News of American Jewish life is often accompanied by reports of institutional decline. 41% of Jews in the U.S. say that they seldom or never attend a synagogue, with an additional 35% attending only for High Holiday services. In Rochester, 16% of Jews never attend a synagogue except for weddings and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, with an additional 18% only attending for High Holiday services.


Yet, 94% of Jews in the U.S. say they are proud to be Jewish.

How can we shift from a framework of crisis and scarcity to one of opportunity and abundance? The solution isn't making people want things through marketing or outreach. It's empathizing and listening to our constituents deeply enough to make things people want

We guide Jewish institutions, step-by-step, through this process.

The SPARK Fellowship to Ignite Innovation is an 8-month learning and practical experience for synagogues, schools, and other legacy Jewish organizations in the Rochester 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, organizations create and test a new innovation. 

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






What are the goals of the SPARK Fellowship?

  1. Training and coaching synagogues, schools, 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 innovation

  3. Coaching​ in change management

  4. Training​ to identify and design for unmet needs of current and potential members or participants with your organization

  5. Supportive network​ of like-minded organizations

  6. Opportunity for seed funding​ to launch the experiment

Who is eligible to apply?
Any synagogue, school, or other Jewish organization in the greater Rochester, NY area may apply. We seek a diverse array of organizations to join the cohort. 

Organizations 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 5-7 professional and lay leaders to participate in an 8-month program – who can commit to attending all Zoom, and possible in-person gatherings and to doing approximately 3-4 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:

  • Zoom gatherings - We plan to establish dates and times based on applicant responses

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 in May 2021, in the morning, 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 laypeople​. 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 7 core team members. Consider including your lead educator, or members with experience in innovation, design thinking, marketing, etc. Effective teams have 5-7 core members. Each core team member must commit to the 8-month program (October 2020 to May 2021) and should expect to spend approximately 3-4 hours per week on this project, above and beyond the three mandatory gatherings. (Organizations 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 design-oriented gatherings in order to contribute their skills and perspectives. However, in order to participate in SPARK, organizations must have 5-7 core members who do commit to full attendance and to do all the assigned work.)

What are the expectations of teams?

  1. Attend all of the 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 of the gatherings should not apply as core members of the team.

  2. Independently meet as a team once a month.

  3. Complete modest reading and/or listening/viewing assignments, about 3-4 hours/week.

  4. Spend 3-4 hours/week interviewing members and non-members (using approaches that will be taught at the first gathering).

  5. As a team, implement the prototype experiments in the spring of 2021.

What is the cost to participate?

Thanks to the William and Sheila Konar Foundation, there is no cost to participate in the program.

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 2, 2020, by 4:00 pm, EST.

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

Part 2: Team Member Application.​ Each member of the organization’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 organization’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 the Rochester 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 the 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 4:00 pm EST on Friday, October 2, 2020. Find the full online application here.





Interested? Have questions?

Feel free to reach out to Rabbi Julia Appel, 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.