SketchPad draws up to the future: Creating a new shared workspace for Jewish organizations

Irene Sandalow became convinced that working out of her home was no longer-working. But she is an organizer, so her second thought was: “I bet I’m not the only one with this problem.”

The solution? SketchPad. While this shared workspace for the Jewish nonprofit community in Chicago will reduce overhead costs, SketchPad is also designed to become an intellectual, cultural, spiritual, and socially conscious hub, promoting collaboration and providing an appealing space open to the public.

Sandalow’s brainstorm struck in 2015, and this May, SketchPad officially signed its lease. The facility encompasses 5,500 square feet, and is located at 4700 N. Ravenswood, near both the CTA Brown Line and a Metra station. “It’s a shared office and program space, with meeting rooms and a kitchen,” Sandalow explained. “There will also be professional learning and training opportunities” for all participants.

Its founders hit upon the name “SketchPad” to evoke their vision of a laboratory for innovation, experimentation, and creative outputs. The act of sketching is fundamental, tentative, and exploratory, they decided, representing the innovative mindset and culture they envision for this space.

SketchPad offers the amenities of a traditional shared workspace, while also serving the specific needs of Chicago’s Jewish nonprofit community, like a beit midrash – a Jewish study space with a library.

Three organizations anchored the project: The Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA), which combats poverty, racism, and anti-Semitism; Kahal, which connects American Jewish students to world Jewry; and Avodah Chicago, which supports social change through tomorrow’s Jewish leaders.

“SketchPad presents a unique opportunity for us to build stronger and more holistic joint programming, making the Jewish community broader, more cohesive, and more effective in our combined efforts to create change,” said Judy Levey, executive director of JCUA.

“What makes these spaces unique and revolutionary is not the space-sharing; anyone can get together to save a few bucks,” agreed Kahal’s executive director, Alex Jakubowski, who has visited other Jewish shared spaces, particularly in Europe. “What is truly amazing is the collaboration between organizations and movements that no one ever dreamed was possible. There are countless examples of collaborations arising from sharing a lunch together, attending a program, or just bumping into one another at the copier.”

“Intentional, Jewish, innovative collaboration is the future of Jewish social justice,” said Leah Greenblum, Chicago community director for Avodah. “We must work together to build bridges and support one another’s work for a common cause. We are proud to be coming together with like-minded organizations to create something truly unique in Chicago. SketchPad will undoubtedly shape our collective Jewish future, and we’re really excited to be a piece in this supportive puzzle.”

SketchPad’s other partners include: UpStart, which partners with innovators to redesign the experience and expression of Jewish life; the Orot Center for New Jewish Learning; InterfaithFamily/Chicago; and SVARA: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva. Newer additions are the American Jewish World Service, a community of Jewish global citizens committed to repairing the world, and The Workmen’s Circle, focused on building Jewish communities and improving the world through activism. Other partners are signing on to partner with SketchPad in the future.

SketchPad is supported by a JUF Breakthrough Fund grant, the Crown Family Philanthropies, the Jack Miller Family Foundation, former JUF Board chairs Bill Silverstein and Midge Perlman Shafton, Gregory Rothman, and an anonymous donor.

For more information, contact Irene Lehrer Sandalow, SketchPad Project Director, at (312) 659-7466 or, or visit