In only its first full year of programming, Yachad, Minneapolis’ Jewish education program for high school students, has already received a huge honor that may go a long way to secure its long-term viability.
Yachad was one of nine non-profits nationwide to be tabbed by the organization UpStart to be a part of the UpStart Accelerator, which will provide business support, funding opportunities and growth and development opportunities over the next three years.
Upstart is the Jewish community’s leading engine behind the success of innovative, early-stage organizations. Yachad was selected from 66 global applicants, the largest pool UpStart selected from. Yachad will join a cohort of eight other organizations that are opening up access points to Jewish life.
“They connect us with funders who are interested in Jewish education,” said Dana Prottas, Yachad’s executive director. “They are creating a whole networking piece for you. It’s like winning the entrepreneurial lottery. It’s huge.”
Said Aaron Katler, CEO of UpStart: “The Jewish community is increasingly diverse and hungry for unique and personal ways to connect to Jewish life. This Accelerator cohort is tapping into exactly this desire by creating new points of connection to Jewish wisdom, community, and identity.”
Through the support of Upstart, Yachad will get help with working toward the mission, visioning and evaluation.
“It’s going to help us build the best business we can build and positioning us to be successful,” Prottas said.
This isn’t the first attempt at a program that functioned like Yachad does. Gil Mann, who sits on the advisory committee for Yachad and has been involved in many community agencies, tried to start Tichon about a decade ago.
“Yachad has gone well beyond our pilot program; they are a full-fledged school,” Mann said. “We learned a lot (from Tichon). But it took many years for a critical mass to say this was a good thing for our community.”
Like in anything, Mann said, change is hard. “The more radical the change, the harder it is to accept.” But with Yachad, he said, “There are efficiencies in staff, the number of students and perhaps economics. It just took time for all the planets to come into alignment. It’s how it goes in business and non-profits.”
Stu Silberman is excited for this honor on a couple different levels, both as the Jewish Federation of Minneapolis executive director and as the parent of a Yachad student.
“When you have collective thinking, you can have solutions that are on the leading edge,” Silberman said. “UpStart is just more recognition on a national level that Minneapolis is on a leading edge.”
Yachad had taken what had been a more siloed approach to Jewish education for high school students at their synagogues or other organizations, and put it under one umbrella.
“The benefit of Yachad is that we can do it through one infrastructure,” Silberman said. “We can put so much into the programmatic side that teens can do what interests them.”
The long-term effect of Yachad is yet to be seen, but Silberman sees one very obvious advantage to the program’s success.
“We can get kids together from multiple congregations,” he said. “The more connected we can keep our Jewish teens in their formative years, the more likely they will be to keep that identity when they go off to college.”