Creative Berkeley nonprofit part of new UpStart cohort

UpStart Bay Area has selected four new organizations to join its accelerator program for emerging Jewish social entrepreneurs.

The organizations — which include a Jewish summer camp for people with special needs and an organization that aims to help Spanish-language media cover news from Israel and the Middle East — will receive development help from the S.F.-based program for up to three years.

Jeff Kasowitz and Rabbi Adina Allen with their son, Remy

This UpStart cohort is the second that has included organizations from outside the Bay Area. Camp Living Wonders and Jewish Kids Group (an independent network of Sunday schools) are based in the South, and Fuente Latina has offices in Israel and Madrid.

The only local entity this year is Jewish Studio Project, which operates in Berkeley.

From its roots as the Jewish Professionals Co-Op in 2006 through two years ago, UpStart Bay Area coached and nurtured only local entities. Many have achieved success, including G-dcast, A Wider Bridge, Kevah, Moishe House, Urban Adamah and Wilderness Torah.

“In the face of demand, we felt it was appropriate for us to see what would happen if we opened it up to non–Bay Area organizations,” said Toby Rubin, UpStart’s founder and CEO. In addition, UpStart recently launched a Chicago accelerator and plans to have offices in five regions within the next three to four years, Rubin said.

Jewish Studio Project uses artistic expression to help people connect with Jewish texts and enliven Jewish tradition.

The organization was founded within the last year by a husband-and-wife team, Jeff Kasowitz and Adina Allen, who are a musician and a rabbi, respectively. They have conducted workshops for Jewish leaders and professionals in the Bay Area and in Los Angeles and plan to open a storefront studio space within a year. A website (www.jewishstudioproject.org) went up just last month, and a public launch party is slated for July.

“We’re excited to work with UpStart,” Kasowitz said. “We feel like we’re at the perfect stage to really benefit from what they have to offer.”

Allen was influenced by her mother, an art therapist, and while in rabbinical school in Boston she helped develop “movement minyan,” a practice in which participants explore prayer through the body and improvisation.

At a recent Shavuot workshop for the religious school faculty of Los Angeles synagogue IKAR, Allen and Kasowitz helped participants reenact the moment of revelation at Mount Sinai. “People are searching for a way to combine creativity with Jewish learning,” Allen said.

“The goal is to help us feel more alive by activating our inherent creativity and imagination,” Kasowitz added.

Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a J. parenting columnist and former staff writer. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two sons.