint “adjunct members” to the team, who may be individuals with special skills or important perspectives who are unable to attend all the gatherings and do all the work due to professional or personal obligations. These adjunct members might attend team meetings and/or the design-oriented gatherings in December and April in order to contribute their skills and perspectives. However, in order to participate in SPARK, synagogues must have 4-6 core members
who do commit to full attendance and to doing all the assigned work.)

What are the expectations of teams?

  1. Attend all three gatherings. We understand that last-minute crises may in rare cases make attendance impossible, and we will work with those affected to make up the work—but attendance is mandatory, and those who cannot commit to attending all four gatherings should not apply as core members of the team.

  2. Independently meet as a synagogue team once a month.

  3. Complete modest reading and/or listening/viewing assignments, about two hours/week.

  4. Spend one to two hours/week interviewing members and non-members (using approaches that will be taught at the first gathering).

  5. As a team, implement two prototype experiments in late winter and spring of 2019.

What is the cost to participate?

Thanks to generous support from UJA-Federation of New York, there is no cost to participate in the program, other than transportation to New York City on the days of the gatherings.

Is there an expectation that we are already working on innovations in our organization?

No. In fact, the program is designed to help organizations develop innovations based on methods and approaches that will be learned through the Fellowship. The program is not meant to support initiatives already underway.

How do we apply?

There are two parts to the application, which are due on Friday, October 26, 2018 by 5PM.

Part 1: Team Leader Application.​ The team leader for the synagogue will submit a full application on behalf of the synagogue.

Part 2: Team Member Application.​ Each member of the synagogue’s core team will submit a short application to two question prompts, as well as an affirmation of commitment to full attendance and to completing all the assignments.

We will not accept or reject particular team members; rather, the synagogue’s application will be assessed based on the totality of the main application and the individual applications. It is, therefore, important to recruit team members who are strongly committed to building an innovation culture at your organization, are willing to work hard, and can articulate their passion, as the application will be the aggregate of the prospective team members’ applications. (Adjunct team members do not need to submit applications.)

Isn’t it a lot of work to apply?

SPARK is an example of what it is teaching: rapid prototyping of a new initiative, with continual learning and refinement, which is immediately fed back into the next iteration of the program. For this second cohort of SPARK, we are incorporating key learnings from the first experience.

We have learned that it is critically important to recruit a team that understands that you only get out what you put in and that is willing and able to make the time to do the “reading assignments,” interview members and non-members, attend the gatherings, and work hard to implement the prototypes the team designs. We understand that, at the time of application, it can be hard to assess whether a prospective team member has the time to fully participate; thus, we have re-designed the application process to include some measure of an experience of the SPARK content and workload.

What if we have lay leaders with important perspectives or skills who cannot commit to attending all the gatherings? Or what if someone isn’t a “people person” and doesn’t feel comfortable conducting interviews, even with training?

These sound like perfect candidates to be adjunct team members!

When is the application deadline?

Applications are due by 5:00 pm EST on Friday, October 26, 2018. Find the full online application here.





Interested? Have questions?

Feel free to reach out to SPARK Project Director Dan Libenson and SPARK Program Coordinator Adele Anderson at with any further questions.

The SPARK Fellowship to Ignite Innovation is an 8-month learning and practical experience for Jewish institutions seeking to cultivate a culture of innovation and experimentation, with an eye towards building for the future.